Feb 27, 2002
This is a dessert with both flair and flare.
Life à la Henri
(Simon and Schuster, 1934), Charpentier tells it this way: In 1894 he was working as an assistant waiter at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo, and, at only 14 years of age, he was desperate to impress his boss. When Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived for lunch one day with an entourage that included a young girl named Suzette, Charpentier, who had already been experimenting with a citrus sauce for crêpes, rashly promised to prepare a wonderful new dessert for the prince's party. But when he poured a mixture of maraschino liqueur, curaçao, and kirschwasser into the pan in front of his guests, the cordials unexpectedly caught fire. The lad was certain that the confection—and his career—had been ruined, but he remained calm. When the flames subsided, he tasted the sauce and found it delicious. The prince agreed, and asked that he name the dish for the becoming Suzette. A rival story, incidentally, has it that one Monsieur Joseph created the crêpes in 1897 at the Paris restaurant Marivaux in honor of the actress Suzanne "Suzette" Reichenberg. True or not, we like Charpentier's tale better—as much, in fact, as we like the dessert itself.
Few desserts are presented quite as dramatically as crêpes suzette—those delicate, orange-infused pancakes that are festively flambéed tableside. Credit for inventing this classic dessert was always claimed by Henri Charpentier—an old-school French restaurateur, who moved to America in 1905 and later opened a successful establishment in Southern California. In his autobiography,