The Emperor of French cuisine

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Trevoux July 2006.jpg

Paul Bocuse, the embodiment of a towering, haughty French chef, has died in Lyon, three weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.

Bocuse revolutionized the moribund concept of haute cuisine and almost singlehandedly gave life to the concept of cuisine du marché, the notion of using ingredients fresh from the market, which spawned a generation of what we now call "farm-to-table" restaurants,

His own family's modest restaurant, on the Saône River, at Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or outside Lyon, was transformed over the years into a gaudy palace designed to showcase its proprietor, who never shied from publicity. By the time he took it over, he had served almost two decades of apprenticeship in Michelin-starred restaurants around France.

Among his most famous innovations: Poulet de Bresse en Vessie, chicken in a pig's bladder, and Loup en Croute, seabass in a pastry crust. When he was awarded the Légion d'Honneur by Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, he served the French president his masterpiece: Soupe VGE, a truffle-studded broth of rich beef stock covered in puff pastry.

I had the good fortune to visit the restaurant several times, but my favorite memory of Bocuse remains the mural on the building across the boulevard from the well-ordered covered market in Lyon (teeming with farm stands, fishmongers, butchers, and cafes), renamed Les Halles Paul Bocuse in his honor.

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Sisters Marina (left) and Ginger Costa-Jackson as on-stage sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Seattle Opera photo © Philip Newton

The last time we saw this production of Mozart's musically delightful, morally cynical opera in Seattle, Barack Obama had not yet been elected, so were living under W with the politics of hope and "Yes, We Can" rather than whatever outlandish country (in this case, Albania) the Orange Baboon decides to put on this week's shit list.

The premise: two dudes (Ferrando and Guglielmo, dressed like midtown bankers) are engaged to sisters (Fiordiligi and Dorabella). The men foolishly agree to a challenge by their friend, Don Alfonso: they will test the women's fidelity by wearing disguises and start courting each other's fiancées.

In the original libretto, the newcomers are "Albanians." In this production, they become punk-rock hipsters from Portland. The sisters think there's something familiar about them. "Haven't we seen you somewhere? Georgetown? Ballard Market? Uncle Ike's?"

Dorabella, the easiest earth girl ever, gives it up pretty quickly to Guglielmo, while Fiordiligi stands fast ("Come scoglio"--Like a rock). But she crumbles midway through the second act with the opera's most moving aria ("Per pieta"--Have pity) and ultimately succumbs to Ferrando's impostor.

There's a lot of playful banter between the real-life Costa-Jackson sisters, Marina and Ginger (hugs, Patty-Cake, pillow fights) that gives dimension and credibility to their characters, They may not be ice-maidens of virtue, but they're more than high-class sluts (like, say, the Kardashians),

Traditional staging has both couples excusing the indiscretions because, after all, Così fan tutte: women are like that, fickle. The music is so joyful, it sounds like a romp, but contemporary foursomes can't switch allegiances so easily. You soon realize that a modern Così; is really a lot darker. For starters, no one seems to say "All men are amoral dogs."

As he staged the production here in 2006, the British director Jonathan Miller ends the opera with the wounded and disillusioned lovers all despising each other. Were they dupes or were they victims? Clearly the joke got out of hand,

In the end, the question that remains unanswered: #MeToo or #NotMeToo.

Added bonus: Ginger Costa-Jackson returns, by herself, to sing Carmen in May of 2019.

Seattle Opera presents Mozart's Così Fan Tutte through January 27th at McCaw Hall.

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Every afternoon, in supermarkets across the country, growing numbers of shoppers swing by an island at the front of the store stocked with hot rotisserie chickens.

Americans bought over 600 million of the freshly roasted birds last year. Even if they're used as loss leaders, at, say, $5 apiece, that's still a decent chunk of change. But the assumption is that many shoppers will also pick up a salad, a side dish, and maybe a bottle of wine.

At Kroger and Albertson's/Safeway markets, the hot chickens are at the front, while at Costco's warehouse stores, they're in the back. Even so, Costco sold 87 million rotisserie chickens in 2017, almost one in every seven birds on America's dinner plates.

For the past decade, Costco has held the line on a $4.99 price point for its chickens. The company is now building a $300-million chicken processing plant in Nebraska to get better control of its supply chain, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Most of the birds sold in the familiar clam-shell containers are young (four weeks) and small (two pounds), and are roasted in industrial ovens. Costco's are older (11 weeks) and heavier.

Stores aim to fill their "chicken islands" for a rush between 3 and 7 PM. A rotisserie chicken has a shelf life of roughly four hours under heat lamps.

It's not hard to see the appeal of a ready-to-eat chicken, especially for grocery stores struggling to keep their customer base. The trend started with the Boston Market chain some 25 years ago, and has now reached the point that some stores are putting chickens in the checkout aisle to inspire last-minute impulse purchases.

"Nothing else from the '90s is still this popular today," said Don Fitzgerald, vice president of merchandising at Mariano's, a Chicago grocery chain.

"When they're right by the checkout, the smell always gets you," said one shopper told the WSJ. Another, at an Albertson's in Manolia, would buy a rotisserie chicken every couple of days for her pug. "He won't eat canned dog food, but he loves chicken skin."

Regardless of who ends up eating it, rotisserie chicken has become known as an "anchor product" purchased by more than half of all American households in the past year.

Note: this post appeared last week, in slightly different form, on


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