Me O My O

by wjw on June 25, 2007

I owed some folks, so I thought I’d cook them dinner. I made Jambalaya with Creole Sauce, from the recipe of Chef Francoise Auclair le Vison.

I hadn’t made the recipe in a number of years, and I’d forgotten how much sheer work is involved. I spent over an hour just chopping up four pounds of sausage, three pounds of ham, and many many pounds of vegetables.

The result was worth it, though. The dish is beautifully layered, with lovely complex harmonies in the jambalaya set off by the fiery spice of the sauce. My friends disposed of all of those pounds of food in jig time.

Which brings to mind the first time I met Chef Francoise. It was 1979. I was on a steel schooner in the Windward Islands, researching my privateer books, and we stopped by the island of Montserrat. Captain John Greene recommended that I stop by the Cafe le Cabotin for dinner. “It ‘s like no place you’ve ever been,” he said. In this judgment he was right.

That morning I had my first scuba lesson, as part of your basic resort course. (I had my first dive later, off Antigua.) I spent the afternoon admiring the island’s black volcanic beaches, and noting the fact that the local fauna (like the substantial crab population) had turned black in order to match the color of the sand.

Late afternoon I went to Cafe le Cabotin, in a big old sprawling colonial-looking building, and soaked up some of the local rum while waiting for dinner time. I was joined by Captain Greene and a group of travelers, and we had a creole dinner that couldn’t be beat. The Waiter, who bore a strong resemblance to the suave Spanish actor Fernando Rey, kept interrupting the meal in order to perform what I can only describe as “eccentric standup.”

“Cabotin,” by the way, is French for ham actor.

And then at 7pm, it was Star Trek Time. There was no television station on the island to play Star Trek or anything else, but the Waiter had a TV set and a primitive reel-to-reel video player that used, I believe, 1.5″ video tape. So while digesting and consuming more of the local rum, we, and everyone else in the dining room, all watched an episode of classic Trek.

Sometime later the Waiter brought out the Chef, to general applause. He also announced that Cafe le Cabotin had seceded from the British Empire (Montserrat was, and still is, an imperial possession), and then declared war on the imperialist powers, Great Britain, France, the U.S., and Russia. He published a newsletter called the War News, in which his victories were documented, and also issued passports and inducted folks into his military.

I acquired a passport and the rank of Colonel in the Eleventh Periscope Group. (I was later promoted General.) The EPG later hit the beaches in Antigua and annexed the island, and our victory was duly reported in the War News. I lost the passport shortly thereafter when my hotel room was burgled in New York, something I have always regretted.

The cook was Chef Francoise. The Waiter was her husband, Baron le Vison. The skewed world-view displayed at le Cabotin was very much a part of their style.

Later that night we were entertained by the Whoop-Wop Band, who later backed up Jimmy Buffet on his Volcano album. It was the first time I’d seen a vacuum cleaner hose used as an instrument. Cap’n Greene passed the word: “Don’t smoke anything weird. These people are all off-duty cops.” My nose, and my lungs, were therefore kept clean.

I was sufficiently entertained by the Cafe le Cabotin crowd that I dedicated the second privateer book to them.

I never returned to Montserrat. The balmy political atmosphere that had resulted in the creation of the restaurant soon changed, alas, and became less friendly to foreigners and foreign capital. Captain Greene smuggled Francoise off the island in his schooner. The Baron left in the dead of night on a motorboat for a neighboring island, with $60,000 in cash duct-taped to his middle.

Cap’n Greene left the sea and now does something Down Under with computers.

As if in retribution for the lack of hospitality, Montserrat’s volcano blew in 1995 and resulted in the evacuation of the entire island. A few people have now returned to the north end of the island, but most of the evacuees were given a few hundred pounds by the British government and told to fuck off.

Francoise and the Baron later opened restaurants in Washington, D.C., and London.

And then they turned up in New Mexico. But that’s Part II of this memoir, to be continued at a later date.

Derryl Murphy June 25, 2007 at 10:57 pm

I look forward to hearing the story, and I wonder if anyone ever tried to use the passport for anything.

Speaking of Montserrat, did you ever see this movie?


dubjay June 26, 2007 at 9:29 pm

I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ll look for it.

Someone did in fact use one of the passports to get into Haiti, which is not the country I would have chosen, as it was then under the the sway of Baby Doc Duvalier and his secret police, the Tontons Macoutes. I had met these gents not long before, and had my belongings rifled by them, and watched a few other of their tricks; and sworn that it would be a cold day in hell before I ever saw Haiti again.

rushmc June 30, 2007 at 4:47 pm

So…can we get the recipe??

dubjay June 30, 2007 at 7:23 pm

Recipe copyright by Francoise. I’ve got her permission to post some, maybe I’ll check and see if it’s okay to post this one.

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