Before Julia There Was Dione

dione_lucas.jpgBefore Julia there was Dione – Dione Lucas.  Well, actually for me, Dione came after my early marriage attempts at Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I signed up for Lucas’ Le Cordon Bleu class that was being held in the back of a gourmet houseware’s store in New York.  It may have been the last class she taught, as we all knew she was quite ill.  She was distracted, grumpy, utterly impatient and divine. She was also usually tipsy on Calvados, and I was her pet student.  

I was excited by the opportunity to study under her and I joyfully strived to be perfect at each stage and I guess she noticed, though it was not that difficult to achieve ‘Pet” status, as the other ladies basically sucked at their half-hearted efforts.  My favorite sucky moment was when an Upper East Side Idle Grand Dame (I was living in a five flight walk-up painter’s loft near SoHo) brought in a half pound of saffron that her servants located at a pharmacy.  We had to provide our own ingredients for our recipes; Hers called for saffron. (A pinch already!) When we finished cooking, we were permitted to take the results home.  She, however, could not, as “cook would be vexed.” One must never, NEVER vex a cook!

Dionne’s favorite ingredients were Red Currant Jelly and the aforementioned Calvados, which she used on everything.  By the way, both work wonderfully. 

cheeseomelet.jpgLooking back, our omelet class was a very un-green, wasteful extravagance as first we broke eggs and tossed the results out until we could break an egg with one hand cleanly and elegantly.  Then, we made our omelet using much butter and swirling it in a slightly tilted circular motion in the pan – never using a utensil to slide a bit of egg under cooked egg. Our omelets had to be perfect with just the lightest golden color (the shade of a “baby’s bottom”) or they were tossed and done again.  Over and over breaking eggs, cooking and tossing cooking and tossing. I still make a perfect omelet from an old perfectly seasoned pan that has never seen soap or water – only butter, butter, and butter.

Her recipes were brilliant – the results impressive: Paupiettes de Veau Fontanges (veal birds with pureed peas), Filets De Sole En Papiottes, and Braised Sweetbread Gismondo (with spinach and sour cream).

lobster.jpgNear our final weeks, I elected to do a Mayonnaise D’homard – a cold Lobster and rice salad covered in homemade mayonnaise. It turned out to be delicious and perhaps one of the most beautiful presentations of Lobster I have ever seen.  I was rewarded, not by getting to take it home, but to give it to her for the final version of this dish on her TV show.  Oh Bliss!  I (well, my lobster) was going to be a TV Star!


Making homemade mayonnaise is a rewarding effort, but this recipe works quite well enough with commercial mayonnaise (which also needs to be slightly thinned).  The key to this dish is the beauty of presentation – which will be destroyed with the first serving! 

2 live 1 or 1½ lb lobsters
3 tablespoons butter
1 sliced onion
3 carrots; 2 diced, 1 sliced and separated
1 sliced stalk celery
1 sliced leek
Salt and pepper
3 cups water
2 tablespoons vinegar
½ cup Carolina rice
½ cucumber, skinned and diced
½ cup sliced French beans
1-teaspoon sugar
½ tablespoon French Mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1½ cups salad oil or olive oil
1-egg yolks
1 tablespoon Lea and Perrin’s Sauce
¼ cup cream

Wash the live lobsters well in cold water. Set aside in a bag. Melt the butter in a kettle and add the onion, 1 sliced carrot, the celery, leek and seasoning.  Cook for 5 minutes taking care not to brown. Then pour on the water and 1 tablespoon vinegar.  Bring slowly to a boil and when just bubbling put in the lobsters.  Cover and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes; let cool in the stock. (This stock is excellent and can be used for other things, fish sauce etc.)  Remove the meat from the tails taking care not to damage the shells (including the telson – the spreading tail part) Pick the prettier of the two shells and very carefully wash, dry and oil the top so that it shines.  Set aside.  Do the same with the prettier lobster head keeping the antenna in tack. Set aside with the tail shell. Refrigerate the uncut meat of one of the lobster tails.  The other tail and the claw meat should be loosely chopped into edible pieces.  Put in a bowl and chill.

Cook the rice in boiling salted water for 10 minutes.  Strain and wash well in cold water.  Add the cucumber, 2 carrots and the beans. Simmer until soft without being mushy in boiling salted water strain and cool.

Put the sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, ½ tablespoon French mustard, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and beat in slowly 5 tablespoons salad oil.  Add the chopped lobster meat the rice and mix.

Place the mixture on an oval silver platter into a mound shape that mimics the oval of the platter itself.  Take the single tail and carefully and elegantly cut the meat at the visual junctions of the tail but on a bevel, which will keep the shape of the tail meat.  Place the tail on top of the mound.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl with salt, pepper and a pinch of French mustard, the tomato ketchup and the Lea and Perrin’s Sauce.  Beat in slowly 1 cup of salad oil.  Season well and add the cream and 1 tablespoon milk if necessary. (Or thin commercial mayonnaise with a bit of cream to reach a consistency thin enough to pour.  Pour over the lobster meat and rice.  This will cover the mound in a white creamy sauce.   With a pastry knife very carefully scrape the top of the lobster tail just enough to revel the bright red flesh underneath.  On one end insert the tail and on the other the head – in effect, creating the look of a complete lobster resting on top of the white salad. Sprinkle with paprika and garnish around the oval edge with watercress. Serve very cold.


Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her newest book, "Wagner's Eternal Ring" will be published this September byRizzoli.