Friday, February 6, 2015

Sundance, New Orleans’ Film Inspiring Brunch and Eggs Sardou

Victorien Sardou (1831-1908)

I am just back from a wonderful week at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. I went to celebrate the premiere of a film I had worked on, The Experimenter  -- directed by the brilliant Michael Almereyda and starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder.

This may come as a shock, but food was not a big deal for me on this trip. This was a good thing because all the hot restaurants were closed for private parties when I arrived and even at the parties I attended, the hors d’oeuvres were mostly hoovered up before they got to me (on the upside, drinks flowed like water and I was talking a blue streak with other filmmakers –– not a bad thing). Instead, I had Japanese sushi and Thai noodles for dinner most of the time – until one of the last days when I went to a New Orleans Jazz brunch sponsored by the City of New Orleans – a smashing way to encourage films to shoot in their wonderful city.

 Gumbo with potato salad

King cake

Aside from a Bourbon Milk punch that started the day off nicely, there were hush puppies, gumbo, fried oysters, shrimp, steak po’ boys – well you get the idea. It was a great spread.

One of my favorite dishes at the brunch was Eggs Sardou (that I neglected to photograph). It’s a perfect dish for a theatrical crowd with oodles of history to boot. The chef, from John Besh’s NOLA restaurant, presented it brilliantly, in a glass with the layers of goodness showing through. I have no excuse for the years that have passed since I discovered Eggs Sardou till having them again at the brunch. If you have never been fortunate enough to taste this delight, it’s a sublime combination of creamed spinach and artichoke hearts topped by a golden blanket of hollandaise sauce. Sometimes, truffles, ham and asparagus have entered the mix.

I gave a quick look to the history of the dish and then fell down a rabbit hole of research.

The prolific French playwright, Victorien Sardou (more than 70 plays), his stars (most notably Sarah Bernhardt and Gabrielle Réjan) and his plays, (the notorious Tosca, and Thermidor – of the delicious Lobster Themidor) inspired many a grand 19th century dish. It is infuriating that 98% of these named dishes have no recipe or description attached to them –– few people commented on food in those days, there were no restaurant bloggers and what reviews there are that might mention the composition of the dishes rest in dusty archives. As restaurants closed and the celebrities faded from memory, so did the recipes. Who knows what Lobster Réjane and Sarah Potatoes could be these days? Luckily, Eggs Sardou premiered at a restaurant that has remained in the same family for 170 years.’

Antoine’s in the late 19th century (from Antoine’s collection)

The Eggs Sardou myth says that the owner of the famous Antoine’s  in New Orleans named them after Sardou after he made a visit there in 1892 (another article said it happened in 1908, the year he died). I looked and looked and couldn’t find any mention of Sardou ever visiting the US – if anything Sardou rarely left his beautiful estate, Château de Marly, outside of Paris because he was happiest living, writing, even gardening there. It seemed as if he only went to Paris to rehearse his new plays and to Cannes in winter because he did not do well in cold. He explained to an American journalist in The Galaxy in 1874 that he no interest in going to the United States.

A few articles on Eggs Sardou even posited that his 1872 play, L’Oncle Sam, was inspired by a visit to the US. Thing is, it wasn’t. I read in the 1895 edition of McClures Magazine that the play was actually inspired by Sardou’s meeting with an American family in Cannes where he wintered. Sardou was so intrigued by the foreigners he followed them to Genoa. He named the heroine Sarah, after the family’s daughter who had given him so much material. L’Oncle Sam took place in New York and was banned in Paris at first because it painted a rather poor picture of we Americans – a money hoarding, cheating buffoon and comical social climbers were among the character types in the play – all bested by a saavy Frenchwoman. Americans took the play far more lightly than the French President who censored it. L’Oncle Sam was performed with great success in New York the year before it appeared on the Parisian stage after a regime change. It seems unlikely Sardou would hound an American family for details of America had he visited there. Although it is possible his biographer left it out, he put in many accounts of American actors and producers coming to Paris to negotiate with Sardou for his plays. One would imagine there would be an account of an American visit as it would have been rather a big deal given the fact he was world famous.

Sarah Bernhardt, 1880

On the other hand, Sardou’s favorite star, Sarah Bernhardt, did visit New Orleans –– often performing Sardou’s plays and, I read HERE, she even purchased an alligator to add to her menagerie on a NOLA visit (she named it Ali-Gaga and it was said it died after drinking too much champagne). I am of the opinion Eggs Sardou was invented in 1908. Divine Sarah, performing her favorite playwright Sardou's play the year he died would certainly inspire Antoine Alciatoire to name a dish after Sardou –– to honor him, and in so doing, touch the heart the most famous actress in the world with his gallant gesture, n'est ce pas?

The recipe is based on a 1985 NYT recipe by Craig Claiborne, but the truffle butter in the hollandaise is my idea and it is delicious!

Eggs Sardou

2 c hot creamed spinach
8 cooked artichoke bottoms*
8 anchovy filets (optional - I didn't like them)
8 poached eggs, drained
8 T hollandaise
8 T finely chopped cooked ham or 8 truffle slices

Put ¼ c of the creamed spinach in each of the warmed glasses. Place an artichoke bottom on top or sliced on the sides and top with crossed anchovy filets. Put a poached egg on top of that, sprinkle with chopped ham and spoon hollandaise over the top. If you are using truffle slices, put one on top of the hollandaise

Creamed Spinach

1 ¼ lb spinach
1 ½ T flour
2 T butter
1 c milk
salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg and cayenne

Toss the spinach in a pan with a bit of water and sauté till wilted. Cool a bit, then squeeze the water from the leaves. Heat 1 T butter and add flour, stirring. Add milk and spices. Cook till thick. Either chop the spinach or puree and add to the cream sauce

Add 1 T butter

Hollandaise with Truffle Butter

5 T butter, melted, melted
3 T D'Artagnan truffle butter
2 egg yolks
2 t water
1 t vinegar
salt to taste,
½ t cayenne
1 T lemon juice

Combine yolks with water and vinegar and beat over a moderate heat. Add butter slowly. Add seasonings and lemon

* Method for cooking artichokes. Claiborne recommends cooking the trimmed hearts by the “blanc legume” method. For 6 cups of water add ¼ c of flour. I cooked 2 whole artichokes by this method and was pleased with the results. They were light and tender.

Bourbon Milk Punch (NYT recipe)

1¼ ounces Bourbon
½ ounce dark rum
2 ounces milk (use cream or half-and-half for a richer drink)
⅛ ounce vanilla extract
½ ounce simple syrup (see note)
Dash of grated nutmeg


1 In a mixing glass three-quarters filled with ice, pour the bourbon, rum, milk or cream, vanilla and simple syrup. Shake vigorously until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass. Dust with nutmeg.

To make simple syrup, warm 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature before using. (There will be extra syrup; refrigerate if not using immediately.)

Here's the director and cast at the premiere screening

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Janet Clarkson said...

I really have to make Eggs Sardou very very soon. Thanks Deanna!

Jay said...

So, I'm from the gulf coast of Texas, which looks east towards New Orleans as its cultural, gustatory, and spiritual capital. I LOVE Antoines. Galatoires a little more, but I could eat at either place until I die and I'd be a happy man. Oeufs Sardou is simply the perfect dish. If you're lucky enough to have it right after a Sandra's, some pomes soufflé, a plate of Crab Maison and a good glass of wine, all the better! And all due respect to Chef Besh, but ain't nobody got time for potato salad in they gumbo. That is all. :)

Parnassus said...

Hello Deana, Eggs Sardou is really a spectacular dish. I can imagine using the basic idea with lots of variations. Artichokes are not available in Taiwan, and anyway I sometimes get the "sweet" reaction from them rather strongly. The trick would be to keep the luxury level of the dish at a high level, to match its celebratory appearance.

La Table De Nana said...

One of our nephews attends Sundance every year as a film critic..He loves it.
I love Peter Sarsgaard in movies:)
You must enjoy yourself tremendously!

Diane said...

That sounds delightful, on my to make list quite soon :-) Hope all is well Diane

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What a wonderful time it must have been! Did you enjoy any skiing while you were there? The eggs sound wonderful! There's not an ingredient I don't love in them.

Barbara said...

What? Gumbo with potato salad? Might that be considered sacrilegious?Though I do love NOLA period. The food there is divine and Antoines is too.
Speaking of alligators, I had that on my most recent visit there. (Made me think of the song Amos Moses, which always breaks me up.)
But confess, I've never had Eggs Sardou. How did I ever miss that?
Great story about L’Oncle Sam and it sounds like you thoroughly enjoyed yourself. But personally am sorry you missed some of the restaurants, as that's always fun. I remember missing a fabulous meal in one of the best (and rare) restaurants on an island in, of all places, French Polynesia, years ago because it was closed for Pierce Brosnan. Never have liked him since. :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

You brought back wonderful memories of a NOLA visit although we didn't see Eggs Sardou there. I'll definitely have to look out for your film too-how exciting!

Marjie said...

The King Cake had a chocolate glaze on it? It looks great. I've made King Cake a number of times, always with a white glaze. I'm thinking I need to rectify that error.

Sounds like you had a great time at your festival. Your Eggs Sardou look wonderful; Craig Claiborne is a great source for wonderful recipes. Now I'm off to check out your movie.