SEEMS a chap named John Loring has written a book telling how to put on a feed, and he says having more than eight people at supper is "unforgivable." That doesn't strike me as an extensive collation, but perhaps Mr. Loring's friends are such that he is wise to play close to his vest. He is billed as a design director at Tiffany's, but my No. 1 household cook says she hasn't chanced to meet up with him when she goes frequently to have her diamonds laundered. But he is, accordingly, an "expert," and we sh ould heed his good advice. He says the candles should be kept low so they won't blind the guests. There's nothing like a blaze of candles to spoil an otherwise tasty meal.
Something suggests Mr. Loring would not feel at home in a Maine lumber camp, where we get the best meals in the state and the electric lamps are constantly aglow because the diesel generator runs all the time anyway - it doesn't cost any more to see what you're eating.
I'd like to take Mr. Loring to one of Bill Pelletier's beanhole banquets at Chesuncook Dam Boomhouse to learn what "banquet display" means when you have a diploma from the International Culinary Institute of Timberland Cookshack Management at Fredericton, New Brunswick. That's where our forest-based industries train their cooks.
Mr. Loring stresses conversation. He feels his guests should make colloquy, and should be seated to enhance this exercise, making a congenial intimacy of wit and wisdom to which, he feels, the food itself may be properly adjusted so food may rightly be secondary to the cultural advantages of the occasion. Better a bon mot than a fluffy souffle.
This contradicts the basic lumber-camp rule that a meal must be enjoyed in silence, which is a wise rule and sternly enforced. Bill Pelletier's cookshack fed 150 at a sitting, and save for reasonable requests for "salt," "butter," "biscuits," and "sugar," a silence prevailed except for the tunk of fork on knife and the rustle of spoons working the tea. The gentlemen in a lumber camp are not there primarily to voice erudite remarks.
Experience attests that conversation engenders opinions, that opinions differ, and that exchanges of diverse philosophies promote intellectual confrontations. This leads to bad manners, and it is not conducive to serene digestion when two red-headed Swedes jump up and begin punching each other between the soup and the remove.
There is an instance that Mr. Loring may care to hear about. Edouard LaCroix was a self-made Canadian millionaire who contracted back in the early decades of this century to cut pulpwood for Great Northern Paper Company. He owned and operated several lumber camps in the Allagash River region, one of them at Nine Mile Bridge in the St. John valley.
Each of the camps would have a hundred men or more, each camp with its boss. M. LaCroix moved about from camp to camp, keeping an eye on production. One evening he was at Nine Mile and was in conference with the boss in the cookshack when the come-and-get-it was struck and the crew arrived to eat. Since M. LaCroix owned the camp he considered himself an exception, and as the meal began he continued to discuss operational details with his boss.
The cook at Nine Mile, at that time, was Adelard Vaillantcourt, who noticed this violation of a rigid rule and pondered his duty. He went down the hall and spoke to M. LaCroix and the camp boss. He said, "D'is room is for h'eat. You wanna talk, you go on de bed-ROOM."
M'sieur LaCroix and the boss well knew the rule, but presuming on his proprietorship, M. LaCroix waved Adelard off and continued the conference.
Whereupon Adelard said, "D'is your camp, but she's my cookshack, and I say no talk!" He grabbed Edouard LaCroix by one hand, the camp boss by the other, and hove them outdoors into a snowbank. That was that, and so much for fine talk at a high-style dinner. Contrite, because he well knew the rule, "King" Edouard LaCroix returned to finish his meal in silence. "D's room is for h'eat!"
Mr. Loring says a hostess doesn't invite you to eat because you're hungry. So? The sign in every Maine cookshack says, "Take all you want, and eat all you take." But don't talk about it.