One of the great imports from France and one of the greatest chefs America will ever know will be memorialized at the St. Monica Catholic Church at 9913 Midway Rd. in Dallas on Tuesday January 31st at 10 AM. A reception will follow at the Prestonwood Country Club. He is survived by seven children and four grandchildren.
The renowned French Chef Jean LaFont is recognized as the Diamond of Dallas fine dining. Many of America’s great chefs have learned their craft from ‘le Maestro’ who has produced several Michelin and 5 Star rated restaurants under his resume.
The Savoy of London was a hot bed of haute cuisine in the '60s when J.D. Rockefeller coaxed the young Chef Jean LaFont to New York for the opening of the now landmark Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in New York.
The Athene Palace in Paris, The Helmsly Palace and the Rainbow Room in Manhattan, The Playboy Hotel and Mansion in Chicago, Ernie’s in San Francisco, the Pyramid at the Fairmont in Dallas, the spectacular culinary Dallas sensation OZ, the legendary Old Warsaw and Ernie’s in Dallas have all been elevated to the highest ratings under the guidance of the diminutive Frenchman who cast a giant shadow.
Sinatra, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sarah Vaughn, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Bob Hope, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor have all been loyal patrons of his world class restaurants and hotels. Hundreds of royalty have called for his banquets. Superstars would follow him from coast to coast to be transported by his culinary creativity.
A royal Saudi prince once instructed ‘le Maestro’ to spare no expense to present the greatest banquet the great chef could conceive. The prince demanded the best of everything his guest could ever imagine and to spare no expense to create a magical and memorable culinary experience. $360,000 later less than 100 guests experienced the dining experience of their lives.
Chef considers the Presidential Inauguration dinner of George H. W. Bush as one of his great honors.
He became a personal friend to Leona Helmsly as he orchestrated dinning at the Helmsly Palace.
“I would personally present the meal that would be served to the Helmsly's to Leona to approve for the first few weeks after I was employed even though I was responsible for the all of the fine dining for the hotel. Leona would cut in to the main course, usually tenderloin or a bone-in rib eye steak and she would always turn them back no matter how perfectly they were prepared. I soon learned to prepare a dozen plates. She would usually refuse 3 or 4 before she made her choice even though they were all exactly medium rare. My staff ate very well!”
“I consider moving to Dallas my greatest culinary challenge. Dallas was not known for great cuisine at the time. When I came to Oz, I brought along the greatest collection of European chefs this city had ever seen.
I had a standing order for iced crates of fresh seafood’s to be flown in every day. My staff would gather around crates of often live fresh seafood’s flown in daily from the Mediterranean and around the world to see what specialties we could create.”
By seniority the chefs, they would rummage through the crates like children and bullies. They would argue over octopus and squid, shellfish and crustaceans, and an endless variety of fish.
Then they would secretly come to me and ask, “Chef, what can I do to create a masterpiece? What a pleasure, what a school of creativity, what a competition to create a culinary experience!”
This was one of my greatest pleasures. To create a team of culinary voyeurs and bring to Dallas a dining memory.”
“I will make my home in Dallas and if all goes well, I will find my rest in my native home one day. For all my experiences and all my travels, my final pleasures will be to enjoy the friendships I have made in Dallas, to cherish my children of blood and of the kitchen, to teach and guide those who would listen to a little fat Frenchman, and to paint the visions that dance in my head and my memories.”
Chef passed away in January of 2012. I was one of ‘le Maestros’ children of the kitchen. We met at the Fairmont Hotel. When I commented on Mussels in a White Sauce as one of my pleasures, Chef took me into the kitchen of the Pyramid and quickly showed me how to make the perfect dish. He talked about how chefs often ruined the simple perfection of the dish.
Chef ordered my imported Danessi Italian espresso after I demonstrated my skill at servicing his machine and teaching his staff how to make perfect espressos and cappuccinos.
From that day, I would always personally deliver his orders and train or test his staff. Each time I came, he would prepare some simple dish from his childhood and we would talk about anything I could think to ask about.
That was almost 20 years ago. Since then, my journalistic intrigue and his joy of reflecting and sharing his memories bonded us until I claimed him as one of my cherished culinary fathers. Other great Dallas Chefs Werner Vogeli, Francois Foltre, Rene Weibel, Ernst Gruh, and Karl Haas all took me into their hearts over the years. Maybe they never would have if Chef LaFont had not accepted me. But chef shared his life and memories with me.
We met often and I called him regularly over the years. I visited kitchens where he was teaching and supporting those who would learn. He would come to see me several times at venues I was consulting for. I would sit with him in his apartment and I would demand that he continue to paint while we shared a wine and he would tell me stories of his childhood, his military experience, his culinary education, and his adventures. Chef would often tire before I was ready to leave.
I spoke with him just after the New Year. I am so honored that he called me to wish me a happy New Year. Because of the TV show about the Playboy Club we began planning on a story about his experience as the first chef of the Playboy Mansion and Hotel in Chicago. We were going to call it Feeding Bunnies.
I am heartbroken by my loss. I don’t mean to be selfish, and so for his children of his blood and his children of the kitchen I apologize for all the times I spent with Chef when I was so wrapped up in his stories that I put down my pen and just listened. jb, the Caffeine Cowboy
- J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Collin County in North Texas. Advertise with J.B. by calling 469-334-9962. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.