Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The One and Olney

olney garden fig. a:  tending the garden

I think it's safe to say that we, here at " endless banquet," have a certain affection for the late Richard Olney.  We never had the pleasure of meeting him, sadly, but we've developed quite a relationship with him through his books--they just contain so much character, so much passion, so much savoir-faire, not to mention a philosophy of life that we'd like to think we share.  From The French Menu Cookbook (voted #1 cookbook of all time (!) by the Observer Food Monthly in 2010) and Simple French Food, to mass-market ventures like his The Good Cook series for Time/Life Books and his Provence:  The Beautiful Cookbook, we never cease to be amazed by their enthusiasm and their erudition. Plus, he lived such a life--a life that brought him into contact with luminaries in the fields of literature, film, and art, a life of bohemianism and gastronomy, of total dedication to the culinary arts and the "divine alchemy" of wine.  And then there's his status as godfather to both the Californian cuisine of Chez Panisse and the natural wine connoisseurship of Kermit Lynch.

Alice Waters has written that she remembers every detail of her first visit to Olney's Provençal home in Solliès-Toucas:  the olive trees, the cicadas, the wild herbs, Olney's ever-so-casual gardening attire ("Richard received us wearing nothing but an open shirt, his skimpy bathing suit, a kitchen towel at his waist, and a pair of worn espadrilles."), and his ever-present Gauloise.  What stuck with her the most, however, was the memory of a "spectacular salad" that Olney served that day, "full of Provençal greens that were new to me--rocket, anise, hyssop--with perfectly tender green beans and bright nasturtium flowers tossed in, and dressed with the vinegar he makes himself from the ends of bottles of great wines."  Simple French food, indeed.

Sometimes we imagine ourselves arriving at Solliès-Toucas to dine on one of Olney's legendary meals (which were known to induce "a kind of ecstatic paralysis"), drink deeply, converse long into the night, and dance until dawn.

fireplace at Solliès fig. b:  "fireplace at Solliès"

Other times, we fantasize about Olney's phenomenal kitchen with its hand-built hearth and its copper pots.

olney duo fig. c:  the good cook does wine

Then there are times when we dream about discussing and practicing "the art of intelligent choice" with Olney.

Not only have we been known to dedicate special meals to Olney, but we often base decisions upon whether we think "Richard" would approve or not, especially when it comes time to throwing a party.

Well, it's time to celebrate the one and only Richard Olney once again.  Now's the time.  It's the height of harvest season, and many of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that Olney adored are at their peak.

As you may know, Michelle and Seth have dedicated the month of September at FoodLab to Olney's beloved Provence.  You may also know that their frequent partner in crime, Theo Diamantis, of Oenopole, is something of a specialist when it comes to the wines of Provence, the southern Rhône, and Corsica, including Olney's beloved Bandols.  Are you starting to catch my drift?  Good, because next Tuesday, September 25, the third floor of the Sociéte des Arts Technologiques will be the site another phenomenal FoodLab/Oenopole co-production:  an Homage to Richard Olney.

The menu has been devised, the wines have been selected, and Michelle will only say that the evening promises to be "grandiose."  (Details to follow...)  So you won't have to resort to desperate measures.

Richard Olney Eats His Menufig. d:  desperate measures

Unlike some of Michelle's past collaborations, there'll be no fixed seatings for this particular menu and no reservations will be taken.  In other words, you'll be able to show up at any time between 5pm and 10pm, and you'll be able to order as little or as lot as you like, but, remember, this is a one night only affair.

An Homage to Richard Olney
Sociéte des Arts Technologiques
1201 St-Laurent Blvd
September 25, 2012
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
(you can find the Facebook page for this event here, if you're into that kind of thing, but I'm pretty sure "Richard" would be disdainful of your dependence on the social media*)


* Ha, ha...


Tom and onalee cooke said...

How we would have loved being in Paris two years ago for the tribute to Richard whom we never met but admired through his friend Jose Wilson who adored him...and secretly loved him...from her many stories of her visits to Provence to be with him. Sadly she took her own life in 1980 arranging for us to find her directions, her records, even her bills after she was found in a quarry in Rockport, ma. we loved all of Richards books and still refer to them. We heard so many stories.. He made a funny remark in a Cal. Restaurant, ordered a steak and demanded, "and make it tough!" True Richard we were told!

michelle said...

Thanks for sharing that very touching story. I hope there are many more tribute dinners in his honour.
Take care, Michelle

aj kinik said...

Yes, thank you so much for writing. This was what the dinner looked like:

We felt as though he was among us, in his shorts, with a smile and a snarky comment or two. He was a treasure.

best wishes,