Alas! There are two deaths in the culinary family this week. The closing of Cafe des Artistes is a lost love for so many of us who became engaged to marry while dining beside the frolicking naked nymphs who grace its walls.
The cafe lasted longer than many of our marriages but our affection for the restaurant’s ambiance and for its owners, George and Jenifer Lang remains.
The New York Times reported, “The restaurant opened in 1917. Chandler Christy, one of the artists who lived in the apartment building above, the Hotel des Artistes, began painting the murals in 1934. The cafe was originally designed to provide meals for the tenants of the building, whose apartments often had no kitchens, or minimal facilities, but who would buy their own ingredients for the chefs to prepare.”
The students in my Professional Food Writing Class at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) were assigned the task of writing a restaurant review. One of them amazed me. He not only wrote a brilliant (favorable) critique of the Cafe, but also included a copy of the menu, the wine list and his check. And he went to the additional effort of finding post card reproductions of the famed Christy murals.
Absolutely by chance I ran into George and Jenifer Lang at another restaurant and told them about this fabulous review. They asked if they could see it. I said I’d ask permission from the student who readily agreed that I could show his work to them. Impulsively I asked the student if he would like to meet the great George.
“Wow!,” he said. “Could I?” I arranged the meeting and suggested that the student read George’s terrific memoir Nobody Knows the Truffles I’ve Seen. I brought him my own copy. On opening the book, the student, declared his surprise that Mr. Lang is Hungarian.”My Mom and Dad are Hungarian,” he announced.
“Ah!,” thought I, a marriage is about to be consummated.
George invited the student for lunch at the Cafe.
The following week I eagerly asked the student about the lunch.
The student, studying his shoes, confessed he hadn’t shown up for the lunch.
“Why?,” I asked in astonishment.
Turns out the student had received a job offer from the father of his girl friend. The job, (in a Midwest insurance agency), was festooned with the promise of benefits and a new car.
The student, who spoke three languages in addition to Hungarian, thus lost the opportunity to work with George, the acknowledged genius of hospitality at Gundel’s, the famed restaurant in Budapest that George had restored. He also squandered the once in a lifetime chance to be introduced to all the distinguished food folk who are connected to George.
The student could have lived in Budapest and been able to travel to London, Paris, Vienna, Madrid, Lisbon and Europe’s cities.
Instead he settled for short-term gratification and dental benefits. Later he told me he had broken up with his girlfriend and asked if the job in Budapest was still open. He was too late.
Some opportunities knock only once in a lifetime.