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Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Capers from Pierre Franey in The New York Times

The 60 Minute Gourmet

If your holiday has been anything like ours, I am sure you have had enough marvelously rich food to tide you over till, say, March. Between the gratins and the roasts, the puddings and cookies and cakes, the holidays encourage eating with abandon.  Well, sad to say, the party ended when we took down the Christmas tree.  And in all honesty, we welcomed a night when we ate light.  Specifically, when The New York Times resurrected this simple recipe for chicken breasts in an easy to prepare sauce, which doubles as a side dish.  There’s plenty of flavor here with shallots and garlic and tarragon mingling with ripe tomatoes and capers to give it a kick.  It’s the work of a master.  In this case it’s Pierre Franey who along with his great pal and partner, Jacques Pepin, helped introduce America to simple French home cooking.

Pierre Franey and Craig Claiborne

When I first started cooking, I looked forward to Wednesday’s New York Times, which, just as it does today, was all about food even though the section was then titled “Living”.  The Times Food Editor at the time was Craig Claiborne.  Not only did he hire Chef Franey, but he also cooked with him on weekends in Easthampton NY, creating many of the dishes featured in Pierre’s weekly “60-minute Gourmet” column. Franey had come to the States from his native Burgundy to cook at the French Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Some fifty years later, my parents still raved about their meal there, it was that special.

Ho-Jo’s: Consistent from Coast to Coast.

After the War, which saw Franey serving as a machine gunner in the US Army, the young chef went to work for the legendary Henri Soulé, who ran the French Pavilion’s kitchen.  Soulé had opened Le Pavilion in New York City, hiring both Pierre and a young French chef named Jacques Pepin.  The two became fast friends.  After a row with Soulé over wages and working conditions, they signed on to work with Howard Johnson, whose orange-roofed  restaurants were familiar to travelers in 32 states. Their menus did not vary no matter what state they were in.  In fact, the whole goal was consistency from coast to coast.   Franey and Pepin were hired to develop recipes for the company’s signature dishes that could be flash frozen and delivered across the country, guaranteeing this consistency.

The $4000 Dinner

Their nine-to-five existence left the chefs with their weekends free. Franey stayed with Howard Johnson for over 15 years, leaving only with “The 60 Minute Gourmet” was syndicated.  Franey and Claiborne were amazingly prolific.  They co-authored ten books in addition to their weekly food articles and restaurant reviews.  They even made headlines themselves. in 1975, Claiborne won a Public Television fundraiser.  American Express sponsored a dinner for two with an unlimited budget at any restaurant in the world.  With Franey in tow, the two sat down at an obscure Parisian restaurant celled Chez Denis where they ate and drank their way through 31 courses. The check for this single, four-hour meal totaled over $4000 including taxes and tip. In today’s dollars, that would amount to almost $16,000. Needless to say, the meal was not without controversy.

         I have to believe that Pierre Franey would have been only too happy to return to New York to eat his chicken dish.  Quick, easy and inexpensive, the dish actually comes together in just 20 minutes. You sauté the boneless chicken breast till lightly browned.  The shallots, garlic, tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar capers, white wine and tomato paste are added and you cook them all together for another 9 minutes.  And here is the recipe:

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