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Food & History

Washington impresses Chateaubriand

Jeff Cheek —

George Washington was a calm, confident and usually unflappable — leader.

Even during the darkest days of the American Revolution, — he never wavered. But there was one time his courage failed him. The man — who had stood toe to toe with Britain's finest general, Lord Cornwallis, — believed he was overmatched. That was when he invited the world famous — French gourmet and chef, Viscount Francois Auguste Rene de Chateaubriand, — to dinner in the spring of 1791.

Chateaubriand is remembered for Steak Chateaubriand, a — special cut of meat usually served to two people. But that is just the — tip of the iceberg. He followed many careers during a long and eventful — life. Born in St. Malo on September 16, 1768, he died in Paris on July — 4, 1848. During those 80 years, he was a diplomat who rose to the position — of Foreign Minister. He was a prolific writer, publishing many books on — history and philosophy. And he was a renowned gourmet who published a — number of cook books, many containing his original recipes.

Chateaubriand was only 23 when he toured the United States — in 1791, but already well known here for a series of essays he had published — praising the American revolution and the democratic system of government — we had adopted. Those essays might have been the reason Washington invited — him to dine.

Philadelphia was the temporary capital of the nation while — the federal city of Washington was being built. The president lived in — a house the city of Philadelphia had rented for him.

The Viscount later wrote: "The President's home was a — small house built in the English style, and resembling other houses in — the neighborhood, was the palace of the President of the United States. — No guards, not even a footman." When he knocked on the door, a servant — girl opened it. She could not handle his imposing name and title to announce — him. Finally, she said, "Walk in," and ran to fetch the president.

For his part, Washington had spent hours with his Afro-American — cook, Susie Willow, planning the dishes to be served to the visiting Frenchman. — He feared his guest would compare American fare with the haute cuisine — of his own country and he wanted to impress the famous gourmet.

The menu for the dinner (actually lunch, as this was the — common term for the midday meal in the South) has survived. The soup course — was a rich crabmeat bisque. The main course as Holy Chicken, a baked hen — using a recipe the crusaders had brought back from the Holy Land, 700 — years earlier. Dessert was vanilla cream, one of Martha Washington's special — recipes. They ate buttered Mount Vernon bread; white bread seasoned with — caraway seeds and tiny onion chips. The digestif was another of Martha's — specialties: Rum that had been steeped for four days in crushed walnuts. — Chateaubriand was lavish in his praise of the meal. He told Washington — that he had never had a finer meal.

Although Chateaubriand is remembered for the steak that — bears his name he also created a new meatloaf.

Meatloaf Chateaubriand is too dry for my taste, but I — did not dare tamper with the original recipe


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Mix ground meat with spices, set aside. Beat eggs, stir — in onion and oatmeal, then mix well with meat. Turn into buttered loaf — pan and bake at 350 degrees until done, about 40 minutes.