French restaurateur gives gustatory tour WEST COUNTY Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

February 25, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

They don't make wine where Fernand Tersiguel comes from.

Perhaps that wasn't shocking to the young children Mr. Tersiguel addressed at Glenelg Country School on Tuesday morning. But it probably is to the patrons of Tersiguel's restaurant in Ellicott City, known throughout the Baltimore area for fine French food and drink.

"I'm from France about 30 years ago, and I still have a hard time to speak English," Mr. Tersiguel said to the kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders, all marking Marti Gras with paper-plate masks adorned with sparkles, and green, yellow and blue feathers.

Mr. Tersiguel went to the school to tell the children about Quimper, his home town in the northwestern province of Brittany, or la Bretagne.

"We don't make wine in Brittany. We do make hard cider," he said, explaining that the apple cider they drink with their meals is about 2 percent alcohol.

Not only do they not make wine there, he told the children, but when he was born, they spoke precious little French. Rather, they spoke Breton, a dialect brought by the Celts who settled there nearly a millennium ago.

Tersiguel's is one of two businesses to form an educational partnership with the west Howard private school.

The other is Mim Dubin and Co., which provides graphics help with the high school's yearbook, said Stuart Terry, a development assistant who helps coordinate the partnership program.

Mr. Tersiguel has been working with the school since last fall, and Tuesday was the first time he had dealt with very young students. Before the school year ends this spring, he will teach high school students about cooking and the restaurant business.

Mr. Tersiguel visits school about once a week to fulfill partnerships with the private school and two public middle schools, Ellicott Mills and Burleigh Manor.

Even back in 1977, before his other restaurant, Chez Fernand, was consumed in the Main Street fire of 1984, he put together cut-rate culinary parties for county school children.

"This country gave me so much, so I like to give back to the kids as much as I can," Mr. Tersiguel said before his lecture and slide show.

Mr. Tersiguel said he wanted to come to America almost from the time he received a candy bar from a U.S. soldier during World War II. He finally got here about 30 years ago and has been in the restaurant business ever since.

At age 26, he opened his first restaurant, La Poularde on Second Avenue in Manhattan. In 1972, he came to Baltimore and ran Papillion in the Rouse Co.'s Village of Cross Keys until 1975, when he opened his Chez Fernand in historic Ellicott City.

One of the things that attracted him to Ellicott City, he told the children, was that the granite building foundations reminded him of those in Quimper.

The fire forced him out, and for several years he ran a second Chez Fernand in Baltimore before a highly touted return to Ellicott City to found Tersiguel's in October 1990.

His love for America is tempered by his affection for his homeland, where he visits his mother annually and owns a second home.

It is there, the children learned, that people too poor to afford interior decorations adorn their walls with a vaissellier, a rack that holds the ornately decorated plates Quimper is known for throughout France.

The restaurateur also made more than a few mouths water when he showed a slide of the region's staple, cotriade -- a sauteed seafood stew -- and a wooden table set with crepes and amber cider in wine glasses and an unmarked wine bottle.

"It looks like wine because it's in a big bottle like wine," noted one of the many children who commented on the savory still life.

"It was sort of interesting how they did it -- to make a round thing into a square," commented George Gale, 7 1/2 , of Columbia, on the way the crepes were folded.

The children also learned that the women of Brittany used to wear a different coif or hat, that represented the towns they lived in.

Although the children were fascinated by the food and drink of Brittany, a the group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders had more weighty questions.

"In France, do they have the same laws?" asked one boy.

Although his forte is table, not the bar, Mr. Tersiguel was prepared, and explained that much of French law dates back to the time of Napoleon.

A key difference, he explained, was that defendants are considered guilty until proven innocent, which is the opposite of the U.S. standard.

His preparation came from some of the other public service he had done some years ago, he explained later. In the late 1970s, he served as a translator for a visiting French policeman who wanted to compare notes with his Howard County counterpart.

The school partnership program is partly aimed at making children aware of the business world, explained Ms. Terry.

She added that the school also hoped they will learn from the business leaders' example, "educating them that once they get out in the business world, they can give back, too."

"Monsieur Ter-si-guel," as the youngsters called him, who arrived in the United States at age 21 with $100 in his pocket, couldn't agree more.

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