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Excerpt: Allen Dale Olson



     A collection of stories of haute cuisine, statecraft, sexual liaisons, and international politics centered around a table in a one-Michelin-star French restaurant on the border with Germany.

Because of its proximity to a number of American garrison towns in Germany, the Hostellerie de l’Ange became a favorite dining-out place for American military personnel and their families. This prompted the American Forces Radio and Television Network to produce a show about the restaurant, hosted by the author and his wife, Joan, with owner-chef Gustave Rinn. Chapter 10, “TV Stars” follows.

      Leslie Seamon, a reporter for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network, after a number of meals in the Hostellerie de l’Ange, decided it was time to put Gustave on the air. The format she needed required an American angle, since her audience was officially and mainly Americans attached to the U.S. military stationed in Europe. She decided she needed Joan to explain to viewers what was going on in the kitchen.

On August 30, 1976, her camera crew set up in Gustave’s kitchen. Joan had decided to exploit the opportunity by asking Gustave to teach her how to make a couple of sauces, most notably a mousseline for use on fish and certain poultry dishes. It was a remarkable performance, probably in no need of translation. Gustave spoke no English and seemed to realize that his French would make a big hit on American television. Joan gave literal translations, making meaningful how these sauces could be created in America using American ingredients. For a short time, she was the “Julia Child” of AFN.

On the air, the cooking demonstration was interspersed by conversation between Leslie and Joan seated at Table Number One discussing the food, the service, and the ambience that has placed French cuisine and gastronomy at the head of the class. Whenever Joan referred to a certain aspect of dining in a French restaurant, whether it was fresh flowers on the table, a clean, pressed white table cloth, or a dish without a crumb or drop out of place, one of the servers would produce it, usually followed by Gustave himself to make a commentary in what we admitted was pretty good “Franglais.”

Of interest to us several years hence, was that we had not yet met Julia Child nor seen her television shows on PBS. We did know and we did work with Colonel Beck, commander of the French Forces in Germany, who frequently joked about his sister’s working with that “American girl” on a French cookbook. His sister, of course, was the late Simone Beck, collaborator on Julia Child’s first epic volume The Art of French Cooking.”

The show attracted a great deal of interest in Europe, not just among the American military communities, but also among a great many German viewers. More and more Americans traveled to Wissembourg on weekends to try the dishes Joan had described as Gustave made them, and Gustave told us a lot of Germans referred to our show as they arrived. But the greatest compliment to us came from a combat veteran sergeant who made eye contact with us in the motor pool one day and asked if I “was the guy I seen eatin’ on TV the other night.”


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