More accessible today, France provided most Americans their first taste of their noted cuisine at "The World of Tomorrow."
What? No Wine?
Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France was THE dining experience at "The World of Tomorrow."
Jean Drouant, a famous Paris restaurateur, studied the preliminary map of the fairgrounds and determined the best place for his country's pavilion would be near the proposed nightly fireworks display in the international zone's fountain area. To that end, the pavilion's designers created a culinary experience masterpiece.
Three hundred and seventy-five guests occupied each seating. Every table, spread out over five semicircular tiers, looked out over the Lagoon of Nations toward the massive worker-statue towering over the Soviet building. Every table held a nickeled toothpick holder, equipped with a full quota of hygienically sealed toothpicks which many customers carried away as souvenirs.
Henri Soule, whom Craig Claiborne called the Michelangelo, the Mozart, the Leonardo of the French restaurant, served as Le Restaurant's manager. The elaborate table arrangement bothered Soule, not the view but that each had the same view, thus preventing the maître d'hotel from showing preferential treatment for certain guests, a true French tradition.
Sliding glass panels could be adjusted to meet climatic conditions. In cool weather the panels were placed so as to cut off prevailing winds. In warm weather they were entirely open.
Le Restaurant was eye-opening for most Americans. Soule insisted: "When I had arrived in 1939 there were not many American who knew anything about French food, much less haute cuisine." For American housewives attempting to duplicate the restaurant's complicated dishes at home, Soule suggested they purchase the best of everything and not hurry with the cooking, good food took time.
Soule was a strict task master. One employee said his stare curdled sauce Béarnaise. But the level of cuisine needed to serve 136,261 patrons over six months required precision.
The kitchen of Le Restaurant differed from most in France. The entire work area was on a single floor rather than scattered over several levels. However the New York heat often became intolerable and during the afternoon workers would slip into the air conditioned movie theater for a few minutes respite.
Initially the chefs faced a number of difficulties. The electric ovens brought from France needed adjustment to American wiring. Natural gas burners required a different set of skills than in French kitchens. American butter contained more moisture and affected the cooking style and taste. The cream was too thick. But to their surprise, the chefs found American beef to be terrific and the veal and lamb quite fine.
Lunch was served from noon until 2:30 and dinner from 6:30 to 8:30. To make the meal preparation as easy as possible, entrees served at lunch became the basis for the evening meal. Also, the plate du jour could be prepared in advance, anticipating half of the patrons would select it. Chopping, slicing, fluting and peeling began at 8:00 A.M. for lunch and continued in the early afternoon immediately following the lunch service.