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RESTAURANT NOTEBOOK

A Food Renaissance Without Great Chefs?

April 06, 1986|COLMAN ANDREWS

Noted New York-based cooking teacher and author Paula Wolfert ("Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco," "The Cooking of South-West France," etc.) was in L.A. recently to show locals how to whip up various specialties of Sicily and Catalonia. While here, she managed to visit a handful of restaurants--among them Talesai in West Hollywood and Akbar in Marina del Rey. On one occasion, though, when someone suggested eating at one of the city's newer "California-style" establishments, she allowed as how she'd rather not, reportedly saying: "I get so sick of that kind of food. They grill a piece of tuna and squeeze a little lime on it and call it cooking!"

A week or so later, when I called her to verify the quote, she expanded on the theme a bit: "There's definitely a renaissance going on in this country today," she said, "just like there once was in Florence. The only difference is, back then everybody was talking about painting, painting, painting, and now it's food, food, food. The only trouble is, we don't have any Michelangelos."

Wolfert, incidentally, is now working as a consultant for Courvoisier Cognac, and is specifically concerned with the company's Culinary Classic cooking competition. If you think you can come up with a good appetizer, main dish or dessert recipe (using Courvoisier, of course), you've got till April 30 to enter. Grand prize is a week in Paris and a VIP visit to Chateau Courvoisier, plus $5,000 cash, and there are other cash prizes as well. For details and entry forms, write to Courvoisier Culinary Classic, P.O. Box 3165, Grand Central Station, New York 10163. Only amateur cooks are eligible, incidentally--and, hey, no grilled tuna with Courvoisier-lime sauce, eh?

ANYONE CAN CAVIL: Want to be a restaurant critic for an afternoon? Want to shoot your mouth off about the eating places of Los Angeles and vicinity, good and bad? Want to carp and cavil about, and give a score of 0 to 3 points to over 300 local hash houses--just for the fun of it? Aw, go on. It's a cinch. All you have to do is send a stamped, self-addressed business envelope to Zagat Restaurant Survey, Suite 6500, 8306 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills 90211. In return, you'll get an easy-to-use four-page evaluation form asking for your very own restaurant opinions. Results will be tabulated and published in guidebook form in late fall--and yes, you'll get a free copy of the volume if you participate.

What you won't get is any royalties, though--which will be a pity if the book sells as well as its parent New York edition has. But what the heck: If you're going to be a restaurant critic, the first thing you have to learn is that half the time folks don't give a plugged nickel for what you have to say.

STAR TURNS: The 1986 Guide Michelin is out and, as usual, there are promotions and demotions galore. The most notable of the former is the awarding of a third star to A la Cote St. Jacques in Joigny, about 90 miles southeast of Paris, near Auxerre. This brings the total of three-star restaurants in France to 20. Other important star-blessed restaurants this year include Alain Dutournier's new Carre des Feuillants in Paris, which was awarded two stars less than two months after it opened; Gaston Lenotre's Parisian Pavillon de l'Elysee, raised from one to two; the much talked-about Pierre Gagnaire in St. Etienne, also up from one to two; Michel Combet in Paris, named for and run by the former chef at Lucas-Carton, which earned a well-deserved first star; and a personal favorite of mine, Le Vieux Moulin in Bouilland, which is probably better than half the two-stars in France but which has only just now finally received a long-overdue one. Among the two-stars demoted to one were Laurent and Ledoyen in Paris, Auberge de Noves in Noves, L'Ermitage Meissonnier in Les Angles (near Avignon), and the Relais de Margaux in Margaux.

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