Le coquelicot

Yield: 1 servings

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Max Schacher named his restaurant Le Coquelicot because he thought the word gentle and melodious. In English, coquelicot is "poppy." These delicate yellow flowers flourish on the long ridges of Mt. Tamalpais, a graceful mountain overlooking the green plaza of Ross where Max has built a restaurant as light and airy, as colorful and peaceful, as the mountain itself.

Le Coquelicot is constructed within the walls of a rehabilitated automotive garage. At one end of the building is the kitchen, compact, well-organized, and very clean. At the opposite end are glass doors leading to a small terrace set in the shadow of an enormous palm tree. The main dining room is both relaxing and functional. With its white tablecloths, simple sideboard, modern paintings, and lovely flowers, it is a fitting stage for Max's culinary art.

Born of Swiss-German parents in Lausanne, Switzerland, Max has been working with food since he was fifteen. An interest in cooking came naturally to the child whose grandfather and sister owned restaurants. Although only in his mid-thirties, Max has a surprisingly diverse background.

After his apprenticeship in several Swiss hotels and restaurants, he worked in Germany as a waiter, in France as a bartender, in England as a sous-chef, and as chef de cuisine in Tahiti, where he had sailed in his own ketch from San Francisco. At the conclusion of his three-year sojourn in the South Pacific, he returned to California to become co-owner of Chez Michel before opening his own place in 1982.

A sturdy, solid man who jokes easily in four languages, Max enjoys his work and obviously enjoys being with the restaurant staff.

Affable and charming, he is an accomplished chef who also appreciates the subtle demands of the dining room. He knows that the kitchen workers must be mechanically perfect and, equally important, the dining room personnel must be efficient and personable.

He can discourse about food costs (his are extremely high because of the rarity and excellence of his basic ingredients) or about the proper lighting for the tables. Max's wife Susan attends to the public areas, where she supervises table service and acts as hostess, freeing Max to concentrate upon the cooking.

The Schachers are particularly proud of their menu. Composed principally of recipes devised by Max, it is a result of his years of work in European kitchens and his belief that his customers are willing to sample anything at least once. Traditional fare such as steak tartare with fried potatoes and rack of lamb are balanced with specials such as Max's Oysters Tahaa and Cervelle with Capers.

"When I first introduced rabbit a year ago, we had a hard time selling it. Now I go through many each week. Most Americans are always looking for more interesting cooking. Their minds are always open to different kinds of food." Max believes that fashion too often dictates culinary trends.

Education is necessary to avoid the pitfalls of experimental cooking.

"A chef needs a good classic base to be strong; then he can be innovative."

For instance, Max is aware that herbs are currently in vogue, and naturally he has an extensive herb garden at home. But he has reached an intriguing conclusion about the use of herbs. "Many times you don't need to cook with the herbs because they are so strong they will perfume the sauce perfectly if sprinkled on at the end." Max's use of herbs reflects his quest for intelligent refinement and his desire to create food that is a distinct, memorable pleasure to see and to eat.

Menu: Le Coquelicot

Mousse of Duck Liver

(Flavorful duck liver mousse with cognac and shallots molded in a port-flavored aspic)

Oysters Souvenir De Tahaa

(Oysters lightly breaded with herbs and served in a shallot and white wine sauce)

Saddle of Rabbit with Leeks and Rosemary (Choice saddle of rabbit marinated in mirepoix, thinly sliced, then served in a sauce of rabbit stock, strained tomatoes and vegetables)

Walnut Pie a la Mode

(Le Coquelicot's vanilla ice cream over a freshly baked walnut pie)

Source: Great Chefs of San Francisco, Avon Books, 1984 Chef: Max Schacher, Le Coquelicot, Ross, Marin County, CA From: Rob Stewart Date: 09-09-94

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