Wednesday, April 09, 2008

From Maxim's of Paris to Baltimore

Chef Pierre V. Monet, who's enjoying retirement in Towson, began his career in the restaurant business as an apprentice at hotel DeFrance in the French Alps. While still in his teens, he moved to Paris and become Garde Manger and Chef de Partie at Maxim's of Paris. After just a few years there, Maxim's dispatched him to the United States to be involved in the opening of Maxim's of Paris in Chicago where he soon became Executive Chef. In those days, Maxim's of Paris in Chicago was pretty much a replica of the original Parisian Maxim's in both decor and cuisine, most of which was assembled with ingredients flown in daily from Paris. Few Chicagoans had much of a clue as to what was happening in what then was strictly a meat and potatoes town. Most who dined at Maxim's of Paris in Chicago were European.

Chef Pierre was one of nine Frenchmen from Maxim's to make the crossing. None spoke English. After a couple years, all of them but Pierre had returned to France. Eager to assimilate and assume a role in America's nascent culinary revolution, Chef Pierre moved on through a new sequence of high level responsibilities. They included being Executive Chef at Chicago's Racquet Club, Executive Chef at The Chicago Club, and Chef/Consultant for the opening of dining rooms seating more than 1,500 when Chicago's Ritz Carlton opened in 1975.

After Chicago, Chef Pierre's cirriculum vitae places him in various executive chef positions back and forth between the Four Seasons at Lake Ozark, Missouri and the Tidewater region of Virginia. By 1980, he'd settled down in the latter area to become Corporate Executive Chef for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a stint that lasted for 17 years. A highlight was being responsible in 1983 for feeding world leaders attending the international economic summit in Williamsburg hosted by President Reagan. The duties involved in putting this affair together ranged from consulting with Craig Claiborne to overseeing individual roles for many of America's greatest chefs. Among them were Wolfgang Puck and Paul Prudhomme, who remains a close friend.

Chef Pierre stayed in the Tidewater area until his retirement in 2005. At the bidding of his wife Cary and stepchildren here in Baltimore, the couple moved north and ended up in the Towson area. Rather than frequenting numerous local restaurants, they usually stay in and enjoy each others' cooking, which includes a lot of Italian specialties for which Cary has developed a special flare. Much of their food is from immaculate gardens behind the house where Chef Pierre is pictured in the top photo. More recently, Pierre has also taken to keeping bees. Should the right opportunity arise, he's also leaving his options open to consult within the local restaurant or banquet arena.

I asked Chef Pierre to compare Paris's culinary scene with New York's. "Much the same," he answered, adding that in his opinion London is now the world's culinary capital, especially with its diverse variety of ethnic restaurants. And what about here Baltimore? It didn't surprise me a bit when he named Chameleon as his favorite restaurant.