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The Story of Henri and Suzette

When we began preparing for our Grapes and Crepes parties, we delved into the history, legends and lore surrounding these versatile French pancakes. One of my favorite stories is about the most famous crepe dish in the world -- Crepes Suzette. It's a very theatrical dessert crepe made with a sauce of sugar, orange zest and liqueur, often prepared tableside in restaurants so patrons can watch the liqueur (usually Grand Marnier or Brandy) burst into flames when it is lit.

Legend has it that the dish was created by mistake at the Monte Carlo Café de Paris when fourteen year-old Assistant Waiter Henri Charpentier accidentally lit a crepe on fire while preparing the dessert for the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. Henri boldly served the crepes anyway, and the Prince adored them.  When Prince Edward inquired as to the name of the dessert, Henri thought fast and replied: "Crepes Princesse", in his honor.  (Break for a mini French grammar lesson:  it was "Crepes Princesse" and not "Crepes Prince" since the word crepe is feminine--une crepe). But the Prince asked the young waiter to rename this delicious crepe dessert. For whom? A little girl in the restaurant? His mistress? Or the character his favorite actress portrayed in a play? It seems that only Henri knew for sure—historians all bet on different women, some even attributing the dessert to other French chefs. 

But, Henri’s happy accident turned out to be very happy indeed. He parlayed that story and the famous dessert into an illustrious career, first in Europe, and later in New York City where his clients included J.P. Morgan, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and Diamond Jim Brady.  Henri “retired” in California, where each night, for the next fifteen years, he cooked a meal in his home for sixteen people. Guests never knew what would be on the menu (Henri chose fresh produce at the market and cooked accordingly), but they always knew they would enjoy Crepes Suzette for dessert.  Local residents and Hollywood stars including Bing Crosby, John Wayne, and Ingrid Bergman, paid a deposit and often waited four years for a reservation.  We love how our parties echo the tradition that Henri created years ago; we require reservations and deposits and teach the art of making crepes for up to sixteen guests.  I can’t wait to read Henri’s memoirs: “Life A La Henri – Being The Memories of Henri Charpentier”. 
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