Friday, March 25, 2011

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Recipe for Pigeon with Olives (Ramereaux aux Olives)

I think we all know the story of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa.  He came from an ancient family, but a thousand years of inbreeding made poor little Henri a mess (they now know it was a hereditary problem – Pycnodysostosis, which caused dwarfism, brittle bones, enlarged nose and lips).  His mad eccentric father, Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse, utterly abandoned him … horrified at the shame of a less than perfect son and heir. Henri’s consolation was his art (the only positive thing about his patrimony was a talent for art that went back generations in the family), and the unflagging love and support of his mother (also ignored by Alphonse-Charles).

Yes, Henri moved to Paris and led a wild, dissipated life in cafés and nightclubs, but he also played the role of the masterful flâneur as well as it has ever been played.  His intense observation of and immersion in la vie de Bohème fed his art… his incredible art.

Oh what art he made!  His deformity may have kept him hobbled in many ways but what he lacked in mobility he made up for with a prolific, super-human outpouring of canvases, drawings and lithographs that captured the soul of his time and place.  You can almost hear Lautrec's spirit entreating,   “Look what you can see through my eyes, look at my world!”. That vision earned him immortality.

What you may not have known is that he was a much respected gourmet and cook and also one of the first and certainly one of the most creative cocktail mixologists in France. He practically originated the cocktail snack and because of his strong ties to the cuisine and products of his Southern-French heritage, he introduced the Languedoc style of cooking to the intelligentsia, fellow artists and denizens of Fin de siécle Paris.  

To do justice to Lautrec’s cocktails skills, you need to visit the inimitable duo of David and Lesley Solmonson at 12 Bottle Bar who will share what they know about Lautrec’s wildly inventive cocktails and those parties.  David and Lesley know cocktails better than anyone around and tell a great story.  I enjoined them to team up this week to do Lautrec justice.  Go to 12 Bottle Bar for the Maiden's Blush cocktail... a Lautrec favorite with absinthe and raspberries!!!

Ces Dames au Refectoire (women eating at the brothel’s table)

Lautrec absorbed dishes from everywhere, he traveled extensively, kept company with everybody who was anybody but also frequented and often lived in the ‘Maisons closes’ where he became close to the prostitutes there as no one had been before. 

The Sofa

 So much so that they trusted him and shared the little intimacies of their lives (and remarkably homey cuisine) with him.

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Places like Chat Noir, famed Montmartrecabaret artistique” and the Moulin Rouge were electric destinations for Lautrec and his company of artists, writers and entertainers.

His nearby studio hummed with their presence and colorful inspiration and his canvases reflected his incredible empathy with that environment and its habitués. 

Symbolist poet, Paul Leclerq said of him: “He was a great gourmand.  He always carried a little grater and a nutmeg to flavor the glasses of port he drank.  He loved to talk about cooking and knew many rare recipes for making the most standard dishes, for in this, as in all else, Lautrec had a hatred of useless frills… He loved dishes which had been simmered slowly for hours and seasoned with perfect art.  He tasted old vintages and liqueurs as a connoisseur.  When he clapped his tongue against his palate and pronounced such and such a burgundy to be like a ‘peacocks tail in the mouth’ one was assured that the bouquets of the wine was fruity and rich.”

He was a member of Club des 30, sportsmen, scientists, men of letters, “a distinguished group of bon vivieurs” who often met at Café Weber, a favorite hang out of Lautrec on the Rue Royale whose patrons included composer Claude Debussy, English writer Oscar Wilde, food writer Curnonsky, authors Colette and Marcel Proust and the nonpareil aristocrat-eccentric Robert de Montesquiou.

When he wasn’t out drinking port or vermouth (or champagne when he was in the money) and dining on Welsh Rabbit  at Café Weber’s, or cocktails at the Irish American Bar when the Weber was too crowded, he was having friends in constantly for food and drinks, emptying his pockets and the hampers of prime produce and game his mother sent him regularly from his ancestral home -- Chateau du Bosc in Albi on the River Tarn. He required that his tables were only to be decorated with flowers and his artful menus (although from all descriptions, his studio was crammed to the rafters with decorations from a Japanese Warrior helmet to an African spear, to make up for whatever visual calm might preside at the table).  His ‘violent sauces’ demanded a simple environment to shine, albeit a luxurious one -- his table linens and silver came from the family closets and were of the finest quality even if many of his glasses were pinched from cafes that he frequented.

He cooked elaborate feasts lubricated with great lashings of cocktails concocted by the artist himself with glee and creativity… but not water … he abhorred water so much that water carafes on the table contained live goldfish to discourage their use … spirits or wine only -- alcohol or thirst!  Most of these dinners were celebrated with charming menus and invitations like the one above for a dinner around the bounty of his family’s lands, “Dîner des Tarnaise”

The Orchestra at the Opera, Edgar Degas

Meals with Lautrec were often creative ‘happenings’. The painter Edward Vuillard recalled a meal at Lautrec’s house on the idyllic Avenue Frochot that seemed to end abruptly at the cheese course. Lautrec said “follow me” and rustled his guests away from the table and into his neighbor’s apartment in his building where he presented a Degas painting of his neighbor Désiré Dihau playing the bassoon hanging on the wall.  “This is your dessert”, said Lautrec!

Galerie Goupil

Lautrec’s original recipes were collected by his boyhood friend and frequent dinner and traveling companion the gallery director Maurice Joyant (he took over the directorship of the Galerie Goupil from Theo van Gogh) after the artist’s death.

It was Joyant who put together a limited edition cookbook of his friend’s food, La Cuisine de Monsieur Momo in 1930 after creating the Lautrec Museum  at the Palais de la Berbie in Lautrec’s hometown of Albi to display his friend’s art and keep his memory alive.  

La Cuisine de Monsieur Momo by Maurice Joyant

I found the originals for the recipes in an English translation of this book, The Art of Cuisine.  These are recipes that were truly prepared by Lautrec.

In Toulouse-Lautrec's Table, Andre Daguin (father of D’Artagnan founder Ariane Daguin) did a spectacular job of translating the recipes that were often a little vague in the original.  As a master of the cuisine of Lautrec’s homeland and a master chef himself, he was the perfect choice for the job. Its author, Genevieve Diego-Dortignac had access to Lautrec family papers and letters and was able to flesh out the lines of story with a flurry of lovely details. 

Diego-Dortignac said that Lautrec used the 28 herbs that Alexandre Dumas (fabled gourmet as well as author of the 3 Musketeers) had divided into 3 categories, pot-herbs, herbs for flavoring and herbs for seasoning in his Great History of Cuisine.  “ To bake a sole on a bed of tarragon, braise wild boar in sage, add wild thyme or thyme to a fricassee, fry parsley as an accompaniment to fish, cook bass or perch on charcoal with a stalk of fennel, grate horseradish on venison, mix savory with string beans a la crème…. These are the final touches that make the dishes ‘sing’” said Maurice Joyant as he described Lautrec’s cooking.

Toulouse-Lautrec cooking at the Natansons, Edouard Vuillard 1898

Henri inherited a family tradition of personal involvement with the table -- what was served and how it was served was not left to the servants.  He made sure it was always well-prepared and usually great fun to eat.

His friend Joyant said: “Around him, dishes and ideas proliferated, whether it was in Brussels, London, or in his habitual quarters of Paris and Arcachon [Dumas had a house there], succulent and simple dinners were improvised in honor of the guests, the chosen of both sexes.” Lautrec and Joyant  “sought out and carefully recorded the recipes of ‘clever cooks and of conscientious mothers’”.

Each occasion provided a reason for a party with a menu by the artist. Toulouse-Lautrec's Table author Diego-Dortignac observed that a new painting or drawing or a success of any kind generated more food, more art, more creative cocktails (that were important to the “proper contemplation of a painting”). “Cuisine was linked with his artistic being” in a very singular organic way.  Cooking was for him another facet of the art of living.  He shared the flavors of his version of life as he saw, felt and lived it on paper, canvas and the plate with equal power.

Lautrec had some absolute favorite dishes.  Onions stuffed with garlic puree, studded with cloves and braised in stock was a great favorite, so was Lobster Americaine.  In the home of his friend Georges Henri-Manuel he prepared the dish in Manuel’s drawing room, strenuously refusing to prepare it in the proffered kitchen to the horror of his fastidious friend (flambéing and priceless art and antiques are uneasy bedfellows).  The dish turned out perfectly and was done so well that not a drop was spilt or sprayed.  Another special favorite was leeks in red wine (although he was not crazy for vegetables in general save for additions to meat dishes).

He had one dish that was his chef d’oeuvre:  Pigeon with olives.  “Anyone he thought pretentious or snobbish or suspected of wanting to sample the Lautrec specialty out of curiosity alone, he would unceremoniously turn away, giving as his reason: They are not worth of the ‘ramereaux (pigeon) aux olives’ they will never have it, they will never know what it is.”

Thanks to my friends at D’Artagnan , I was able to get the wood pigeon for the dish. As I said,  Ariane Daguin’s father did the recipes for the book, and the wonderful D’Artagnanite, Lily Hodge is a former art historian so she was very interested in seeing what this creation would turn into and honestly, so was I.  Any dish that was so honored must be remarkable.  I was a little skeptical that something so simple could be so magical but it really was… it comes together brilliantly.  If you have never made pigeon before… they are all breast.  The easiest way to eat them is to separate the breast from the carcass to eat politely (gnaw on the little bones later).  Cook the breast as little as possible… it should be red and tender.  Hank at Honest Foods recommends brining pigeon in salt water overnight for more tenderness.

Pages from The Art of Cuisine

Young Wild Pigeon with Olives
Serves 4
4 wood pigeons from D'Artagnan (or Cornish hens or poussin) 
8 oz ground beef (lightly sautéed)
8 oz  French Garlic Sausage from D'Artagnan (lightly sautéed, if it is not pre-cooked) or a mild pork/veal sausage
¼ t of nutmeg
1 t fresh marjoram and thyme (optional)
2 T Truffle butter from D'Artagnan or regular butter 
2 Qt chicken stock
¼ c  armagnac or cognac
3 oz butter
½ oz truffles (optional) 
3 shallots
1 onion
3 strips of smoky bacon, chopped
Bouquet garni
10 oz green pitted olives
1 t molasses

Take 4 pigeons and put a stuffing of sausage and meats and truffles (if you don’t have them use truffle butter or oil) seasoned with nutmeg, herbs and salt and pepper inside the little cavity.  Put the truffle butter under the skins of the bird… take care for the skin is very fragile.  Salt and pepper the birds.

Tie them up and let the pigeons brown in a heavy, shallow pan… mostly the bottom of the bird.  Remove them and put the bacon, shallots and onion into a saucepan and sauté.

Add salt, pepper, a bouquet garni. Put in the pigeons back in the pan, and let them simmer gently for ½ an hour with the saucepan covered. Add some pitted green olives that have been well de-salted (I put them in a pan of water and boiled them, then let them sit in fresh water) and add the armagnac/cognac and cook for 10 more minutes.

Heat the broiler.

Let the birds braise well in the sauce and then remove the birds. Reduce the sauce.  Take the molasses and a few tablespoons of the sauce and brush on the birds.  Stick the birds under the broiler to brown for a few moments to give some color to the skin.

Serve the birds on a dish surrounded by the olives and the strained sauce that ought to be rich and thick.

PS Wild rice with truffle butter is amazing with this dish!

Toulouse-Lautrec's Recipe for Pigeon with Olives

Thanks to Gollum for Hosting Foodie Friday!


Peter said...

I have a squab in the freezer that needs eating. This post makes me want to cook it in absinthe.

Christo Gonzales said...

I have had the art of cuisine for years and I was just talking about it yesterday.....

La Table De Nana said...

You've taught me so much..I never knew most of this..if not all..
I wonder if guests were allowed to bring some menus home..little works ..of treasures to be sure!

He had good friends..that's so nice..
D'Artagnan is so good to you and vice versa.

There is a farm in QC that raises prize pigeons for culinary purposes..we watched a show on it..very interesting.. expensive too!

Your pigeon looks wonderful..

alison said...

gorgeous post,congrats!and a very special dish!:)

Linda said... are amazing...this is me bowing!!!
An amazing post...I just learned so much that I did not know...visiting you is always a gift!

Ana Powell said...

You don`t stop surprising me, your work just gets better and better.
The amount of research you make is just unbelievable.
Stunning recipes and photos.
Wishing you a great weekend ♥

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What a wonderful read! I didn't know how Henri loved to entertain. Another release of his creative talent, I'm sure. I love his art and we were happy to see an special exhibition of his work when it was at the Art Institute in Chicago.

What beautiful little birds. They must have been so delicious.

My Grama's Soul said...

Thank you for sharing all this wonderful information. I recent rented a movie that was a documentary on his life...and they did not TOUCH on his culinary strange...don't you think?


Sarah said...

I wonder if I would eat a pigeon if I found someone to harvest one for me. I know it is all the same as squab, essentially. I might use a cornish game hen.

Barbara said...

(My grandmother's old nutmeg grater is so prosaic! Wouldn't a portable one be magnificent?)
Well, you've done it again, Deana. What a brilliant post. I believe I read someplace about his culinary talents, but had no idea the extent of his interest and ability. Perhaps finding talent in both art and cuisine (isn't that an art in itself?) are a natural extension of the artistic temperament? And wouldn't a collection of his menus be brilliant? And he probably sketched them off with one hand while stirring a pot with the other!

I do love your collaborations with D'Artagnan and 12 Bottle Bar...some fabulous posts are a result and no doubt there will be many more to come.

Now to the cookbook and recipe: The Art of Cuisine sounds like a gem. I will certainly put it on my wish list! I'm loving the many flavors in one dish. It looks marvelous!

Mary Bergfeld said...

While your pigeon is a treat for the senses you ability with words and the research you do is a treat for the mind and soul. This was a lovely informed post and I enjoyed every moment of it. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Lisa @ Tarte du Jour said...

Fascinating post as always.... and the Pigeon with olives look heavenly!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Dearest Deana,

You are gifted in so many ways, but your writing and insight is as delicious and rich as the history and recipes you provide your readers. I am so enchanted by every word, every sentence that transports me to a world that I SO LOVE....this fabulous place where people love food and art, and through the difficulties of their life and destitute circumstances, CREATE SUCH BEAUTY...and your comments on my post...oh dear, YOU SEE! YOU UNDERSTAND!!! Oh, I think those tethers of youth are finally loosening up dearest, yes, THEY ARE loosening my balloon. You are incredible, and your spirit is beautiful. WHAT A LIFE LE PAUVRE TOULOUSE_LAUTREC a mené!!! But what a legacy. MERCI MILLE FOIS and your recipe looks marvelous. CHEERS!!! Anita

Claudia said...

The research surrounding this dish is fascinating - and now I need to find out more. Also thinking the pheasant in my freezer may translate a wee bit.

Taste of Beirut said...

I have always felt a kinship for Toulouse-Lautrec (love the renegade and the challenged) knew a bit about his rich talents, but not to this extent, which I was very interested to learn about here; the last time I had pigeon was in Beirut as a teen, it was made the Egyptian way with rice and I remember feeling a bit squeamish about eating it; but it was very dark and not very different from chicken really; the addition of olives and these spices sounds perfect with it.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a wonderful portrait of the men taking a perspective that I had no idea about-his dedication for food! The Pigeon with olives looks and sounds absolutely heavenly and I'm with him-only worth making for worthy souls!

Megan @ FeastingonArt said...

So beautiful! I always thoroughly enjoy your art-focused posts. The pigeon looks delicious, definitely a recipe I would like to try sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the story and the dish is terrific! Great flavor profile with the truffles and the olives!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

I love TL. I once read a third of a biography about him. It was very interesting, I just never finished it. Never got to his cooking years though. :)

Chef Dennis Littley said...

hi Deana
I don't think I have ever read a more complete history of Henri, what a great talent he was, and I do remember hearing of his fondness for food and drink. I have never had pigeon before, but the way you prepared it how could it not be delicious. I love olives and what a nice accompaniment to that lovely bird.
Thanks again for such a wonderfully informative post!

Magic of Spice said...

What a gorgeous dish...I love Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, but knew little about the culinary side. Fascinating post!

2 Stews said...

I devoured this post like it was a Lautrec culinary creation. I wasn't aware that he was such a gourmand, but art is art no matter the medium. The last time I had wood pigeon was in London years ago. It is a delicate and tasty bird.

The nutmeg grater is interesting. I have a friend who travels with her Peugeot pepper grinder. She pulls it out of her purse where she keeps it in a small cloth bag and grinds her favorite pepper on her meals.

Thanks for another interesting and novel post.


Ken Albala said...

This sounds absolutely delicious. Fabulous story too, I had no idea TL was such a gourmand. Now those two fat mourning doves sitting in my yard are beginning to look tastier every day. I suppose you could source fat pigeons anywhere in the city, huh? If you didn't mind a whiff of cigarette butt. Like being pre-fumee.