Friday, May 30, 2014

Guts on the Menu

So that was me sipping wine in the cellar of the most important man who was never President.

The John Marshall house was hosting their summer salon and while it hardly felt like summer today, I walk by that house at least once a week so I was intrigued with the idea of being inside.

The enormous magnolia tree in the front yard was in bloom as I checked in on the front porch and walked through the doorway of the longest-serving Chief Justice.

Guides in the rooms shared their wealth of knowledge with us, like the fact that the portrait hanging over the mantle in the front room showed Marshall at 78. Frankly, he didn't look a day over 60 in the painting.

Off the back passage was Marshall's butler Robin's base of operations and our guide told us Robin was responsible for sanding the rough, country boy edges off Marshall.

Seems on one of his trips to Raleigh to hear court, he arrived only to realize he'd forgotten to pack pants. The ones he'd worn on the ride down were too dirty and smelly to wear, he wrote to his beloved wife Polly in a letter, so he'd gone to court with just his judicial robe over his loins.

That's right, John Marshall went commando in court. They should teach fun facts like that in school and kids would be way more into history.

Many of the house's flourishes were done for the benefit of Polly, an upper crust girl Marshall fell hard for early. Meaning he was doodling his name and hers in the margins of his law books when he was at William & Mary.

I'm quite sure my name has never been doodled anywhere.

Downstairs in the cellar/gift shop, I looked at a notebook of old photographs of the house, including those from the period when John Marshall high school was built completely around Marshall's house, something I hadn't known.

The school was built within inches of the home on three sides, almost engulfing it, meaning they knocked down outbuildings like the kitchen and smokehouse, a real shame.

Down there were wine and appetizers and people mingling, but I was more interested in the dugout area that houses barrels (wine? ale?) as it must have in his day.

The garden out back was charming, a cottage mixture of flowers and herbs, and looking particularly lush on a misty evening. It wasn't hard to imagine Polly and John sitting out there at night enjoying the air together.

I was asked on the way out if I worked in the neighborhood and made sure they knew that I was a proud J-Ward resident, mere blocks away from all that history. I might have even mentioned living in an 1876 house, not that it compares to Mr. Marshall's 1790 gem.

My inner history nerd happy, my hired mouth and I hurriedly went to dinner so I could make a late movie date with Pru.

First we spent time at her place where she gave me a mini technology lesson and then we set out for Movieland in the mist.

Showing tonight was "Chef" and what food-loving restaurant regular wouldn't be curious about a film focusing on a larger than life chef who refuses to cede creative control to an owner who expects him to serve molten chocolate lava cake?

As any foodie can tell you, that's emasculation of the highest order.

What I liked about the movie was that it was part travelogue with postcard-worthy scenes set in Miami, New Orleans and Austin. Scenes of prep and cooking, shot from every angle, were food porn of the highest order.

Music was practically a character in the film, including a scene of Gary Clark, Jr. playing live and a sensational cover of (and singalong to) "Sexual Healing" by the Hot 8 Brass Band.

Being the Luddite that I am, I also got a major kick out of a chef who did not use Twitter until his kid taught him how.

There was even the realism of cleaning a kitchen, hardly sexy but oh-so realistic.

And perhaps most importantly of all, the chef, played by director Jon Favreau, looked like a chef, not like a chiseled, buff actor. Because let's face it, who trusts a skinny chef?

Granted there were some moments of pure movie ridiculousness. Am I really supposed to believe that an owner could be so obtuse as to insist on serving the exact same meal to a critic who had panned the same food the night before?

Or that a blogger turned food critic could sell his website and make enough money to finance a restaurant in Miami?

But those are quibbles and for the most part, the film was about regaining your passion for what you do.

And the moral was as obvious as the nose on my face, something I have been told by more than one chef over the years.

There is nothing quite like a good sandwich. Ask anyone who has his own knives.

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