Armand Marquiset, French nobleman and founder of the organization Little Brothers of the Poor, had a motto: “flowers before bread.” He believed you needed to feed the soul as well as the body, and used his organization to help the lonely and impoverished live fuller, happier lives. Yet he was also quite the chef, apparently, and would often cook meals for volunteers to distribute. More than 50 years after its founding, his charity celebrated Marquiset’s generosity and love of food with a seated benefit dinner at the French Embassy last Thursday.
“A La Table D’Armand Marquiset” featured a tasting menu crafted by some of DC’s finest chefs and sommeliers. Marcel’s Paul Stearman made a perfectly cooked miniature beef Wellington, encased in a flaky, buttery crust. Caramelized pearl onions provided a nice pop of sweetness, while a rich port reduction mingled well with each of the dish’s flavors. Stearman said he had never made the dish for so many people, but you would have thought he served this to large parties on the regular. It was a standout course.
Philippe Reininger, of J&G Steakhouse, presented a delightful opening dish as well: parsnip soup with coconut, lime and mint. It was very rich, almost chowderlike, with a hint of lime that really cut through its creamy, smooth texture. The Doukenie Winery chardonnay paired with it was light, almost bubbly, but didn’t stand up to the soup. It seemed better suited to merely washing it down than to complementing its flavors. Nevertheless, the wine would be fine on its own.
Interspersed between courses were remarks from some of the event’s honored guests. French Ambassador François Delattre welcomed some of the organization’s long-time members, including Michael Salmon, founder of the first U.S. chapter. Salmon said he came to Chicago in 1959 with “a tourist visa and a check for $10,000.” He and Marquiset rented a van and a storefront, and turned the chapter into one of Chicago’s community mainstays. Salmon even met his wife through the chapter—she joined the staff as a social worker in 1967.
Actress Zabou Breitman also spoke briefly, and showed a taped interview with Gisèle Casadesus, an actress who worked with Marquiset shortly after he founded the organization. Casadesus said she knew him well, and spoke of his incredibly good nature.
Breitman said she was proud to support an organization that treasured and cared for the elderly.
“Without a past, you have no future…You have to honor your elders, listen to them, and remember their stories,” she said.
Little Brothers of the Poor, known in the U.S. as Little Brothers—Friends of the Elderly, serves those who are sixty and older who have no support in their immediate area. They offer transportation, organize trips and social events, and are committed to alleviating isolation and loneliness among the elderly.