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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008 01:42 am

My last supper

Local chefs plan the menu – and name the guests – for their final meal

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Untitled Document What would be your last meal on earth? What would be the setting? What would you drink? Would there be music? Who would be your dining companions? Who would prepare it? Melanie Dunea posed these questions to 50 renowned chefs from around the world. Their answers are the subject of her 2007 book My Last Supper. Each chef contributed a recipe, but My Last Supper is more coffee-table book than cookbook. Their answers range from the exotic to comfort classics. Full-page photos of each chef, part of what makes the book fun, range from aesthetically beautiful (iconic chef Jacques Pepin amid a food still life) to whimsical (Lidia Bastianich, chef/owner of restaurants in New York City and Kansas City and star of a PBS cooking series, wearing an Easter bonnet of pasta and clamshells) to risqué. Not surprisingly, the risqué photo’s subject is Anthony Bourdain (author and host of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations). Bourdain, who wrote the book’s introduction, stands naked in front of a brick wall, cigarette in one hand, holding an immense raw beef bone between his legs with the other. He comments, “It’s probably not wise to make career decisions after four shots of tequila.”
“Chefs have been playing the ‘My Last Supper’ game in one form or another since humans first gathered round the flames to cook,” he says. “Someone always piped up: ‘If you were to die tomorrow, what single dish, what one mouthful of food from anywhere in the world or anytime in your life, would you choose to be your last?’ ”
For four of Springfield’s most distinguished chefs, the food itself is important, but equally so are the people with whom they’d share it. David Radwine, general manager of the Sangamo Club, would like to revisit his roots in Taylorville:
“My guests would include family, past and present, and several very close friends,” he says. “We’d start with my mother’s chopped liver and rye bread, smoked oysters, all washed down with V8, served in the living room at my childhood home in Taylorville.
“Then we’d have dinner at the now defunct One Mile Inn, starting with Angelina Doleman’s iceberg-lettuce salad with slivers of raw onion, dressed with oil and vinegar. There’d be platters of fried chicken, homemade ravioli, and spaghetti. Kay Young would provide a platter of thickly sliced prime ribs of beef. Beer on tap would be served in frozen frosty heavy glass steins.
“Then it’d be on to Manner’s Park for an after-dinner outdoor concert of the Taylorville muni band, under the direction of Ron Lindvahl. Dessert would be ice-cream cones enjoyed in our lawn chairs under the stars.”
Michael Higgins, chef/owner of Maldaner’s, is originally from northern California and would return there for his final meal. Friends, family, and “12 of my disciples,” he jokes, “would gather around a long table with a view of the Russian River where it flows into the Pacific. “We’d catch a few waves first,” says the former surfer, “and then start the meal with oysters. Next we’d have bouillabaisse made by my father. It’s what I always had for my birthday when I was growing up.” Bouillabaisse is a classic Provençal saffron-flavored fish-and-shellfish stew.
Music? “Anything, really, as long it’s not classical,” Higgins says. “Classical music is bad for digestion.” He’d like lots of wine, including some bottles of first-growth Bordeaux “even though it wouldn’t really go with the bouillabaisse.”
Higgins is most passionate about his final dessert: It has to be pie. “I really love pie,” he says, “For my last meal I want pie made by whoever can make the best homemade pie. I don’t care what the filling is, but the crust can’t be made with Crisco. It has to be made with butter and lard. If it’s not a great pie, it won’t be my last meal.”
Patrick Groth, master baker, chef, and owner of Incredibly Delicious, says it’s challenging to come up with answers about his last meal “because I have so many people I love to share life with. Over the past several years we’ve hosted dinner here almost every Saturday night with a group of friends. They have a very big place in my heart. Our friends bring their kids, and the kids help finish the dinner — we have a good time.”
Groth wants his last meal to be highlights from those warm and wonderful Saturday-night suppers that he, wife Bitsy, and their three children have shared with their friends: “My meal would consist of braised [beef] short ribs by Mary Cay McCabe; mashed potatoes by Michael Higgins; braised carrots with walnuts and thyme by Nancy Fuchs; haricots verts, baby green beans, grown by JoAnn’e Glatfelter; country French bread by me; seasonal tomato and mixed-green salad by my sons, Samuel, 7, and Isaac, 4; and cherry pie by Della Fuchs. The food would be good; however, it would be better because it was made by people who love me. That’s what really separates good food from a great dining experience — if you’re loved by who’s making your food.”
“We’d dine here in the salon, the large room in the southeast corner [Incredibly Delicious is located in the incredibly beautiful, historic Weber Mansion] and drink lots of fresh-squeezed lemonade and iced tea, and Jane Hartman would play the piano.”
Stephane Perrin is Springfield’s very own French chef. He’s worked in several local restaurants and is currently the chef de cuisine at Sebastian’s. Perrin is a native of Normandy, a region on France’s western coast whose culinary specialties include seafood, apples, crème fraîche, and Calvados, an apple brandy. (Any dish described as à la normande is made with apples, cream, and Calvados.) For Perrin, like the other Springfield chefs, the food is inextricably intertwined with the folks who would make and partake of it: “The people I’d be dining with are actually more important than the meal itself and would determine what the meal would be.
“I’d have dinner with my wife, my brother, my sister, my best friend, and their families. Can’t forget Mom. The place would be at my best friend’s house in Normandy, and we’d all participate in the preparation. Drinks would start with Ricard [an anise-flavored aperitif from southern France] and end with Calvados and coffee. “The music would be the song ‘Jean-Louis’ by Yves Jamait. The refrain goes something like this: ‘We talk, we talk, but it’s getting late. The end of the world is near, and we have nothing to drink.’
“The meal would consist of goodies from home: tripes à la mode de Caen [the most renowned dish of Caen, one of the largest cities in Normandy]; some fresh fish from the Channel with crème fraîche, potatoes, and fresh baguettes to soak up the sauce; cheeses from home — Livarot, Camembert au lait cru, and Pont l’Eveque.
“That’s it. The food is simple, but the people and place do it for me. Most of the meals I remember have a why or a who attached to them, not a menu.”  

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.
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