Making Fond Memories (Magazine Feature)
Making Fond Memories
by Lindsey McClave (Reposted from Kentucky Monthly Magazine - May 2018)
It is difficult to escape the charms of Chef Madeleine Dee’s congenial nature. I am standing by in the matchbox-size kitchen of her restaurant, Fond, watching as she methodically slices plump strawberries, my spirit warming right along with hers as she details her recent explorations in Europe.
“My time at Hisa Franko in Slovenia was the most important experience of my life,” Madeleine says. “Every moment showed me what fine dining is supposed to be. I channeled what I learned there into Fond, to incredible results. I’m a better chef because of that meal, and the restaurant is blossoming.”
The word about Madeleine’s tiny dream restaurant has officially spread, yet it remains one of Louisville’s best-kept culinary secrets. With only 12 seats available two nights per week and a six-plus-course menu that changes by the month, Fond bears the oh-so-desirable mark of exclusivity. Yet the pretentiousness that can often come with a restaurant of this nature is completely absent, instead replaced with the feeling that you are a welcomed guest in Madeleine’s own home, where the mood is inviting, subdued and entirely charming.
As the sweet scent of the berries fills her kitchen, Madeleine’s seemingly permanent smile spreads wide when she tells me that, for the first time since opening, her restaurant sold out for the month before she even released the menu. It would seem that Fond, along with the woman at its heart, has found its wings.
A life in the pursuit of warming people’s souls via food was not always the plan for Madeleine. Born and raised in Louisville, she graduated from Sacred Heart Academy with dreams of becoming a movie star. She knew she would need to master some sort of trade to support herself in Los Angeles and decided a degree in culinary arts would do just fine, despite the fact that she had never actually cooked anything. Armed with her passion for acting and new skills as a chef, Madeleine made her way to L.A., only to find herself back in the Bluegrass State five days later. She simply knew in her gut that acting would not be her path.
While she may not be on the big screen, nearly a decade later, Madeleine is performing an elaborate, one-woman show with Fond and is selling a robust line of gourmet specialty foods called Fond Originals. She keeps her flair for the dramatic alive via her web series, The Seasoned Cynic’s Guide to Entertaining. The show denotes her trademark moniker, The Seasoned Cynic, and she expresses this side of herself via TheSeasonedCynic.com, where etiquette tips, original recipes, gorgeous food images and travelogues are shared.
Madeleine continues to describe the various hats she wears as I follow her from the kitchen into the dining room, a small but open space lined with tall windows that let natural light spill onto the floor. Five tables are set with indigo napkins, aqua teacups holding small candles, and metal feathers acting as a resting ledge for cutlery. The space is intimate, giving you the sense you’ve just entered a dinner party. The bistro music filling the air, coupled with the private ambiance of the space, spirits me back to an equally cozy restaurant in Rovinj, Croatia, where a husband-and-wife duo were the sole staff, cooking and serving every course as if you were dining in their home. I share this memory with Madeleine, and she does a small dance of excitement, as this is the effect she hopes Fond will have on its diners. It is the name of the restaurant that perhaps best expresses this desire.
“Fond is a tremendously meaningful word, both in English and in French!” she says. “In English, it means devoted, warm, caring, loving, kind, keen on, partial to, addicted to and affectionate. Also, that you are passionate and enthusiastic about something. In French, it’s even more significant: Not only is it a basic term learned in culinary school referring to the yummy bits of food that stick to a pan and give a sauce its base of flavor, but it also means foundation, substance, depth, essence, soul, heart. Fond is everything to me. It was the perfect word for the care and love I put into my work.”
There is no shortage of love—or work—that goes into crafting the duo of weekly dinners at Fond, which opened in 2015. Monthly menus are conceptualized over a span of weeks and, with food always squarely on her mind, Madeleine will sketch dishes on sticky notes, securing her pictures to the wall as she formulates them into real-life variations. As her travel has expanded, so has her palate, her dishes now born of experiences she has had around the globe. Each meal comes with a story, enabling her to connect with her diners in a whole new way.
“Traveling has made me a better chef and a vastly more interesting person,” she says. It always comes back to the guest experience at Fond, travel and food two of the most powerful bridges of connection.
While she has settled on the descriptor of “Mediterranean fusion” for Fond, Madeleine’s passion for the world’s variety of food made defining her culinary style a challenge. Although every menu is born of French technique, her flavors span the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, with corners of Asia playing an increasingly important role. Madeleine was in prep mode for her distinctly French menu during my visit, a meal I, along with 10 fellow diners, had the pleasure of experiencing the following weekend. Fond may be small, but Madeleine is quick to stress that it embraces the introvert. Tables are not communal and are spaced comfortably apart, ensuring that each individual reservation—be it a two-top or a table for six—has as private an experience as desired.
Fond has quickly acquired its fair share of regular customers, so much so that Madeleine put together a subscription program, offering a discount to those wishing to purchase a seat at three or more dinners throughout the calendar year. She greeted these regulars as well as the handful of other diners before calmly making her way back to the kitchen, where she makes everything herself, while her trusted friend and employee, Kimberly Temple, makes sure the dining room runs smoothly.
The menu may shift from month to month, but the first course remains the same: A trio of bite-sized fig pizzas are presented on a small pedestal, paper-thin prosciutto and herbaceous pesto pairing beautifully with the sweet sliced fruit. Madeleine plates her dishes with care, allowing their elegance to be displayed in a subtle yet striking manner. Our serving of white truffle soup with seared scallop was as beautiful in its artful oblong bowl as it was perfectly executed, the truffle soup silky and rich with organic, earthy notes, and the scallop generous in size and tender, the top gently kissed from the pan.
The meal built steadily, in both intensity of flavor and offering, course by course, and surprises appeared that are not in the published menu, like a beautifully simple bread and cheese presentation. A slender triangle of drunken goat decorated with white balsamic pearls was paired with two warm slices of Blue Dog Bakery bread and a quenelle of house-churned salted butter. A delicate roasted tomato bisque, garnished with ribbons of zucchini and salmon that practically melted on the tongue, made an impact, as did the mushroom gratin accompanied by duck a l’orange. Madeleine’s signature dessert—a balsamic panna cotta topped with strawberry ginger-jam, crumbled shortbread and candied flowers—was perhaps the most striking dish of the night, so simple in theory yet complex and nuanced in flavor and texture.
As small cups of espresso were quietly delivered, Madeleine offered a final bite in the form of a macaron. When I asked if she had made these as well, she simply smiled and said, “If I served it to you, I made it.” I can’t imagine a better motto for a restaurant to live by, and Madeleine embodies the art of hospitality in the most genuine sense. She also happens to be an incredible chef, and that, above all, is why Fond will only continue to blossom.
Original post: http://www.kentuckymonthly.com/food/featured/making-fond-memories/