I’ve spent most of my eating life terrified of dishes like Lobster Thermidor. For one thing, they’re not my style of food – which always prefers clean to creamy, bright and even explosive to lush. I hate foods that lie defeated beneath cream and butter. And I’d trade every bowl of soup on earth with “Cream of” as its first name for one small cup of bouncy Tom Yum Goong from Thailand. But now executive chef Mark Schmidt of Rainbow Lodge insists I’ve been avoiding these foods for no good reason all these years.
“I’ve generally found that when people say they hate this or that food because it’s too heavy,” he told us yesterday, “then it’s really a case of not having tried good examples. Time and time again in France, I’ve tasted dishes that I’ve been told were heavy and they weren’t at all. It’s all about balance, really.”
This seemed odd talk for a guy whose Lobster Thermidor is described on the menu as “decadent” and who had claimed a moment earlier to be taking a rich dish and finding ways to make it even richer. But as soon as we started transporting forkfuls of lobster, sauce and cheese to our lips, we knew Chef Mark had a point. This Thermidor was (or at least seemed) lighter than a lot of things I do love, starting with my beloved cheese enchiladas or equally necessary eggplant parmigiana.
Like most foods, especially French ones, Lobster Thermidor has quite a story to tell. Though the related Lobster Newberg was created in the States a few years earlier, the dish appeared in 1894 at a Paris restaurant called Marie’s across from the Comedie Francaise. It took its name from yet another potboiler by Victorien Sardou (famous for the heavy-breathing story that became Puccini’s opera Tosca, and of course as Eggs Sardou at brunch in New Orleans). Thermidor was about something called the Thermidorian Reaction, a rebellion as only the French do rebellion, which overthrew Robispierre and ended the Reign of Terror.
I was feeling similar emotions cleaning my plate of any lingering bits of lobster and using crusty bread to sop up the last pockets of sauce. I now love Lobster Thermidor, at least Chef Mark’s at Rainbow Lodge. The Reign of Terror has come to an end.