La Jolie Grand-Mere's Lunch With Estee Lauder, and a Duck

Yesterday I decided to do a bit more tidying up in the basement. As I did I spied a box marked OLD PHOTOS in my handwriting. It was heavy and on a top shelf and I probably should not have lifted it, but I did. I opened the box to find piles of photographs, magazines featuring her old homes, books and story she had written for me that I thought I had lost forever! My grandmother was documenting her life for me in a wonderful story format. I love the story of the Pressed Duck I really wanted to share it with you.

This will be a long post... save it for later, print it out, but read it. It's a great story!


Pressed Duck

In 1953 my mother took us on a grand tour of Europe. We were 5 strong; my husband, my two children aged 10 and 12, mother and me. And GRAND it was. We were away for 100 days staying one month each in France, Spain and Italy with shorter stops in Portugal and Sicily. Our car traveled with us on the beautiful French liner La Liberte. A derrick swung our convertible Buick on board like a child's toy. It went into the hold. To accompany the car there was a small open trailer purchased at Sear Roebuck to accommodate our 6 trunks, providing us with maximum comfort in the car. Each person had to be self-sufficient within his particular trunk -- No borrowing. No "you've got the toothpaste." Each one was labeled with his Christian name in giant red letters for instant identification.

The 6th trunk was for extra supplies, especially paper products. Wardrobe trunks, when stood on their sides, open to become just that, wardrobes with hanging space on the side and drawers on the other -- no unpacking.

As we rumbled across the cobblestones of Europe, our trailer was a source of endless intrigue; children clapped their hands, grown-ups gaped. When we parked they crowded around us as though we were from outer space.

We stayed at wayside inns and grand hotels.I had researched the trip for an entire year and our organization never failed us. We never drove more than 300 miles a day and mostly less. We lunched in cafes and bistros and dines in renowned eating establishments.

We had planned that whenever we wanted to lengthen out stay at one particular place, we would, and once we did. We were enchanted by Seville and the Hotel Alphonso the 13th where the old world splendor of our rooms overlooked a garden of orange trees. it was the stuff of wonderland, and so we canceled Valencia and stayed on.

The children sketched what they saw which engraved it in their memories. They mailed back to school essays about their experiences which were in class and often to the whole assembly. (Years later, when Hart [my uncle] was a student at Princeton, he and his room mate toured the continent. Hart acted as guide and was happily astonished to find that he had total recall of his childhood adventure.)

Paris was our last stop before heading back to Le Harvre, our ship L'isle de France, and our home.

While in Paris we stayed at a small hotel in the rue Jean-Goujon [cannot decipher word!], the San Regis. They had just 16 rooms. Our suite was very posh, resplendent with delicate antique furniture and quite unsuitable for children. However they were unaware of and unimpeded by the finery.

Our plan was to visit the Louvre every day, taking it in small doses so that the young ones would find it neither a bore nor a chore. But we got it wrong; on our first visit when we, grown-ups started to fade we assumed that Hart and Linda would have had their fill and announced that we were leaving, at which one of them piped up "Are the tickets still good? "Yes." "Do you mind if we stay a little longer?" So we collapsed on a bench and we waited for them!

The whole trip was like that, our enjoyment being doubled by the vicarious delight of seeing such enthusiastic reactions from our offspring.

At the San Regis breakfast was sent to our rooms, On the continent, if it isn't served in your room then it isn't breakfast, This is true in the humblest inn, Often there was no dining room, as at the San Regis, They did, however, own Paris' most famous restaurant, Le Tour d'Argent which was number one on our "must" list.

At the Tour d'Argent you dine in an oblong tower surrounded by windows framing spectacular views of Paris. It is romantic and breathtaking at night. (I have never seen it by day.) The Tour d'Argent is famous for their pressed duck, which I believe they invented and on which we would dine. The duck is put in a giant press which extracts its juices; the blood, in which the duck is cooked. Then the juices are simmered down to a delicate brown sauce.

Like every great dish I sampled on this gourmet-gourmand trip, I observed and tasted with great care. I made mental and written notes and contemplated duplicating the same the minute I confronted my kitchen in Rochester, NY. And I did.

I knew pressed duck was going to be a problem, but I wasn't daunted.

It goes without saying that "pressed duck" had never been heard of in Rochester, NY and as for a "duck press"... "a WHAT?"

I bought a duck from my butcher. I sealed it in endless plastic bags with space for juice and when I was satisfied that it was absolutely impregnable, I put it in my driveway and ran over it with the car. Lo and behold a very flat duck and a bagful of blood. (Ugh!)

Twenty-five years later I sat again in that famous tower where pressed duck was still playing the starring role. There was only one item on the menu named after someone. "Canard presse a la Colonel Daniel Sickles." Daniel Sickles was sitting next to me. We were at a small dinner party given [by my friend] Florence Gould. (Daniel Sickles' grandfather was the famous one-legged general in The Battle of the Gettisburg.) At the Tour d'Argent they number and record who ate which duck. i.e Duck # 1536 was eaten by President Roosevelt, #2021 by Queen Elizabeth, etc...

Estee Lauder and her husband Joseph were also with us. We often saw Estee when we lived in Cannes. She came to the house and we went to her "do"s. When she first met me she said "There are no flies on you, baby." (I really don't know what it means but it was delivered like a compliment.)

One day Bob Coe, our neighbor in Cannes (ex-American ambassador) said "there is a new woman in town." (Estee) "Florence (Gould) seems to like her, but she sounds like a refugee from Brooklyn." Which was not delivered as a compliment. When I met Estee at Social affairs she would rush over to me and ask "How do I look? Is my make-up OK?" It rarely was. She had no talent for putting on make-up. Sometimes I smoothed out a smudge.

Because Daniel Sickles was with us I suggested we all order "his" duck. There was whole-hearted agreement except from Estee. She was sitting on Larry's right. When our order arrived, she looked askance at Larry's plate and said sotto voce "Don't eat it!"

One night Estee gave a party at Moulin de Mougins a favorite local eatery. She had a small band. When they started playing numbers from the current Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof, Estee started snapping her fingers and sashaying between the tables. We would hardly believe our eyes and normally she and Joe retired to a corner seeming, despite her phenomenal success, to be ill at ease with the rich and famous and minor royals. That night with the Yiddish inspired music she was transformed.

One day I said to Estee, that, having made such a success of her perfume Estee, she should launch a famous man's scent and call it "Josef" (after all she was Esther) and package it in striped of many colors, like Joseph's biblical coat. But she didn't. She used Joe's initials.

When she brought out her new perfume, Beautiful, she asked me "Why would anyone buy a fragrance called 'Poison' (just out and an instant success) when they could buy one called Beautiful. I said "You're wrong, Estee, the name 'Poison' is what sells it. She looked at me with disbelief. She had lost touch with the times.

I won't run over and ducks for her, baby.


Gosh, I love my Grandmother's creativity, humor,witt and of course her lifestyle!
I hope you were able to make it to the end and enjoy!