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French-American Chef Reflects on Life's Staples

THOSE who have ever met Pierre Franey - either in person or through public television - are familiar with his gentle manner of cooking enlightenment, not to mention his accent francais.That gentle manner can be found throughout his long career as a television cooking-show host, cookbook author, and syndicated newspaper columnist.

Through his teaching, people have learned to make good food without too much fuss. His efficient recipes always seem to turn out dishes that are elegant and tasty.

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In his memoirs, ``A Chef's Tale,'' Franey guides us step by step - but this time through his life, from childhood in France to retirement in the United States.

As Franey recounts his life's main ingredients, he instills in the reader the reverence and respect for food and friends that helped him become one of the most well-known French-American chefs in the US. Black-and-white photographs illustrate key moments in his life, and 100 pages of recipes serve as a caboose of inspiration.

Franey grew up in Burgundy, where he learned how to fish and hunt and prepare basic French country dishes.

At the young age of 14, Franey left his family to serve as an apprentice in Paris, working his way up to the position of cook at Restaurant Drouant. By 1939 he was the youngest chef at the French Pavilion at the World's Fair in New York, later staying on to work at legendary Le Pavillon restaurant.

During World War II, Franey, still in New York and unable to return home, was asked to respond ``yes'' or ``no'' to the US Army. ``Well, I thought, at least the Americans seem to know what they are doing, and through this army, perhaps, I can participate somehow in the freeing of my own country. I answered `yes,' '' he remembers.

After the war, he returned to Le Pavillon (which became La Cote Basque) and became executive chef. Later, he acted as a consultant for Howard Johnson's, and in 1976 started a longtime career with the New York Times. Numerous television shows and cookbooks followed, from ``Cuisine Rapide'' to ``Pierre Franey's Cooking in America.''

Last December, Franey announced his retirement from writing the New York Times' ``60-minute Gourmet'' column, which he launched 17 years earlier to a less shortcut-savvy readership. ``Today ... meals in half that time are almost routine,'' he wrote.

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For the reader already familiar with Franey, the book presents an entertaining look at personal aspects of his life not found on camera, in columns, or in cookbook pages. Dedicated to his parents, it describes in delightful detail his food-centered life - assignments in legendary kitchens, military duty, his marriage, working with Henri Soule at Le Pavillon, working with Craig Claiborne, and filming television cooking shows.

Anecdotes, cooking secrets, and short stories are sprinkled throughout.

He devotes the epilogue to remembering how cooking and friends go together, bringing the book full circle by writing about one particular informal gathering at his home in East Hampton, N.Y.:

``The afternoon and evening reminded me - as did many like it - of nothing so much as a picnic along a riverside in Burgundy. The cooking outdoors, the brilliant bay and the playfulness of it all with family and friends brought me to realize that my life's course had been set long ago, with a few additions, emendations, and other changes - and a great deal more happiness than heartache.''

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