Photo gnondpomme/Flickr CC
A recent reference in the numerous stories of how to eat in Paris in recession days, and a reference to the recent price of poulet vapeur for two--$267--brought me back to when my husband, the late Norman Zinberg, and I ate the very same dish on our honeymoon, in 1956, for a fraction of the price, probably $25, as it was created by the legendary founder of the Hotel de la Cote D'Or, Alexander Dumaine. Then it was called poulet de Bresse demi-deuil, chicken in half mourning, an effect created by slipping slices of black truffle under the chicken's skin.
The bird was weighed, a carefully calibrated amount of consomme and julienned vegetables was added, and the precise steaming time calculated. Woe unto any diner who arrived minutes after Mr. Dumaine whipped off the cloth from the rim of the earthenware casserole, releasing the most fragrant aromas throughout the meal as one casserole after another was unsealed. It had to be eaten immediately!
Even taking inflation into account, this was affordable for a graduate student and young assistant professor, though we had indeed pooled several wedding checks for a month-long eating adventure across Italy and France. Thanks to Joseph Wechsberg's compelling article in the New Yorker earlier that year in which he described Dumaine's ascent to the pinnacle of French cuisine on the death of Fernande Point, we were determined to visit this gastronomic temple. Calling upon the skills of a French friend, we asked him to write to Dumaine saying that we knew little about food (which of course, I did not believe but should have) and even less about wine. "Might we stay at the Hotel for five days and begin to learn?"