Long Cove Point Association

 

Chef

Roger Fessaguet
(1931-2014)


"Fessaguet is one of the world's most-honored French chefs..."
[www.frenchculinary.com]

"The kitchen is nice because you are a maestro."

 

 

"For the Golden disk of 'Begin the Beguine' by Cole Porter, I spent all one night to reproduce
with truffle cuts on 100 poached eggs the complete musical score of the song."

 

Article on Roger Fessaguet online

Chef Fessaquet is last on the right, front row, seated at the table
(Vatel Club of New York)

 


Chef Fessaquet Portfolio
(The card titled "The President" was left after a dinner by John F. Kennedy

 


Fessaquet's NYC restaurant, La Caravelle


Bastille Day Ball mural in La Caravelle

 

Making Sense of Food in Performance: The Table and the Stage
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
New York University


Maître d's understand their dining rooms and chefs their kitchens as performances. Roger Fessaguet, former chef-owner of La Caravelle Restaurant in Manhattan, which closed in 2004, after 43 years in business, describes himself as a conductor and his kitchen as an orchestra, with sections paralleling the strings, wind instruments, and drums.

He is describing the experience of working in a particular type of kitchen, one that was developed by Georges Auguste Escoffier (1847-1935) to organize what were then the new large hotel restaurants. They had to produce many different meals quickly, while maintaining high quality.


Fessaguet's characterization is meant to capture the intensity, focus, split-second timing, and extraordinary coordination required to complete innumerable dishes, each of them made of up of many components, in ever changing combinations and sequences, so that each table in a room of many tables may be served what it has ordered for a particular course all at the same time, at the right temperature. Not only stringent quality standards but also grace under pressure must be maintained under these demanding conditions. Indeed, this consummate performance must appear effortless. Or rather, effort must be carefully staged and performed as a marker of the value of the meal and the experience. Fessaguet's orchestra metaphor —he literally "conducts" the kitchen—clearly envisions the cooking process as a performance. When everything is working, the kitchen is an ensemble performance improvising on a scenario. The diners get a three or four act play, each table its own performance, complete with program notes or menu. For the staff, the whole evening has a rhythm and a dramatic structure.


Timing is critical to the sensory character of food and more specifically to the
interaction of the thermal, haptic, and alchemic. More than a tuning of the instruments or warming up of the performers, the kitchen runs on multiple clocks. Those clocks are set to the conditions of light, heat, cold, air, and agitation that produce wine, vinegar, pickles, olives, cheese, bread, sauces, roasts, over years, months, days, minutes, and split seconds.


Freshly picked corn must reach boiled water so quickly that should one trip on the way from the field to the pot, the corn will arrive too late, so it is said.
Timing becomes performative in a distinctive way the closer the food comes to
the diner, the more precipitous the moment twixt the cup and the lip, the smaller the temporal window.

 

"Dining is like ballet or an opera."

 

 

 

 




Fessaguet receiving the insignia of Officer of National Merit, the second highest
decoration of France, awarded for promoting friendship between France and the U.S.
Fessaguet is also a Knight of the Legion of Honor, France's highest honor,
and Commander of Agricultural Merit (highest award from the French FDA)

(Read article from the International Edition of Le Figaro: page 1 & page 2)

 

 

 

New York Times

May 12, 2004

La Caravelle, a French Legend, Is Closing After 43 Years

By FLORENCE FABRICANT

Add another name to the list of venerable New York restaurants to close in recent months: La Caravelle. This elegant Midtown temple to French gastronomy offered a pampering, Paris-in-Manhattan experience to food enthusiasts and the A-list of American society for more than 40 years.

Rita and André Jammet, the restaurant's owners, plan to serve their final dinner on May 22. Mrs. Jammet said they decided not to renegotiate their lease with the new managers of 33 West 55th Street, the Prime Hospitality Corporation, which took over the building's Shoreham Hotel in January. Her husband, she said, wants to have a lighter workload.

The closing is likely to hasten the end of an era when fine dining in Manhattan meant haute cuisine in a formal environment, and when a reservation at restaurants like La Caravelle, Lutèce or La Côte Basque meant dining alongside Kennedys, Rockefellers, members of the fashion world, and anyone interested in having cream sauces and delicately roasted veal on their plates.

Lutèce, a renowned French landmark on the East Side, closed on Valentine's Day after 43 years. La Côte Basque, a fortress of French cooking since 1959, closed in March; it will reopen later this summer, though as a brasserie with lower prices and lighter food.
La Caravelle, a room of graceful elegance decorated with murals of Paris by Jean Pagès, was opened in 1960 by Fred Decré and Robert Meyzen. Roger Fessaguet was the chef presiding over a kitchen that turned out French classics like quenelles de brochet, roast duck and soufflés, some still on the menu. The original team at La Caravelle all trained at Le Pavillon, New York's fabled haute cuisine French restaurant.
From its beginning, La Caravelle was to the Kennedys what Le Cirque became to the Nixons and Reagans, a clubhouse. Joseph Kennedy was a regular in the restaurant's first year, and when his son was elected president in the fall, the White House chef, René Verdon, was selected and trained by Mr. Fessaguet. In 1984, ownership passed to Mr. Fessaguet and Mr. Jammet. The Jammets became full owners in 1988, when Mr. Fessaguet retired.

The restaurant was assigned three stars by The New York Times in its most recent review, by Eric Asimov in 2002. In 1968, Craig Claiborne gave it four stars in ''The New York Times Guide to Dining Out in New York,'' flatly stating that La Caravelle was ''the finest restaurant in New York on almost every count.''

La Caravelle's kitchen was an incubator for some of New York's better-known chefs, most of them not French. Michael Romano worked with Mr. Fessaguet until Danny Meyer tapped him to become the chef at Union Square Cafe. David Ruggerio, who went on to Le Chantilly and who is currently the consultant for Sushi à Go-Go near Lincoln Center, worked at La Caravelle as well, as did Tadashi Ono, the chef of Matsuri in the Maritime Hotel; Cyril Renaud, the chef and owner of Fleur de Sel in the Flatiron district; David Pasternack, the chef at Esca; and Julian Alonzo, the chef at 8 1/2 and a consultant at the new Blvd.

...according to Mrs. Jammet, by early 2004 ''business was fluctuating from one day to the next.'' This is most likely not to be the case for the next 10 days. ''This is very bittersweet,'' she said. ''But everything has a life, and it is time to move on.''

Additional website articles:
"Museum Given Memorabilia of Fabled Restaurant"

"Dedicated American Chef"