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The art of eating, on Constitution Ave.

Garden Cafe Francais's Chicken Faux Gras, near the charcuterie board. (NGA)

The National Gallery of Art’s Garden Café Francais features Michel Richard’s ratatouille (acutally, it’s his wife’s recipe), his coq au vin, his 72-hour short ribs with mashed potatoes and bordelaise sauce, and his apple-pear-blueberry tart on the menu. It has seating for 139, including the new section in back. It is situated right by the entrance to the exhibit “From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection,” which opens Sunday.

And it has a kitchen with no stove.

Seems like a challenge, but what it took was strategic planning between the artist-chef-restaurateur and David Rogers, executive chef of Restaurant Associates. “Well, nothing’s being sauteed to order here, I can tell you that,” Rogers says. Some dishes were adapted from recipes in Richard’s “Happy in the Kitchen” (Artisan, 2006), and others were created specifically for the café.

The 38-year-old Kansas native spent a fun five days in December with Richard at Citronelle, learning the recipes and figuring out how to make certain menu items work, such as soupe a l’oignon: The soup’s kept hot in a heavy pot on the buffet. Bowl-size croutons, pre-toasted croutons with melted cheese, are placed on top of each portion. Cheeses, breads, quiche, charcuterie, pastries and even that ratatouille are served at room temperature.

Rogers runs the Gallery’s three kitchens and worked at Balducci’s before coming to RA in 2008. He came away from the Citronelle lessons most impressed with Richard’s use of vegetable waters. “The beet syrup gives the coq au vin depth and a much richer color,” Rogers says. “And there’s cucumber water in the gelee on top of Richard’s chicken faux gras, for brightness.” Recipe cards for those two dishes, as well as for the tart, will be available at the cafe.

P.S. Richard's next cookbook of desserts, with the chef's own artwork, is still on track for fall 2010.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  January 26, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Chefs  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Michel Richard, chefs  
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I'm not sure if it's the same, but the Ratatouille at Central looks as good as it tastes. The Pied de Cochón was a delightful surprise.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 26, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

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