“Let’s have Coq au Vin,” someone said.
Translated, that would read “If you will spend a few hours preparing Coq au Vin, I will spend a few minutes eating it.”
Fair trade, I thought.
My second thought took me back more years than I cared to calculate to the French Club banquet I attended as a freshman in high school. It was held at Chez Louis, Scottsdale’s most exclusive (and only) French restaurant. At that point in time I had never eaten “French food” much less anything cooked in wine. Looking at the menu everything was cooked in wine! Would they serve a teenager wine-laced food? Would they call the police?
The waiter looked down at me and scowled. “And for Monsieur?”
I gulped hard and mumbled, “Je voudrais Coq au Vin, si vous plait.”
Before the waiter could pull the fire alarm, shout for the Gendarmes or object to a teenager ordering a wine dish, Mr. Bichon, the French teacher, interrupted with “Bien, Monsieur Guillaume, bien!”
The waiter moved on.
Time passed. No bells rang. No sirens wailed. The Wine Gendarmes didn’t crash through the windows to arrest the underage wine dish orderer. No, only in my adolescent mind did all these things happen.
The food arrived and I’ve got to tell you the Coq au Vin was the coq-iest and vin-iest Coq au Vin I had ever had (which was at that point never, but still it was fan-coq-coq-tastic!)
The sauce was a rich, red velvet clinging to the chicken like a t-shirt on a Hooters girl caught in a Spring shower. Her name was Julia but we would not meet for many years, and the sauce, the sauce, it beckoned over time: Guillaume, Guillaume! Bien!
Fast forward into the New Millennium and how many Coq au Vins had Guillaume attempted. How many? A hundred? A thousand? And did they even approach the perfection that was Chez Louis? No! A thousand times “No!”
Sauce too thin. Too salty. Too bland. Not enough coq-ness. Too much coq-ness! Every time bad, bad, bad. Well, that may be a bit harsh, bad, that is. Not up to the original bar is more to the point.
Then came Julia.
Into my kitchen she strolled one day tall and proud like a red and white Amazon dot Com goddess exuding confidence like a golf course sprinkler that turns on at 5 a.m. and makes that annoying TSST-TSST-TSST noise for hours as it sprays miles of fairway that you wish would just die and become a prairie dog preserve or something.
And there she was tall and proud and holding the book that on this day would close the loop that Coq au Vin opened so many years ago.
Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Uncharacteristically, I followed the recipe to the letter. Yes, I used an entire bottle of French burgundy for the sauce. Yes, I used an entire other bottle of French burgundy for the chef. Yes, I prepared the petit onions and mushrooms in stock and bouquet garni. Yes, I boiled the bacon strips before I sautéed them. Yes, I foomed the chicken in brandy and, boy, did I foom! Yes, I prepared the buerre manié. Yes, I served the dish with the traditional boiled new potatoes in butter and peas. I even picked a sprig of fresh thyme from the garden.
And as I stirred the buerre manié. into the reduced sauce watching liquid velvet appear before my very eyes I transcended to a new level, the J Level. The bottle of burgundy reduced to just a scant few cups infused a rich flavor achieved no other way. This was going to be good.
Through the fog I heard yummy noises and heapings of appreciation.
So good! Incredible! Incroyable! The sauce! The sauce! Da plane! Da plane!
In minutes, it was over. The ring closed. The elusive Coq au Vin challenge met. Exhausted, I faced Julia’s book and confessed I was unworthy, a mere grasshopper, but perhaps in time…
Somewhat later I heard in the distance…Beef Wellington. We haven’t had Beef Wellington in a while.
Slowly, I turned.