What was your background in French cooking at the time of the contest?
Pierre and I moved to New York from France in 1967. I had been a home economics teacher there for many years and had recently begun teaching adult education classes in French cooking throughout New York City. At that time, Julia Childs was “in.” Pierre had met Florence Fabricant, a food writer for The New York Times. She said to him, “We desperately need French cooking teachers. Can your wife teach?” That is how I started teaching adult education classes in French cooking. I taught the classes throughout New York during the 1970s and 1980s.
What inspired you to enter your recipe into the contest?
We missed being with our family in France. It was a Sunday in winter before Christmas. I had gotten a Gourmet magazine where I found an advertisement for the annual Seagrams V.O. International Recipe Contest. It said that I could send in a recipe and become a contestant. So I sat in front of the computer and wrote a recipe for a Buche aux Marrons, Yule Log with Chestnuts, which was a desert our family in France served at Christmas.
Where did your ideas for the dish come from?
I knew a yule log recipe, but it was in the metric system, so I had to translate the measurements. I made up the rest from what I learned as a child in school or by watching my family. I made a jelly roll filled with buttercream and chestnuts topped with more buttercream and garnished with chestnuts and meringue shaped as mushrooms.
How did you learn that you were a finalist, and what was it like to be a contestant?
Not long after I sent in the recipe, to my surprise, I received a notice saying that I was one of five finalists and was invited with Pierre to San Francisco for three days. This was in 1973. We stayed in first class hotels. Every night we had dinner in a different restaurant and a desert from one of the contestants was served. This happened for four nights. On the fifth night, we went to Ernie’s, a famous French restaurant at the time. At the end of the meal, the chef came out with a huge dish. It was a yule log with chestnuts. It was then that I learned that I would win the first prize.
How did it feel to have the winning dish?
I felt flabbergasted, without words. They gave me $5,000 and a silver dish as prizes.