Conversation around Richard Olney

An exchange on Richard Olney, occasioned by one of our estival Olney menu dinners on 28 August, which led to this IG post:


On Aug 25, 2021, at 11:34, JA wrote:


We’ll convene on Saturday at our place for the second Olney dinner this summer.  Festivities begin at 6.

Looking forward!

MM replies:

Bonus points to anyone interested in dressing up like Julia or Paul as Jonathan works his interpretation of the Olney food magic. 😘

Julia feeds Paul






Richard in his Kitchen









MM adds:


 “Richard Olney unpacked the way the French plan a menu and synchronize not only the dishes but the wines, occasion, time of year and company, to make a meal a work of art. He also gave us a model for eating that’s close to the earth and of living simply and beautifully.”

SJ intervenes :

Gosh, can I come as Richard?? He’s pretty handsome.  I guess I’ll have to take up smoking …

I reply (GL) :

If we doin’ drag I am too small to become Julia.

Richard always wore the same thing: cord espadrilles, khaki shorts and a usually checked cotton short sleeve., substituting long pants whenever restaurant protocol required. I don’t have any espadrilles anymore but when in the south of France I dressed just like him.

Yes, he smoked Gaulouses until he died at 71. He was one of rhe few who was allowed a post-prandial … cig at Chez Panisse. He called them “fags”. And I was allowed to smoke alongside him. His palette was based on nicotine, he claimed.

SJ replies :

Hah!  Thanks for the sartorial details!  Wish I had espadrilles, but I’ll pass on the Gauloises.

GL 2:

They, Gauloises, haven’t been for sale in the US for decades now. Fear of US litigation. The first years I was here I used to always bring back some packs from EU.

MM 3

Well, Nordstrom has options:  😜

I love y’all! I was just joking. And I loved those pics because Richard was in slacks and I thought barefoot in his kitchen. Thanks George for the espadrilles history. I presume the photographer or perhaps Julia insisted on the slacks. 😂

GL 3:

Since we’re on this jag, two more with Richard (courtesy of Judith Olney)

With James’s first wife, Judith, herself the author of several cookbooks. She’s on Instagram and still teaches cookery in Miami Beach. 

Richard with his sister-in-law Judith Olney









With his buddy Georges Garin in the stripèd tee, and Richard’s friend Mary Painter, by then Mary Garin, circa 1969. She was the dedicacee of Another Country. For more lit gossip see the second item in Baldwin once said, “When I realized I couldn’t marry Mary Painter, I realized I could marry no one.”

Richard, Georges Garin,, Mary Garin









Finally, the calling card of Garin’s resto on the Left Bank.  I had a fabulous 4 hour luncheon there as Mary’s guest in November, 1972, from which I emerged inebriated beyond measure to confront the full façade of Notre Dame in 5pm sunset glow. Took a cab back to my hovel in the 14th and slept until the next morning. 



GL 4

For info: Richard’s espadrilles were the basic provençal version, the rope sole with light canvas uppers. He would go through a couple of pairs every summer. Didn’t mind going barefoot either.

For those who haven’t seen it, R’s portrait of James Baldwin.


RB joins in:

Dear Georges,

Your reminisces and photos are fantastic, in all senses of the word! Wow!

And I really look forward to being with you all on Saturday!


GL 5 :

Thx, R-,

Not to be presumptious (o what the hell, why not?), the byline in my Insta account profile reads:  Memoria vitae bene actae iucunda est. Memories of a well-lived life are a pleasure.

This afternoon, anyway, I feel like I had a well-lived life 😇.


And JA’s IG on the event:

Like the Pages of Old Book in which Flowers Had Been Pressed-Dried

Notes Ex-cellar 1


 Now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, I realize that the my own anticipation of writing up the Loyau anecdote,  or rather the one on the 1921 Vouvray, may have spoiled its effect. Held for too long.

The 1921 Vouvray became available in the early 80s because René Loyau literally stumbled on it.

 I’m not sure how much of a Gauliste  he was. I never learned to parse out the nuances of rightwing post-WW2 political affiliations in France, which themselves go back. But I know know that when the Nazis arrived in the Loire valley the first thing they sought out was stocks of fine wine (a point which made me think twice about them). Loyau’s grandfather, at least, was anti-Nazi and built a hidden annex in their warren of cellars which he then walled off and made look like it was just … a wall.

The old man passed during the war and everyone forgot until the late 70s what he had done. When the annex was finally discovered, they couldn’t be sure which wines were which until they also finally discovered the coded instructions Grandpa had left.

 One day René was working there and stubbed his toe on a pile of wooden cases which he was able to identify and re-label as 21 Vouvray. He let Kermit market several cases of it. It was something cheap, like $100 a bottle.

 It was early on in my stage with Kermit, who used the occasion to teach me to make cold calls to a known list of aficionados, one of whom was an Iranian brain surgeon in LA. 

When I called his number, I got his secretary, who told me he was not available. But after I told her he could get his hands on a allotment of three bottles (the normal limit), she said she would call into the operating room and let him know. And that I should hold the line.

A minute or two later the surgeon himself y came on the line himself, having left surgery to talk to me. He tried to beg two or three allotments but to no avail. I had my instructions. Poor guy had to make do with three bottles.

It was a bargain. In 1982, sixty years later, this semi-sweet Vouvray had digested most of its sweetness, had plenty of balance and fruit and a bouquet reminescent of an old manuscript into which flowers had been press-dried. It was a delight.