Friday, February 04, 2011


Prague cupboard fig. a: cupboard, Prague

Those of you who've been reading " endless banquet" for a while know that our Czechoslovak roots run deep, which is one of the reasons Michelle's been busy organizing a real Central European kaffeeklatsch at Laloux, one inspired in large part by the cafés, coffeehouses, and kavárnas of Prague. You'll also know that we have a certain fascination with serendipity, so if it takes me a while to get to the 411, you'll excuse me.

So, let's see... Where to begin?

Well, I guess we'd have to start in California, last August.

Vladimir's fig. b: Vladimir's

We'd spent a particularly delightful day in western Marin County, north of San Francisco, swimming, eating oysters, daydreaming, and generally having a good time. Late that afternoon, we chanced upon a Czech pub in Inverness, CA called Vladimir's, and we decided that the only sensible thing to do was to stop in and have a pint. We figured that, at the very least, it was a great excuse to write some postcards to our Czech friends and family. So that's exactly what we did.

book barn fig. c: book barn

Five months later, we were visiting our friends in Upstate New York, and they, knowing our weaknesses all too well, took us to a truly fantastic second-hand bookstore. A book barn, actually. The Rodgers Book Barn of Hillsdale, NY. There, among numerous other treasures, Michelle came across a book titled Manka's Czech Cookbook and Memoirs by one Milan Prokupek, Sr.

Manka's fig. d: Manka's

She began to read the back cover and learned that the book recounts the story of Milan and Maria Prokupek, who left Czechoslovakia in 1948, moved to North America, and got involved in the restaurant business, first in Victoria, BC, and then in Inverness, CA. There they opened their second Manka's restaurant (the first had been in Victoria) and quickly became fixtures of the community. They eventually took over a second restaurant in Inverness--a pub called Drake's Arms--and when their daughter, Alena, and her Czech husband, Vladimir, decided they too wanted to get into the hospitality business, the spot was rechristened--you guessed it!--Vladimir's.

Milan fig. e: Milan

Anyway, this coincidence aside, Manka's Czech Cookbook and Memoirs is a classic of self-publishing (or, at least, a classic of the Central-European emigré memoirs/cookbooks sub-genre of self-publishing*). It's got a lot of heart and soul, and it's replete with authentic Czech recipes and a healthy dose of folk wisdom. Michelle instantly recognized it as a "must-have," and snapped it up. Among other things, she figured the book might come in handy as a source of inspiration for her upcoming Kaffeeklatsch event.

So when we got back to AEB HQ, here in Montreal, Michelle cracked her book open and instinctively turned to Chapter 13: "Manka's Desserts." And there, in the chapter's introduction, she found Mr. Prokupek's vivid reminiscences of café culture in his native land:

Vienna and Prague were always well known for their desserts--cakes filled with rich butter creams, pastry heaped and decorated with real whipped cream!

Also, Vienna and Prague were known for their beautiful ladies and girls living there. Their figures were attractive but a little thickish--they liked those Czech and Viennese pastries! Between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., you would find them, very nicely dressed, at small marble topped tables at the confectionaries gossiping with their female friends, and, with coffee, eating not one but two and three pieces of beautiful pastries.

The male white collar workers stopped in cafes after the end of work at 4:30 p.m., on the way home from their offices for dinner (which was usually served at 8 p.m.). They were large coffee houses on the main streets the size and luxury of large restaurants but serving only excellent coffee and pastries. The homeward bound people met their male friends there for light talk, a few new peppery anecdotes or a game of cards ("maryash")--and coffee and also the pastry. To those sitting alone, the waiter brought a pile of the daily papers or magazines from all over the world to read.

By 7 p.m., everybody had gone home for dinner. And after dinner time, the cafes again filled with young people singing and dancing to large orchestras.

Such were the places where the famous Vienna pastries were served and enjoyed...

Now, if that doesn't get you in the mood for Sunday's Kaffeeklatsch, maybe this profile in this week's Hour will.

café heinrich hof interior fig. f: strike a pose

Sunday, February 6
2:00 p.m - 5:00 p.m.
Restaurant Laloux
250, ave des Pins East

Michelle Marek, pastries
Anthony Benda, coffees

"Putting the Vienne back in Viennoiseries."

Hope to see you there! Don't forget to bring your peppery anecdotes!


p.s. Yes, we know Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. Don't worry--2:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. is plenty of time to get your klatsch on** before kickoff.

* I mean, just check out the full title: Manka's Czech Cookbook and Memoirs, My Own Story and How My Mother Cooked in Prague and How We Cook Now in Inverness, California.

** TY, MS!


Amber said...

You had me at as of the first post about the Kaffeklatsch. After having told my partner about the Myriade connection (his fave) and after reading the Hour article, we both have become quite excited for this!

It will be hard not to dress for 1912, but that impulse will definitely be tempered by the prospect of the Super Bowl afterward. Good luck with getting everything ready for Sunday!

aj kinik said...

Cool, Amber

see you on Sunday!

andrea said...

How did it go? Did anyone burst into poetry? This Ottawan wants to know.

michelle said...

For the record, one poem was read aloud to me, one received via email. Lovely stuff.

kelli ann said...

Argh, so sorry we missed it. Sounded delightful, and magical!