The Season for Gifts is All The Seasons…PART 2 – Bernard’s Gift

Dec 04

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The nightmare for Bernard , that was Dachau , was over ! The 42 ND Division- The Rainbow Division of the US Army – liberated 32, 000 prisoners  those last days of April 1945 . It was Bernard’s goal to make his way back to Paris…after all , he had a job waiting for him at Dominic’s ( for the last 5 years ! ) . He headed west . Parts of the country he would cover were still occupied by German troops . If they found him , he would not make it to Paris . Even though all was lost for Germany and the whole of Europe was in a state of chaos and the shambles , he had to be careful. He met up with two Red Army deserters who were determined to make it to England or France . Bernard promised them jobs at Dominic’s if they would escort him safely to Paris . “You will never be cold or hungry again “, he promised . All agreed and they started their journey.Everyone was hungry and the land was still cold ; frost , ice , and frozen earth was their road .

There was one instance when they were stopped by a vehicle and questioned . The Germans could care less about Red Army deserters ; the two hid Bernard under some old boards that covered a cesspool where he stayed for over an hour ,  until it was safe to continue . He told me this part without the slightest change in his demeanor.

They came across a farmer’s potato field that had been stripped clean . Bernard urged them to dig in the frozen soil …there must be some potatoes left in that field . Sure enough they found a potato…He would not let them eat the muddy, frozen food ! They started a fire and added some stones , adding the other 3 potatoes they found  to the fire . The Russians wanted to pull them out right away, but Bernard made them wait until those frozen and misplaced potatoes were completely roasted in the hot coals of their fire….. the skin was blackened and wrinkled , but the insides were wonderfully fragrant , warm and delicious . Bernard told me it was the finest meal he had ever eaten in his life ; his two guardians and travel companions agreed ! Huddling around their little fire at the edge of that farmer’s field…cold and now not so hungry . The long walk before them of over 500 miles did not seem to be such  a daunting task with full bellies.

Move some 26 years ahead in time , 1971  in Marin County  – Corte Madera , north of San Francisco . Bernard and I would man a kitchen featuring a Table d’Hote menu of over 35 entrees . Fresh sole – 3 preparations , , veal in cream and white wine , veal sweetbreads , filet mignon steak and  medallions of beef ; abalone , tripe , chicken – 5 preparations ; New York Strip steak grilled , a la minute  and au poivre- with cracked black pepper , demi-glace , Burgundy and cognac sauce ; roast duckling ala orange , marinated fresh leg of lamb en brochette , Boeuf ala Bourguignonne and so on . My path to Bernard’s tutelege started next door at a fondue restaurant . His right hand fellow had moved on to another position and he asked me if I wanted to learn about European fine cuisine ; and come to work with him in the kitchen . The wages were low , the work was hard ; but surely not coal mine hard ! The important thing was I was doing and learning what i was meant to do . Bernard and I prepared all the dinners from scratch for a 75 seat continental restaurant , Le Tonneau  ….one that had the wine cellar throughout the dining room . (the kitchen crews of today may balk at that much effort ! ) The selections of 200 wines were stored in hand made wormwood shelves by his partner , Angelo.  Le Tonneau was not as well known as many of the famous elegant and old line places in San Francisco like : RITZ OLD POODLE DOG , ERNIE’S , FIOR D’ ITALIA , JACK’S , LE TRIANON , ALEXIS TANGIER , and the like  (In later years , I was offered the executive chef’s position at Alexis Tangier on Nob Hill across from The Fairmont Hotel ) ; however , we had a loyal following and many a fine , elegant meal was prepared and served forth there in a strip mall in Marin County .

Bernard would never let write anything down  while we were working ! I would steal away to the store room and scribble some newly learned facts to study later . The first big mistake I made left me very shaky , he said ” Only people who don’t work , don’t make mistakes ! “ That confidence and support helped me get a job some years later as a an executive  chef in Boise , Idaho at three different ,  quality establishments…all the while I never forgot the ” THE GIFT THAT HIS TEACHINGS AND EXAMPLES “ meant to me . I have studied cooking , food , and the world’s cuisine in one form or another for 40 plus years . That would have never happened if that man had made it over the Pyrenees that time in 1940 ! For that I am eternally grateful and proud . I am a very lucky man !

If you have gotten this far with these chronicles , I commend and thank you ! There was darn little to learn about food or cooking with this two part presentation .  There weren’t many unique observations about the world of restaurants to take in ; not any quips or humourous stories to pass on . I felt it important to tell Bernard’s story from my point of view . He only spoke one time about his ordeal , he did not say another word again…at all . Not once . There must have been a reason. Don’t you think so ? I do !

COMMENTS : These are the times when we get caught up in the ” SEASONS “ . The Holiday Season is especially exciting …shopping , parties , connecting with old friends , restaurant outings with those same friends and our families . All of these give us pleasure and enhance the quality of our lives.  Maybe a moment spent recalling those gifts given at another time…at another place would be a good thing . Especially those gifts that have no material form , but impact us for many many years . Like Bernard’s Gift has done for me….and many happy diners !                                    

 

6 comments

  1. Again, what an honor to have known him, and also to have eaten his food!

  2. Yes it was an honor .. There are only a few people that leave a mark on us like this man did , while we march along life’s trails and paths . Would anyone be so lucky to have just one person like Bernard to give directions on which sign post to read and what road to take!

  3. What a GREAT story!
    To think that humans have that capacity to endure and survive!!

    • Some that walk this earth are really able to dig down deeper than the rest of us. It was an honor to share this story about my mentor.

  4. Chantal /

    I love that you used the theme of holiday gifts to share this amazing story. We can loose sight so easily of what is truly important in life. Cheers to you, Ross!

    • Yes…the Holiday gifts. They helped me realize that a gift has many wrappings. While not all have the bright colors, vibrant designs and lively themes of Christmas, they are the “real gifts” that are cherished and shared in subtle ways throughout our lives.

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