HOME COOK : The Grandmother of Vichyssoise

“My mother, like most French women, learned to cook when a girl by watching her mother, grandmother, aunts and friends,” wrote the great chef Louis Diat.

Diat made the old New York Ritz Hotel famous for fine food in the ‘30s and is universally known as the inventor of one of America’s favorite soups, Vichyssoise. He also wrote a wonderful book filled with recipes that are homey, easy and very, very good. The regional recipes in “Louis Diat’s French Cookbook for Americans” are the dishes his mother cooked in the tiny province of Bourbonnais, where he grew up.

“My mother was given small tasks at first,” Diat wrote, “then took on more complicated ones until she had trained all of her five senses on this very important and, to her, delightful occupation. She learned the feel of foods, such as the lightness of brioche dough when ready for the oven or the resistance meat gives the fork when not quite done; she could tell freshness by smell, and the heat of fat by the sound of fish frying in it.


“But above all, she learned to taste with discrimination. The way a French housewife uses her senses instead of depending entirely upon recipes and mechanical aids is, I think, one reason why women like my mother thought of cooking as a creative art, never as a tiresome chore.”

“Breakfast was called petit dejeuner ,” Diat wrote in the chapter entitled “French Eating Customs,” “and we usually ate soup, preferably potage or panade made with milk, or else onion soup with chunky slices of dry French bread in it. This corresponds to the breakfast cereal of Britons and Americans. Father drank black coffee also and we children sometimes had chocolate or a light cafe au lait.

A panade is a soup thickened with bread and finished with egg--the egg gives richness and seems to make the texture just right. It would make the perfect, festive soup for a Mother’s Day breakfast. Vichyssoise would also make quite a wonderful breakfast surprise on Mother’s Day; there have been many imitations, but this recipe is the original. Followed by Breton Flat Cake, a tender, crumbly cake that is only slightly sweet, it’s a breakfast that would make any mother happy.


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon orange flower water, optional

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup orange marmalade

Stir flour and salt together in large mixing bowl. Mix in sugar. Add orange flower water, orange zest, all but 1 teaspoon egg yolk and butter. Gently blend ingredients, just until mixed, with hands or large spoon. Gently pat into ball.

Place dough ball on ungreased baking sheet and pat into 7-inch round layer. Mix remaining egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water and brush top of dough with egg-water wash. Bake at 350 degrees 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove to serving plate and, while warm, spread orange marmalade over top. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

327 calories; 358 mg sodium; 132 mg cholesterol; 17 grams fat; 41 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.12 gram fiber.


1 tablespoon butter

1 1/2 cups chopped leeks, white part only

1/2 cup onion, chopped

4 cups water

4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped


2 cups half and half

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Melt butter over medium heat in soup pot. Add leeks and onion. Lower heat and cook about 5 minutes, stirring often, until tender, but not browned. Add water, potatoes and salt to taste. (Be sure to add enough salt. Soup is drab if not properly flavored.)

Simmer about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Put through strainer or vegetable mill, or puree in blender or food processor. Pour into bowl, stir in half and half and mix well. Refrigerate covered.

Just before serving, sprinkle with chives. Serve chilled. Makes about 8 cups, or 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

233 calories; 78 mg sodium; 70 mg cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.48 gram fiber.

PANADE WITH LEEKS (Breakfast Soup)

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups finely chopped leeks, white part only

4 cups warm water

1 teaspoon salt

7 slices stale white bread, cut into small squares

2 eggs

2 cups milk

Melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat in large soup pot. Add leeks, cover and cook very slowly 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender. Do not brown leeks.

Add water, salt and bread squares. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes so bread breaks down and soup resembles thin, cooked oatmeal.

Beat eggs lightly in bowl. Briskly stir in milk to blend. Slowly add to hot soup, stirring constantly. Add remaining tablespoon butter and stir until well blended. Serve hot. Makes about 8 cups, or 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

143 calories; 484 mg sodium; 66 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.29 gram fiber.