Chef Palladin explores world as he enriches it Cooking for a CAUSE

February 27, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

For Jean-Louis Palladin, rousing success as a chef and restaurateur has resulted in two obligations. When he comes to Baltimore tomorrow to fix dinner for 200 people at the Brass Elephant, a benefit for the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland, he'll be fulfilling one of them.

"It's for kids," he says of this latest instance of his charitable inclinations. "I've had this chance, this celebrity; this is how I give something back."

The event will be the third annual Great Chef's Dinner to benefit the center, a private, nonprofit group that provides family support. Mr. Palladin, who won two Michelin stars in France before coming to the United States in 1979 to open Jean-Louis at the Watergate, was last year named chef of the year by the James Beard Foundation.

"I think it'll be a really fun evening," says Brass Elephant executive chef Randy Stahl, noting that all 200 places for the dinner have long been sold. "I think everybody's interested in seeing Jean-Louis' food without having to go down to D.C."

A passionate and engaging man who radiates warmth and energy, Mr. Palladin could easily spend all his time doing benefits. "I need to choose . . . or I would not have any restaurant. I would do that every day of the year."

What he chooses usually involves children or the homeless. "I'm doing, every year, Christmas for the kids, for the homeless, and we have about 2,000 people coming."

So he agreed immediately to do the Baltimore dinner. "I think it is a good cause -- one of the better ones. The thing is, I love kids." He has two of his own, 9 and 14 -- "and," he says, "thinking about them, how they are, and thinking about the other ones, how they are . . ." He shakes his head.

The visit will be Mr. Palladin's first to the Brass Elephant, where guests will be paying $175 each to sample curried celery-root soup with pear and lobster, roast sturgeon, stuffed roast guinea hen, frisee salad and mandarin tart with mandarin sherbet and huckleberry sauce, all accompanied by ap

propriate wines.

"It's always a challenge" to prepare a meal for so many people, he says, sitting on a sunny winter day in his 42-seat jewel box of a restaurant, with its intimate proportions, profusion of mirrors and tiny lights sparkling behind bright pastel wall hangings. "I prepare everything here, every time -- for Baltimore it's easy, because we have, what, a 45-minute drive. But last week I was in Bangkok, and I went with 1,200 pounds of food."

Mr. Palladin, 47, has a shock of brown curls that a rock star might covet, and he speaks his eloquent and idiosyncratic English in a sultry baritone. Jean-Louis, the place, rates five diamonds from the American Automobile Association and five stars from the Mobil guide, but it is easy to see that Jean-Louis, the person, is a star in his own right.

Although most of his charitable work concerns causes for children, it is not confined by national boundaries. "I try to be international," he says. "This year I went to Jerusalem. . . . I'm going to Argentina, I'm going to Brazil, I'm going to Alaska, I'm going to Russia, to Finland."

It's a lot of traveling. "But for me it's very important," he says, "because I can see some different cultures, I can see some different food, I can learn a lot about what's going on in Bangkok, what's going on in Jerusalem. . . . It's how you can be more creative. If I stayed all the time in the kitchen, I would be bored. I need a challenge like that."

In the years he's been in the United States, Mr. Palladin has seen many changes. "When you look at 15 years ago, you got the French, who were very big in America. But now, you have everybody -- French, Italian, Thai, Southwest, California. I see a big diversity of food, of different ethnic packages. And it's more and more interesting for the customer."

America has also come of age in terms of food supplies, he says. There's no longer a need to import high-end ingredients from France or the Far East. "We are using all the products from this country. . . . This country did a jump of one century in just 10 years" in the quality of its ingredients, he says.

The customers have changed as well, Mr. Palladin says. "Everybody doesn't want to go to an expensive restaurant anymore. But I think you need to have an elite." People don't avoid concerts by their favorite stars because tickets are expensive, he says. Eating out sometimes needs to be more than a way to get out of the kitchen, he contends: It needs to be entertainment.

Training new chefs

And that brings him to his second obligation: creating the next generation of fine chefs. "It's very important," he says. "We cannot do without that."

He's proud of discovering talented young people and putting them on the road to stardom -- among alumni, he counts Louis Sylvain, now at Le Cirque in New York, and Daniel Boulud, formerly of Le Cirque and now of Daniel; and Eric Ripert, now at Le Bernardin, who in two or three years, Mr. Palladin predicts, will take a place among top chefs in the country.

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