I had lunch one day in early March 1955 with Jean Cocteau. We had traveled south from Paris to Vienne to dine in the simple luxury of Fernand Point’s legendary La Pryamide, top of the list at that time of Michelin’s “worth the journey.” We wanted to see if Madame Point had recovered from the recent death of her husband and if the food had suffered or not. Seated at my favorite corner table in the dining room we saw across from us the Aga Khan III with a companion not his Begum. Did I know, the rather frail and skinny Cocteau said to me as he ogled the imposingly enormous and exotic Khan, that ten years earlier he had been weighed in diamonds for the Jubilee of that name? That 243 pounds of them, stored in bullet proof plastic boxes on the other end of the scale on which the Ismaili leader was sitting, were worth even then over a million pounds? Very decent money in those days, he said, and still is. Well, I replied, I hope he has some left. He is going to need it if he goes on eating at Chez Point the way he is today. The Khan will die first if he goes on eating chicken immersed in fattened livers, Cocteau told me with disgust. He held a strong opinion that chicken should be sauced with crayfish butter and not foie gras. Don’t blame the eater or the chef, I told him, since the concept came from Antonin Careme himself. That original recipe called for a capon stuffed with whole foie gras lobes, poached, and then sauced with black truffles. Whenever dining Chez Point, the Aga Khan made a point of insisting that the liver stay on the outside of the bird, that only whole truffles fill its insides, all so that the sauce could be champagne, cream, and a puree of that foie gras. So much for his liver. And that was his lunch chicken. In the evening he would have chicken livers and tarragon, as well as foie gras, stuffing the roasted bird that was basted constantly with cream while cooking. Just before serving, the chicken was covered with a Bearnaise sauce (shallots, butter, egg yolks). He would eat the whole thing.
This 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili community was wearing his usual rose tinted thick-lensed glasses, a Saville Row striped dark grey suit, and a silver tie that looked as if it cost more than the caviar he had started with. Today the Khan’s only bow, however slight, to a health regime was to order the Palombes en Beatidude instead of his usual capon or whole chicken Bearnaise. “Blissful Doves” stuffed with truffles, foie gras, and pistachios and plated with little puff pastry nests filled with fresh currant jelly. As we watched the Khan polish off a brace of plump palombes, my companion and I had ordered woodcock. Someone at another table watching all this wild-bird murder was voicing opinions about not shooting birds, but I noticed that everyone else’s mouths were too full of woodcock to say anything. Meanwhile the Khan’s waiter was spooning a bit of fattened goose liver onto his woodcock, which followed the doves. “Woodcock is king,” the Khan said to Madame Point, hovering nearby, “and foie gras its queenly consort.” He and his Dior-clad, Cartier-laden and lithesome companion were working their way through magnums of Haut-Brion 1950, Cheval Blanc 49, Lafite 48, and Pontet-Canet 20. It took the two of us to get through one of Roederer 1945, but Magnums were catching around that place — Point used to drink three a day. While he was being shaved in the garden just before lunch, he and the barber would finish off the first magnum together. “I like to start off my day with a glass of champagne,” he would say, “and I like to wind it up with champagne, too. To be frank.” // Jeremiah Tower