A Historic Cooking Lesson

A raw chicken, two quail eggs, a platter of ruby-red crawfish and a bottle of brandy stare me down from the wooden cutting board. Dinner in the making? That and History 101 with chef Michael Glatz.

As the executive chef of the Delmonico Room in Milford, Pa., Glatz is a genius at polishing and presenting recipes that tell a tale.

"Food is such entertainment. But dishes like chicken Marengo," he said, eyeing the ingredients on the cutting board, "are even better because there's a story to go with it. And this one came from the history books."

I've heard of living and breathing history -- but eating it?

"Napoleon Bonaparte's personal chef Dunande first prepared this in 1800 after Napoleon's army defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo," Glatz said as we seared the halved and deboned chicken in hot oil. "Ultimately, Napoleon loved the dish and claimed it as his victory meal."

Stoveside lectures aren't so bad, I muse. Really, I'd do anything for the aroma of crisped, golden chicken. OK, repeating calculus might be a stretch, but I'd consider it.

History, however, is a natural fit. It comes with Glatz's territory. His restaurant is housed in the Hotel Fauchere, a small, luxury property built by the Swiss-born Louis Fauchere in 1880.

The waiter-cum-entrepreneur fled New York City's first restaurant, Delmonico's, for the banks of the Delaware River and to open an establishment of his own. Presidents and movie stars followed, both for his original dishes -- lobster Newberg, anyone? -- and for classics like chicken Marengo.

Even though Glatz and Fauchere never stood at the stove together -- almost a century separates the two chefs -- it's clear they share a cooking philosophy.

"What I do at the restaurant is perfect, classic dishes with my own style and vision. Simplicity and freshness are also key," he said, something he learned after a decade of living in Puerto Rico and revolutionizing its culinary scene.

While garlic sweats for the sauce, we talk further about his approach and that famous lobster.

"Fauchere's lobster Newberg is still a favorite at the Delmonico Room. But, after living in the Caribbean, I know to grill lobster, not boil it. Rum replaces cognac, and spices used in the Caribbean like allspice, nutmeg and cayenne brighten the flavors of my seafood."

Storied cuisine reinterpreted through the lens -- or the sunglasses -- of a thoughtful, progressive chef. I like what I'm hearing.

But conversation comes to a halt as Glatz deglazes the pan with a generous pour of brandy, flames leaping into the air. My eyebrows! It's like Napoleon is commanding us to forget about crustaceans and focus on his chicken.

All right, first consul, back to you.

The sauce comes together in a flash. Glatz adds chicken stock and tomatoes to the pan, forming the base of the sauce along with the brandy and the browned chicken bits. He brings the liquid to a simmer and then tosses in the crawfish, quickly heating them through. Call the troops -- dinner is served!

The plate is simple, hearty and utterly delicious. By searing the chicken and then cooking it in the oven, the meat is moist, succulent. The brandy lends an elegance to the sauce. A slice of toasted baguette and a sunny-side up quail egg add more heft -- and fun -- to our victory meal.

A bite of chicken and then a nip of brandy -- a nod to the visionary and fearless leader. Forget Napoleon, I'm talking about chef Michael Glatz.