A Very Special Friendship With Jack Hemingway and Family

Jan 02

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“Chef…Jack Hemingway  wants  you to stop by his table !” The year was 1972 . This was my first post as an Executive Chef after leaving Marin County for Boise, Idaho. Recently married,excited about what life was going to bring us;scared to fail, but game to learn: see new places and meet new people and have new friendships, Belinda and I had landed smack dab in the middle of the High Desert of Southern Idaho. Not too much to be excited about after the wonder and grand experiences of San Francisco…but we would give it the best we could.

One of my first interests was the area’s  history. It has been said that the first white men to settle were French trappers (Le Bois-the forest – soon became ‘Boise’). The foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains seemed like a place to put a town. Thirty miles to the north was Idaho City, an early gold mining spot where there is a primitive early territorial prison one can visit.. All this historical interest  had led us to a new elegant restaurant in an historical building that was originally the opera house. I was recruited by an old friend and we had flown to Boise some months before to see what this project would become. Most recently, The Old Boise Saloon  where house specialties were pizza and beer. The beer was dispensed from a 40 foot ornate carved back bar shipped around Cape Horn ….probably in the late 1870’S, and was the focal point of the huge room. An elegant environment at one time; it came with a proper stage , 25 foot plus ceilings and giant trimmed windows on the street side of the building. It was a cavernous space, except the kitchen was next door in another building;an opening to pass through the two and support spaces made it the largest kitchen I had ever worked in.

We all worked for 3 weeks to strip layers and layers of dirt,paint and age from that bar. Sanded,oiled and finally rubbed to a sheen,it was quite a show piece and was definitely a work of art. Some weeks later,when we opened for dinner, people came from all around to see Boise’s newest star attraction. The whole state was less than one million population, but the capitol was an attractive little city. Many of the older buildings in the downtown area had been torn down (as was done in many American cities in the 60’S). The restaurant was very close to the state capital building  on Main Street, where quite a few of the historic buildings had survived. This area became the destination for some curious travelers and visitors to the capitol of Idaho…plus Boise State University was close by just across the river. This sounds like a big deal…yes it was-on a small scale.  Most were going to go to Sun Valley and the ski slopes; there to watch all the famous people who would come to vacation and ski….movie stars, notables in politics,television,music and so on ; traveling either by plane or car the stop over in Boise often was the case .Of course , dinner at The Duchin Room at the Sun Valley Lodge was a big attraction since 1936 when the resort was founded by railroad magnate Averill Harriman. (I fondly remember a great and memorable  meal we had there with carved rack of lamb for two, pampered table side service and Crepes Suzette for dessert!)

Since one usually had to fly into Boise and catch a connecting flight to Idaho Falls,this layover time captured curious and hungry world travelers for CHURCHILL’S , as the new place was called. I put in an ambitious menu,foolishly as I recall now; but I wanted the diners to experience that I had learned my craft from Bernard in Marin County well. I may have not had a chance to work in Europe , but I could cook (and still can) ! Jack Hemingway and part of his family had heard about us and stopped to see what was this new place about. Since they had to lay over before catching a that flight to Idaho Falls the next day,then drive up to Ketchum to his home on the Wood River.

“Yes sir, may I help you, I’m Chef Ross Pullen”, I said nervously, not knowing if I had tripped up miserably with their food. “Hello, Chef. My name is Jack and we all love your new menu. This is our first visit. All eight of us have tried different things. Mrs. Hemingway(Jack’s step mother Mary, who was with the party that evening) had the Milk Fed Veal with Chanterelle Mushrooms . I want to ask about the sauce on my Filet of Petrale Sole- Sauce Buerre Noir. Is that a sauce similar the French butter sauce Buerre Blanc ? ” No sir, it is much simpler than buerre blanc. I have just heated some butter with finely chopped shallots until the butter is a very dark brown color, splashed in some good red wine vinegar and a few  capers, then napped the already sautee sole and added some parsley. You know it’s a versatile sauce and excellent  on a good many things…even poached eggs”.“Well, I think it’s a grand dish. Thanks for coming to our table and we’ll be back!”

EasyRecipe

I went back to the kitchen and had to sit down and collect myself. Not used to meeting so many from a famous family all at once ; especially when, in those early first days of being a chef…… I was scared to death that I was going to foul everything up and lots of people would not have jobs anymore! Then after CHURCHILL’S closed, I would have to quietly slink off to search and beg for a job- maybe working banquets at a run down,”wanna-be casino” in Reno or Carson City……or worse! Working the grill at a truck stop outside of Great Falls , Montana, Grand Junction, Colorado or maybe Mojave, Ca.(Not that these aren’t wonderful towns )

Luckily, that didn’t happen at all. Jack and his family came often and we became good friends, especially with his oldest daughter Joan…known to her friends and family as Muffet.She was a co-author of the novel Rosebud ,which was made into a feature film directed by Otto Preminger and starred Peter O’Toole. Her next writing endeavor was The Picnic Gourmet ,a collaboration with Connie Maricich. This turned out to be a great cookbook about all the picnics she and family and friends enjoyed. Wonderful recipes ,many from her mother Puck, were included. I asked if she would like to have one that my mom had made for our family when I was a kid (one that I had changed a bit). Not only did she graciously accept the recipe, but when PEOPLE  MAGAZINE came calling to write a feature about the book in their August 25, 1974 issue (Jaws with Roy Scheider on the cover ), Muffet chose to feature my recipe and is holding a large platter with my Mom’s Special Four- Bean Salad in the photo on the first page of the article “Muffet Hemingway’s Movable Feast Is a Mountain Picnic Extraordinaire “. (PLEASE NOTE! Click on this story title and you can find that great recipe as printed in PEOPLE Magazine.)

IN CLOSING: I always have contended that my wealth has always been measured by the people I meet and the people I know along this path we know as LIFE! I don’t see that changing any time soon.

 

4 comments

  1. Chantal /

    I have to admit that I’ve never heard of a buerre noir. Being a huge fan of all things butter sauce, that is a surprise. I can’t wait to try it soon!

    • Chantal…let’s do that. We’ll get in your kitchen at a slow time and I can show you some simple ways these types of sauces can brighten up the proteins you have on hand at all times. Easy new specials?

  2. Wonderful to read about those times. Remember that the big windows were Stained glass? And the glass doors to the building were beautiful beveled patterned glass the likes of which I have never seen since? And how our friendship with Jack continued to our opening of Belinda’s here in Portland and they whould come to dine and then we would take them to that neat oriental restarant were we were regulars because it was open on Sundays and hardly anything was back in those days ‘caus liquor was illegal even in restaurants in those olden days? We did not care, we just liked being waited on fir a change! Then when liquor was legal we still went there so we took the Hemmingways and they loved the food as much as we did. I remember the wine with it was terrific that we always had but I do not remember what it was? Also what was the name of the place?

    • Those times were very special….wonderful memories. We always went to YEN CHING on SW Washington, a block from Jake’s Crawfish. I remember their chef was Korean and Chinese and was raised in Vietnam! They had the only Korean food in Portland (but no menu).Jack loved some of those Korean dishes we were served. The wine? It was Tualatin Vineyards Riesling; always was good with Asian food. Bill Fuller,owner and winemaker, was a good friend. I remember that when his daughters turned 16 they were taken to a nice restaurant for their birthdays…they both chose Belinda’s!

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