Above Lutece - Leaving No Roads Untaken
Soltner, creator of meals that have tantalized even the most discerning
palates, was first interviewed by this reporter in 1993. Even then
he seemed to be looking for ways to reduce the many responsibilities
he carried as owner/chef of Lutece, the widely-acclaimed restaurant
on East 50th Street that he had owned since 1972.
Asked what he has been doing since selling Lutece in 1994 he said
"Seeing the world. My assignments have taken my wife and me
to places we never dreamed we would see."
Mr. Soltner has been teaching, lecturing, demonstrating and giving
chef's luncheons not only in this country, but all over the world:
Boston, Seattle, Portland, Deer Valley, Vail (which he describes
as a skier's paradise), Mexico, Lisbon, Hawaii. To date Hawaii is
his favorite. He has been there three times: once to teach at the
University of Hawaii for three weeks and twice to participate in
French festivals at different Hilton hotels.
He says when he travels to these regions he does not do regional
cooking or use regional foods. "I am not there to compete with
them. I am a French cook. I do French cooking."
Cruises are among his favorite assignments. Last year the Soltners
sailed from Singapore to Sydney, Australia. In April they went on
a 23-day cruise along the African coast sailing from Cape Town to
London. As guest chef he gives demonstrations and chef's dinners
every two or three days. "There are many chefs on these big
ships, and I get help," he explained.
His main commitment, however, is to the Culinaire French Institute,
in Soho, where he teaches basic French cooking two days a week.
"I really enjoy being at the Institute. It's a great school.
It is a pleasure to be around young students. They are so enthusiastic
and eager to learn. Some show great promise."
"My own cooking philosophy has not changed. Fifty years ago
we had good cooking, and that was the thing. Now cuisine is much
more exposed. You can't pick up a newspaper or a magazine or watch
TV without seeing a cooking segment. A roast was cooked the same
way thirty years ago that it is today. What has changed are the
things that accompany it. We no longer use canned or frozen foods.
Now there is a vast selection of fresh food available. To prepare
a good meal the foods cooked must be fresh and prepared with the
best ingredients possible.
"Cooking is going in a great direction: natural, down-to-earth
and well-prepared. The best thing that can be done with food is
to make it taste as the best version of itself.
"Years ago a good chef was barely acknowledged. But now the
chef has come out of the kitchen to become a star. It is very glamorous
today to be a chef."
Steven Shaw, a lawyer who does well-respected reviews on his website
as a hobby, has this to say about Andre Soltner: "When Andre
Soltner opened Lutece fine dining in America was a joke. Through
sheer perseverance and force-of-will he showed us - one entree at
a time - that we could have restaurants just as good as any in the
world. From his tiny kitchen on East 50th Street, Soltner taught
a generation of diners that a good chef is more than a cook and
thus laid the foundation for the recognition and status accorded
the celebrity chefs of today."
Unlike Robert Frost who pondered over "the road not taken,"
Mr. Soltner is quite content with the road he chose to travel. "When
I was young, I dreamed of being a cabinet maker like my father and
older brother, but my mother felt two cabinet makers in the family
were enough. She advised me to choose another trade. I was fifteen
and I liked to cook. I think I made a good choice.
The Soltners divide what little time they have to spare between
their city apartment and their weekend home in Hunter, New York.
"When I was at Lutece, I could only get there on Sunday.
Now I can leave on a Friday and not return until Monday. It is very
pleasant there. In summer we garden and play tennis and in winter
"I love to ski. I started when I was about six and have been
skiing ever since. I even served my military duty in the French
The Lutece Cookbook written by Mr. Soltner was published by Random
House in 1995 and has sold very well. He says he is "currently
working on a small book in French, which I am doing with someone
from the area in France where I grew up. He will write about my
boyhood in the region and I will do about eighty recipes."
Asked if he misses Lutece, he replied: "No, I'm too busy.
After all, I still live in the building and I have an excellent
relationship with the new owner and chef. Whenever I am around and
see someone I know, I stop by and say hello."
Mr. Soltner is obviously enjoying the new road he has taken. Apparently
he has made the right choice again.
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