Papa Bernachon--An Unforgettable Man and Chocolatier Extraordinaire

images.jpgThis is a special story which I wrote years ago for the LA Times Syndicate. Because someone on Face Book this week wrote about his visit to Bernachon in Lyon, France, I was inspired to share this story with him and with all of you. It starts out with a special technique I discovered for roasting duck but my favorite part is about Maurice Bernachon and the lunch we shared at one of the finest restaurants in the world--Chapel. And only now--this very moment, after all these years--as I write the name Chapel, do I realize how fitting was Alain Chapel's name, for eating at his restaurant was truly a religious experience. Perfect Crisp Roasted Duck (a revolutionary technique for the fairest of all fowl) Duck, with its rich moist flesh and flavorful crispy skin, can be the most delicious of all poultry. However, when not cooked properly it is greasy with fat, the flesh over-cooked and dry and the skin soft and uninteresting. Because I love duck so much and even in restaurants have more often than not been disappointed, I set out years ago to find a way to roast duck which would eliminate the maximum amount of fat while maintaining the juiciness. The solution turned out to be extraordinarily simple: boiling water is poured over the skin to tighten it, then the duck is air dried (which can be accomplished overnight in the refrigerator). The most important part is that during roasting, the skin of the duck is pricked, the oven temperature is very high to release the fat and boiling water is poured directly on the duck to keep it moist and to prevent the fat from splattering. The resulting duck is virtually fat-free, moist with crisp skin and, as an added benefit, it cooks in under an hour. I have never prepared duck another way for 15 years since this technique evolved. But I do have a memory of quite a different duck that was more delicious still at an unforgettable lunch in the south of France. I was in Lyon, working with the Bernachons on the translation of their book: Bernachon.jpg The book is no longer in print but is still available for a song at some bookstores and Amazon, where it received a 5 star review. Papa Bernachon invited me to lunch to celebrate its completion and asked me to choose between Bocuse and Chapel. I was torn. Both were brilliant chefs but Chapel, with his near military precision and passionate perfection was the chef of my heart and soul and his was my favorite restaurant in all the world. Despite this, and after some hesitation, I chose Bocuse because I knew that Maurice Bernachon's son Jean Jacques is married to Paul Bocuse's daughter. Politesse won out over passion--not to mention the fact that I knew we would eat magnificently at either place. And I comforted myself with the promise that someday soon I would return to Chapel. The day of the luncheon arrived. We folded our aprons, changed out of our whites, and drove off to what turned out, to my joyful astonishment, to be Chapel. The greeting Bernachon received from the Maitre d' was worthy of a king. But then, of course, he is considered the king of chocolatiers in France and his neighbors in the food establishment are very proud of him. But with his silver mane of hair and courtly gallant manners, I felt as if I were dining with the long fantasized French grandfather of my dreams. Chapel came out to greet us and serious discussion ensued (as only seems to happen in France) about our culinary fate (choice of food). I was so overjoyed I could have cried with pleasure. The first coarse arrived and from then on the meal seemed never to end. We ate for four hours, but so slowly I had the illusion of never being too full. (Afterwards, though, I went to my hotel and slept for 5 hours. And when I awoke, I was not hungry for dinner!) I remember best the splendid regional Vacherin Mt. d'Or, which was at its peak, the glorious burgundy that was the best I ever tasted and seemed like a musical note to rise at the end of each sip, and the canneton à la vapeur which was the best duck I ever tasted. (Canneton is a young duck which he poached in a flavorful broth and then roasted the legs to have the contrast of the crisp skin.) When Bernachon mentioned my appreciation to Chapel, as we were enjoying our digestif brandy on the porch, his answer was approvingly emphatic: "she is right. I asked my purveyor to find the best duck in France and it turned out they come from Alsace." I felt as if I had passed an exam. At some point, during the course of the meal, I mentioned to Bernachon how much I enjoyed the French facial expressions known as les moeux--how you could see in their faces exactly what they are thinking. To my surprise his response was: "You also have a face like that." And finally I knew how it was we ended up at Chapel instead of Bocuse! And a good thing too as it turned out to be the last time. My beloved Chapel died soon after. Herewith, my best recipe for duck. It will make even the ordinary varieties taste like something special.

One 4 1/2-5 pound Long Island duckling

salt and pepper to taste

1 apple, quartered (for flavor) & garlic

A broiler pan with slotted rack (this keeps the fat from splattering the oven) Day ahead: Remove all loose fat from duck* and pour boiling water over skin. Sprinkle lightly inside and out with salt and pepper. Place on a rack suspended over a pan to catch any drippings and refrigerate 24 hours. Preheat oven to 450°F. Wrap foil around wings to protect from burning. Rub duck with the garlic and place it in the duck's cavity along with the apple. Prick duck all over with a fork, being careful not to go deeper than the fat layer. Pour 1/4 cup boiling water on top of duck and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, prick and add water again and return to oven. Repeat every 15 minutes until duck has spent at least 45 minutes in oven.** Test for doneness by tipping duck tailward. Juices should run almost clear. Allow to sit 10 minutes before carving. If desired, place back under broiler for a few minutes to crisp skin. *Note: For a totally fat free duck, make a small incision in either side of the duck's cavity, approximately between were the leg and thigh joints are located and remove the long strip of fat that wraps itself around the top of the leg. **Note: If broiler pan is shallow, it may be necessary to drain accumulatedfat half way through the cooking.