Foie Gras or Fried Fish?
Or maybe some gossip?
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“Mushroom soup cuisine,” crab cobbler, Eric Ripert’s hunkiness, McDonald’s memories, and the outrageously wealthy Stroganoff dynasty.
Watergate’s Other Law-Breaker, a Chef
By Hugh Thomas
Jean-Louis Palladin was one of the greatest chefs to ever have lived. His favorite ingredient? Foie gras.
In the 1980s, at his restaurant at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C., Palladin wanted only the best foie gras in the world. Trouble was, it was the other side of the Atlantic. And illegal to bring into the U.S. The tinned stuff was fine – but to avoid importing foreign diseases along with them, fresh livers were a no-no, or a non-non.
But this was JLP, the greatest French chef in America. His cream of chestnut and foie gras soup was legendary. At the age of 28, he headed up a Michelin two-star restaurant in Gascony, a part of southwest France esteemed for its foie gras. And not because it came in a tin can.
Border customs stood in the way of Palladin openly bringing over his beloved livers. He tried hiding goose livers in cheese wheels on flights from France. His preferred method, however, was stuffing the gullets of monkfish with his precious foie gras. At the operation’s most active, JLP was smuggling twenty livers a week under customs officials’ noses.
When the foie gras made it to the Watergate, diners had to order surreptitiously – the waiter might mention the delicacy, but it was never printed on a menu. After all, the Watergate’s only a mile from the White House. Among other high-ranking officials to visit during JLP’s tenure, President Ronald Regan attended a birthday party there. Perhaps on that day fresh livers did not pass through the kitchen.
JLP’s disregard for the rules – written or otherwise – made him a revolutionary among chefs, influencing the Thomas Kellers, Daniel Bouluds, Eric Riperts of today. “The greatest champion of foie gras this country has ever known,” says Dan Barber. Even now, when his foie gras recipes are long out of print. 🐦
Dan Barber - “The Third Plate” (p. 108)
Stewart Lee Allen - “In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food” (p. 236)
Photo: American Serb Hall
Fish Fry Friday, a Milwaukee Tradition
Milwaukee may be most famous for its beer and cheese, but no visit to Wisconsin’s largest city would be complete without indulging in a traditional Friday Fish Fry. While Friday fish dinners are popular across the country during Lent, Milwaukeeans enjoy the practice year-round, and some restaurants even offer a bonus a fry day on Wednesday.
Fish fries originated with European immigrants in the 1800s, particularly among German Catholics, who sought workable restaurant options on meat-free Fridays during Lent. The tradition is now so ingrained in Milwaukee culture that Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Chinese restaurants promote pescatarian platters every Friday with their own cultural twists. Did somebody order fried fish with cilantro coleslaw and Puerto Rican rice with pork and olives? They sure did! A few vegetarian and vegan restaurants have even gotten in on the tradition by offering fish-free fries that feature beer-battered tofu with all the fixings.
Though the name may imply that the fish is always fried, not all cod, perch, and haddock come beer-battered or breaded in the Cream City, so called due to the cream-colored bricks popularized in the area in the 1830s. Many establishments offer grilled and baked fish fries, served with tartar sauce, coleslaw, rye bread, apple sauce, and some type of potato – usually French fries, mashed, or potato pancakes.
Despite ample fry options available on the South Side of Milwaukee, where I grew up, my family always drove to the North Side for Friday fish fries at the legendary American Serb Memorial Hall, better known simply as “Serb Hall.” Touting itself as “the most versatile and complete banquet facility,” Serb Hall mainly hosts wedding receptions, memorials, seminars, and more recently, quinceñeras. In fact, the only restaurant service it offers is its Friday night fish fries, which date back to the 1960s.
Serb Hall is the O.G. of Milwaukee fish fries, but a good plate of perch and potatoes can be found at corner bars, mom and pop cafes, and trendy restaurants all over the city. While some of the most popular fries are served at festive restaurants and beer halls where live music and activities accompany the weekly parties, Serb Hall lets the food speak for itself. The banquet hall’s beige walls and background easy listening music give off a sort of 1970s church basement feel and the voices of diners are so hushed that it feels almost rude to have a proper conversation with your dining companions.
But who really needs conversation anyway, when you have all-you-can-eat fried cod, coleslaw, and potatoes? 🐟
More Food Reading
I did not know there were varieties of sweet potato beyond Jewel and Garnet commercially available in the U.S. (Rare! But available!) But I do know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams: here’s an episode with Sweet Potato Soul herself, Jenné Claiborne, that lays it out.
Mess at the LA Times food section continues apace. Restaurant critic Patricia Escárcega believed she was hired as an equal to co-critic Bill Addison (and indeed, the paper described them as such) (and my understanding is that Addison believed they had the same job, too), but she recently found out she makes only two-thirds as much as Addison … and apparently the paper re-classified her as a “junior critic” without telling her. That’s wild stuff and you’d think a public-facing company wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, but then, LAT leadership keeps making strange decisions about the food section. I think it’s some sort of post-Gold grabby, flailing desperation to be the most famous food section on the planet that making the bosses go kooky. And you didn’t hear it from me, but there is stuff that still hasn’t come to light about this situation, and the Meehan situation, that would make you clutch your pearls even tighter if it were made public. Anyhoo, Brittany Martin at Los Angeles magazine has the best article so far about Escárcega‘s fight.
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