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Friend of the Devil
by Mark Spivak
In 1990 some critics believe that America’s most celebrated chef, Joseph Soderini di Avenzano, sold his soul to the Devil to achieve culinary greatness. Whether he is actually Bocuse or Beelzebub, Avenzano is approaching the 25th anniversary of his glittering Palm Beach restaurant, Chateau de la Mer, patterned after the Michelin-starred palaces of Europe.
Journalist David Fox arrives in Palm Beach to interview the chef for a story on the restaurant’s silver jubilee. He quickly becomes involved with Chateau de la Mer’s hostess, unwittingly transforming himself into a romantic rival of Avenzano. The chef invites Fox to winter in Florida and write his authorized biography. David gradually becomes sucked into the restaurant’s vortex: shipments of cocaine coming up from the Caribbean; the Mafia connections and unexplained murder of the chef’s original partner; the chef’s ravenous ex-wives, swirling in the background like a hidden coven. As his lover plots the demise of the chef, Fox tries to sort out hallucination and reality while Avenzano treats him like a feline’s catnip-stuffed toy.
He perused Chateau de la Mer’s large and mostly incomprehensible menu. Changed every few weeks, handwritten in Avenzano’s elaborate cursive before being photocopied, it closely resembled an annotated Medieval manuscript. David was introduced to Guillermo Montoya, a tuxedoed waiter from Spain with a thick, bullet-shaped head, who offered to have the kitchen prepare a tasting menu.
Montoya presented David with a sculpture of dried vegetables in the shape of a bird’s nest, filled with a combination of wild mushrooms and chopped truffles, bathed in an intensely reduced demi-glaze. The carrots, zucchini and peppers had been cut into paper-thin strips, intertwined and allowed to dry, yet retained a surprising intensity of flavor.
David consumed a dish of tomato, basil and egg noodles, bathed in a light cream sauce, perfumed with fresh sage and studded with veal sweetbreads. This was followed by an astonishing dish of butter-poached lobster, remarkably sweet and perfectly underdone, flavored with sweet English peas and garnished with a ring of authentic Genoese pesto.
He was served a slice of Avenzano’s signature Bedouin stuffed poussin—a turkey stuffed with a goose, in turn stuffed with a duckling, in turn stuffed with a poussin, or baby chicken, with a core of truffled foie gras at its center, covered with an Etruscan sauce of chopped capers, raisins, and pine nuts. This dish had been the source of much controversy over the years, since it bore a close resemblance to a Louisiana terducken. It predated the terducken, however, and was supposedly inspired by a creation first served to the French royal court. For good measure, Avenzano had added influences of Middle-Eastern cuisine.
Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and was honored by the Academy of Wine Communications for excellence in wine coverage “in a graceful and approachable style.” Since 2001 has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group; his running commentary on the world of food, wine and spirits is available at the Global Gourmet blog on www.palmbeachillustrated.com. He is the holder of the Certificate and Advanced diplomas from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Mark’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Men’s Journal, Art & Antiques, the Continental and Ritz-Carlton magazines, Arizona Highways and Newsmax. He is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation: The Art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Lyons Press, 2014). His first novel, Friend of the Devil, is published by Black Opal Books.
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