The Magic of Maison Lacour
The Magic of Maison Lacour
The charm of Baton Rouge's classic French restaurant.
by Maggie Heyn Richardson
Country Roads Magazine
Tucked in a quaint cottage in the suburbs of Louisiana's capital city, Maison Lacour is an intimate and special discovery for food lovers.
The demi-glace that graces both the venison tournedos and the steak au poivre is created on site, as is the mayonnaise that finds its way to the cream dressings on the seafood salad. Whole tenderloins of beef and lamb are trimmed by the chefs in order to insure the cuts for their dishes are perfect. Loaves of French bread are baked fresh each day, and the desserts--including three luscious ice creams--are made by hand. Indeed, everything at this classic French restaurant--with the small exception of puff pastry--is homemade, no small affair in a time when the myths about restaurant kitchen magic are routinely debunked.
The origins of this magnificent obsession can be traced to the personal experience of Maison Lacour's chef/co-owner Jacqueline Gréaud, who founded the restaurant in 1986. As a small child, Jacqueline moved with her family from their home in China to Paris, where her father made a point of exposing her to the finest foods and wines. When she was ten years old, he gave her a comprehensive French cookbook, which the Gréauds still use today and refer to as "the bible." Her exposure paid off. Later, she studied at Le Cordon Bleu, where she learned the skills that led to her life as a restaurateur with husband John.
The Gréauds are joined in the kitchen by their daughter Eva and her husband, Chef Michael Jetty. Jetty is now the front man in the kitchen, and John Gréaud and Eva host and run the front of the restaurant. Jetty joined the family when, eager to learn more about the business, he arranged an apprenticeship at Maison Lacour. The restaurant had always inspired him and he wanted to learn the Gréauds techniques. Along the way, he and Eva fell in love. Now, the beaming twosome work together with her parents, preparing to eventually take over for them.
As an apprentice, Jetty learned a great deal under Jackie's tutelage. "Son-in-law or not, I had to make it on my own merit, and her standards are exceptionally high," he reflects. Michael and Eva reminisced about the days before they married, when a date might have included him practicing deboning quail or preparing selections for Eva from the Maison Lacour menu. "She would say, 'it's good, but not as good as my mom's,'" said Jetty. Back to the drawing board he would go.
When asked what menu items he most enjoys cooking, Michael Jetty smiles. "Jackie said recently the dishes are like your children. They're all different, but you love them equally." Some are intricate and involved, like the stuffed pheasant, which features lots of separate homemade ingredients and individual steps. Other dishes, like the scallops, are simple. Jetty believes the secret to such a dish is cooking it correctly and letting the ingredients, which should be of the highest quality, speak for themselves. His scallops are sautéed rare and the pan is deglazed with lemon juice and butter.
"Why would you want to do anything else to something that's so simple and sexy on its own?" he asks.
A perpetual student and someone for whom cooking seems a true calling, Jetty often travels across the country to attend classes in various techniques or asks to follow noteworthy chefs in their kitchens. He is spiritual about the craft, remarking on the importance of discipline, patience, and respecting fine equipment, such as the custom-made knives he waited two years to receive. Further, he appreciates the ceremony of a great meal with friends and family. Each day, after Jetty has cooked lunch for his customers, he also prepares a meal for the four family members to enjoy together.
The only downside to dinner at Maison Lacour is deciding what to order. The house pâté, escargot, or their own smoked salmon are among the place's classic French starters. Salads feature enormous lump crabmeat, which John Gréaud says is never frozen because it will break apart. Among the favorite entrees are the Pompano en Papillote, a fillet baked in parchment paper with crabmeat and a light sauce, and John's Favorite, an impressive trio that includes a béarnaise-topped filet, jumbo lump crabmeat with hollandaise, and shrimp with garlic butter sauce. You will also find raspberry duck breast, a cognac-flambéed veal chop, rack of lamb and poached sweetbreads. For dessert, try Crepes Suzette, Sachertorte or the Clam, puff pastry in the shape of a clam filled with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.
In addition to the accolades it receives for its fine menu, Maison Lacour also deserves credit for its altruism. Since it opened nearly sixteen years ago, the restaurant has assisted local charitable organizations through its "Baton Rouge Nights." On Sunday evenings once per quarter, the restaurant holds a seven-course meal for selected nonprofit groups such as Volunteers in Public Schools and Miriam's House. The nonprofits encourage their supporters to attend, and the restaurant gives one hundred percent of the fee to the charity.
Set in a frame house, Maison Lacour's vibe is homey and pleasant. There are five separate rooms, making for a quiet and intimate atmosphere. John Gréaud says the wait staff is well trained and diners are encouraged to ask questions about the menu or wine selections. Heart-healthy dishes are designated and there is a significant vegetarian menu as well. Smoking is prohibited on weekends and reservations are recommended.
Maggie Hey Richardson has written about food and culture for Gambit Weekly Baton Rouge and South Florida History Magazine. An avid cook and restaurant watcher, she lives in Baton Rouge with her husband, daughter and two dogs, all of whom love to eat.
"When asked what menu items he most enjoys cooking, Michael Jetty smiles. "Jackie said recently the dishes are like your children. They're all different, but you love them equally.""