Bastille Day marked with French feast

Scott Gordon

This Bastille Day, Kendall College offered residents the chance to enjoy a decadent five-course meal without being seized and executed by enraged peasants.

On July 14, 1789, a mob of revolutionaries stormed Paris’ infamous Bastille prison. The date is now celebrated in France much like July 4 is celebrated in the United States.

Though during the revolt there were only seven prisoners left in the prison, the Bastille was considered symbolic of the absolutism of the French monarchy — many of its prisoners had been jailed at the decision of the King, not by any court of law.

On Wednesday, Alain Ivaldi and Chef Jean Castagnaro, visiting culinary instructors from the prestigious Lycee Hotelier in Marseille, France, helped students in Kendall’s culinary school serve a celebratory dinner of delicate seafood, lamb and dessert dishes to about 65 guests at the college’s Dining Room, 2408 Orrington Ave.

Kendall has been holding Bastille Day celebrations for many years, said culinary school dean Christian De Vos. Seats at the dinner are in high demand among college trustees and the families of students and alumni — the meal this year cost $125 a head, and reservations were hard to get, said Maritere Yordan of River Woods, Ill., whose son is a graduate of the culinary school.

“As chefs, we are always very difficult to please, but I think the dinner was very, very good,” De Vos said before dessert.

The meal was planned and prepared entirely by a group of about 15 seventh-term culinary students with the guidance of Ivaldi, Castagnaro and Kendall Chef Instructor Paul Tinaglia.

A wait staff of eight students was in charge of making sure the food was presented according to the scrupulous standards of French dining — each place was set with five different forks, three knives, a spoon, a water glass, three wine glasses, a champagne flute, a bread plate, a butter spreader, a saucer, coffee cup and a cloth napkin folded into a rigid pyramid.

The first two courses consisted of several different appetizers made with sea spider — similar in taste to crab — and accompanied by a glass of white wine. Then came the fish course — scorpion fish, which is plentiful off France’s southern coast, served in thick portions with a rich sauce. “The sauce is divine,” Yordan said.

The main course was a dish of lamb loin with a crust of parmesan and spices. And more wine, of course.

Dessert featured three confections, each from a different area of Provence, in the south of France. One dish is known as “Besetting sin.”

Planning for the occasion itself started nearly a year ago. The college started inviting visiting chefs as early as last fall. Ivaldi, who specializes in preparing food from the south of France, said there’s “a lot of exchange of chefs” between Marseille and the Chicago area.

“We are here not for me, but for the students and the guests,” Ivaldi said.

De Vos said the students making the meal knew most of the necessary preparation techniques going into the process, but that serving the dinner taught them a “new spin” on the techniques.

The dining room also was decorated to remind guests of the French revolutionary spirit. Miniature French flags were placed on each table and the restroom doors were labeled “Messiers” and “Mesdames.” French pop and jazz songs played over the dining room’s speakers, and the evening’s menu told guests to “Celebrez avous nouscc Liberte, Egalite, et Fraternite!”

Kendall also will be holding a Bastille Day celebration this Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., featuring a French buffet, wine and outdoor performances by a jazz trio and an a capella group. Tickets are $55.

On August 28, students in the culinary school’s Art of the Barbecue class will be putting on a barbecue dinner to raise money for The Haiti Fund, a project founded by De Vos that raises money for the development of safe drinking water in Haiti.

City Editor Scott Gordon is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]