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Monet's other palette

The French Impressionist ate as well as he lived

Claude Monet is know for his style of entertaining about as much as Hulk Hogan is for his interpretation of Swan Lake.

But Monet, the Impressionist French master, with his second wife, Alice, regularly received guests at their home at Giverny, a simple, maison bourgeois they purchased in 1883, and where Monet lived for the next 43 years.

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Being of the "early to bed, early to rise" school, Monet often shared breakfast with his step-daughter Blanche, who was also a painter. The simple, hearty meal would consisted of eggs, bacon, tripe sausage, and English and Dutch cheeses toast and marmalade, all washed down with copious amounts of milk and tea.

Monet insisted lunch be served at exactly 11:30 each day, thereby leaving the afternoon open for strolling the vast gardens with his guests, or, especially for painting.

Heide Michels writes in "Monet's House, an Impressionist Interior," (Clarkson Potter, 1997), "So insistent was [Monet] on eating at 11:30 a.m. precisely that he would advise visitors to forget their passion for cars and travel by train so that they could be sure of arriving on time ..."

This was when he and Alice preferred to entertain. The Monets never considered inviting company for dinner. The guest list rivaled that of Gertrude Stein's Paris salon. Artists came, of course; Auguste Rodin, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Eugne Boudin, Edgar Degas, the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Paul Czanne, and one of Monet's closest friends, statesman Georges Clemenceau.

Some guests not only ate, but shared their favorite recipes; Czanne's recipe for salt cod bouillabaisse and Jean Franois Millet's petits pains are included in Claire Joyes's "Monet's Table - The cooking journals of Claude Monet," (Simon & Schuster, 1989)

Meals were usually served in the two-tone, chrome-yellow dining room, which embarrassed the sun with its golden brilliance. Monet chose the colors and furniture throughout the house in distinct departure from the tastes of the day. While the ornate Louis XVI was making its dazzling revival, and heavy, overstuffed furnishings were all the rage, Monet chose mostly simple, painted furniture more Scandinavian in style. (He even designed the blue, yellow, and white dinnerware photographed here.)

Although Monet rarely made an appearance in the kitchen, he and Alice meticulously planned the meals. The Monets had many cooks during their years at Giverny, but Marguerite was their favorite. Paul, her husband served as butler and general handyman. Marguerite, with one or two kitchen maids at her service, would work deftly and usually in silence preparing the meals for the fastidious master of the house.

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At the table, Monet had his own peculiarities Claire Joyes notes in "Monet's Table."

"For duck [Monet] ... would remove the wings, sprinkle them with nutmeg, freshly ground pepper and coarse salt, and hand them over to Paul, who would take them into the kitchen to grill ...."

"Monet never lingered over his food. The service was quick and he even gave the order never to hand dishes around twice when his American step-son-in-law, Theodore Earl Butler, was lunching with them, because his slow eating habits drove Monet crazy."

Dinner was served punctually at 7 p.m. As with lunch, a dinner gong was sounded and lateness was not tolerated.

Only on Christmas did Monet allow lunch to be held at midday. Ms. Joyes writes of the feast: "[Christmas lunch] began with eggs scrambled with truffles, or monkfish cooked American-style. Traditionally, Strasbourg truffled foie gras in pastry was served before the truffled, stuffed capons were presented on a bed of chestnuts and Prigord truffles, served with a chestnut pure. A light salad of lamb's lettuce would offset the heaviness of these dishes, followed by a Roqufort or Gorgonzola cheese."

A modern chef in Monet's kitchen

I very much enjoyed adapting the recipes, and have carefully checked them to make sure that you will have no difficulty in making these dishes.

In order to get to know the artist better and discover his personality through his lavish cuisine, I read a great deal, and this enabled me to get to know this giant among men... .

His friends and biographers relate that he had a hearty appetite, but that he was discerning and even extremely fussy about food. For his many guests ... and for his family, he carved game, roasts, and poultry himself at the table. He ... adored fish, especially the pike from his own pond. He had a kitchen-garden which was scrupulously maintained, and in which he grew herbs, aromatics, vegetables ... and field mushrooms which were carefully picked at dawn.

I was delighted by the discovery of the recipes, because they are a real palette of tastes, yet full of common sense.... Some of them are extremely simple, others more difficult.... It should not be forgotten that none of the equipment was available which we find indispensible today. Giverny did not even possess an ice-box!

For your inventiveness, for your great generosity, for all these beautiful and great recipes, for these precious journals, the evidence of the great cooking of the past, for this wonderful lifestyle,

Thank you, Claude Monet.

- Jol Robuchon,

chef de cuisine

Restaurant Jamin, Paris

* Excerpt from 'Monet's Table: The cooking journals of Claude Monet,' (Simon & Schuster, 1989)


(Gratin de champignons)

1/2 pound mixed wild mushrooms (chanterelles, morels, oyster, portabello, crimini, shiitake, for example)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

1 scant tablespoon flour

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Trim any soil from mushroom stems and wipe mushrooms with a dry cloth. Chop mushrooms into large pieces.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add shallots and cook over low heat until soft.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Add mushrooms to butter and pour flour, combined with cream over them. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and pour mushrooms into ovenproof dish.

Bake about 10 minutes, or until lightly brown.

Serves 4.


(Veau aux olives)

4 tablespoons oil

2-1/2 pound boned, rolled veal roast (a rolled breast of turkey may be substituted)

18 white pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

18 red pearl onions, peeled and trimmed

2 cups green olives

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup hot veal, turkey, or chicken stock

Heat the oil over medium heat in a covered casserole. Add the veal (or turkey) and brown all over. (Boned veal or turkey are usually purchased enclosed in a cotton, net bag. Do not remove it until serving).

Cover casserole, and cook meat over low heat for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Add salt and pepper, to taste, hot stock, and onions. Cover and cook until onions begin to soften when pierced with a sharp knife - about 5 minutes. Add olives and simmer until heated through, or until onions are cooked to your liking. (Add a bit of water, or more stock, if you notice stock has evaporated. You will want enough liquid to serve with the meat.)

Removed veal, onions, and olives to a warm serving platter. Scrape casserole and pour liquid into gravy boat.

Serve with glazed or boiled carrots and small salad.

All recipes based on those from 'Monet's Table - The cooking journals of Claude Monet'

(Simon & Schuster).


(Soupe aux poireaux et pommes de terre)

5 to 6 large leeks

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

4 large boiling potatoes, sliced

Trim green top, from leeks and discard, or freeze for making stock. Cut leeks lengthwise, almost to root end. Shake them vigorously in cold water to remove any grit; trim and discard root ends, and cut leeks into 1/2-inch slices.

Heat 1/4-cup butter in a large sauce pan, add leeks and saute until soft. While leeks are cooking, bring a quart of water, with the salt, to a boil. Add water, all at once, to leeks. Cover; simmer 45 minutes. Add potatoes, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in remaining butter before serving.

Top with toasted croutons and chives or scallion greens.

Serves 4.

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