What Walter Cronkite Taught Me About Cooking



When I was first trying to find my way around the professional kitchen, I ventured away from my Southern roots, because that was all I knew about food. I always wanted to travel. I remember reading a book when I was about nine years old and it painted a glorious picture of Kashmir, with ornate houseboats in Dal Lake—those written words made me want to travel. I have never been to India but am still enchanted with the idea.

As I started to cook in my late teens, I wanted to learn more about every cuisine that seemed exotic and grand. I remember making my own wonton wrappers and reading all the Time Life cookbooks that made me feel I was visiting all of those places. In my early twenties, I was trying to emulate the likes of Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, and Jean and Pierre Troisgros; I was a total convert to French food.

Walter Cronkite enjoyed the meal and said, Come here I want to give you a big hug.

Many, many years ago my early travels brought me to Alaska, then Paris. When I returned to the states my first job as a chef was at the Tower Club in Anchorage, Alaska. As remote as Alaska felt, I seemed to be cooking frequently for interesting visitors. One memorable meal I prepared was a dinner for Walter Cronkite and his lovely wife, Betsy. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized he loved food and knew good food. He immediately started comparing restaurant notes when he heard I had been in France. He knew all I did about what was going on in France with Nouvelle Cuisine and much more—he had been dining in France since World War II. He was quite the gourmand, and it was that evening that I heard the name "Fernand Point" for the very first time. Mr. Cronkite told me how much he admired Fernand Point and what a magician he had been in the kitchen.

Until that evening I did not know that the chefs I was looking up to, when they were my age, were trying to win the approval of Fernand Point. Chef Point's passion and ability helped him establish restaurant La Pyramide, which he opened at age 26, as an international gastronomic mecca. He was also a very strong believer in the use of regional, seasonal ingredients.

The Cronkites shared stories of many Michelin three-star restaurant meals with me, but I will never forget the story Mr. Cronkite told me about Fernand Point. I remember a story (not sure whether fact or fiction) that when a young cook would come hoping to gain a place in his kitchen, this intimidating master would ask the young cook to fry an egg. He said from that alone, he could judge whether they would ever make it in the kitchen. From the moment I heard this story I had great respect for Chef Point. Mr. Cronkite reported to me that Chef Point said there was only true way to fry an egg: He would melt some butter over extremely low heat, then carefully slip an egg into it. Covering the frying pan, he would then cook the egg slowly until the white was perfectly set from the mild steam generated by the process but the yolk remained perfectly liquid.

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Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of Regina's Table at Twin Oaks. More

Regina Charboneau is the owner of Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. She is the author of two cookbooks: A Collection of Seasonal Menus & Recipes from Regina's Kitchen and Regina's Table at Twin Oaks.

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