- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

Jacques Haeringer fancies himself a romantic fellow. But as a professional cook, he is also something of an anomaly:
* A chef who describes himself happily as a carnivore and grills all his meat outdoors because he cant stand cooking odors in his house.
* A shy man in a profession where extroverts shine but whose cooking show may be the only one on television to receive a PG rating because of his unscripted suggestive remarks on camera.
Mr. Haeringers day job is that of chef de cuisine at LAuberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, Va., founded by his father Francois Haeringer 25 years ago and long regarded as one of the Washington areas premiere restaurants and a proving ground for a great many prominent local chefs, including Patrick OConnell of the Inn at Little Washington.
Next month, he may be the only local chef to have his own television series and the only food show to be seen nationwide based on the theme of romance.
"I hope he will be a big TV star and have some fun," is the slightly dismissive comment of Francois Haeringer, now 82, about his sons latest entry into public life. Ten years ago, the son authored "The Chez Francois Cookbook" and expects his new enterprise to result in another book based on the recipes in the series.
Asked why the world needs another cookbook, much less another cooking show, Mr. Haeringer downplays the venture with a shrug. "It doesnt," he says.
A member of the restaurants kitchen staff since he was "10 or 12," he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1972 and later worked and studied in some of Europes finest restaurants namely ones in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France owned by relatives.
He earned his credentials as a cooking coach hosting demonstration classes on and off in LAuberge Chez Francois for the past seven years. The original LAuberge began 50 years ago at 818 Connecticut Ave. NW, near the White House.
The series of 13 shows, being distributed by American Public Television, is titled "Two for Tonight: The Cuisine of Health & Romance," because, in Mr. Haeringers words, "Preparing a meal for someone you care about is one of the greatest gifts of love."
Those are the uplifting words he uses for publicity purposes, and, doubtless, he truly believes what he says. In private, however, he is more off-the-cuff, almost boyish.
"Flowers are fun, candy is sweet, but a romantic repast is a much better treat," he trills during an interview in his Great Falls home while whipping up the bay scallops in garlic and herb butter recipe featured in episode two, "Twos Company." A bottle of Alsatian wine stands open on the counter.
Normally, he cooks fish and meat only on his outdoor grill.
Today is an exception, and the immersion of scallops in the herb and garlic butter, prepared ahead, is swift. Pernod is added for effect. Then he lights a match to the mix and flames leap out of the pan. "It adds a little excitement," he says, "but I wouldnt necessarily recommend that everyone do this at home."
Calling himself "a balanced metabolizer on the carnivore side, he says there is nothing he wont eat, since growing up "at home we ate everything." When he dines out, he goes for sushi and steak. Working nights, he doesnt watch a lot of television not even cooking shows.
Mr. Haeringers happy-go-lucky personality and his attitude of taking food seriously but not himself convinced NBC-TV correspondent Fred Francis that the friendly down-to-earth chef deserved his own show.
"He connects. He is a natural comedian with a skill that you and I wish we had," says Mr. Francis, who got to know the chef in his domain when he and his wife signed up for cooking classes. "If you could have seen the early classes he just made everybody laugh. Its hard to do that. The best part is after the class. He feeds you."
Mr. Francis went up to him after one class and said, "You are better than most of those guys on the Food Network," then alerted Vincent Gancie of Gancie Television Inc., who eventually became executive co-producer and director of the series. A portable set was built at the restaurant, with a live audience composed of former students who volunteered to take part.
They got fed again, this time for free.
The reason for the PG rating has to do with the racy comments Mr. Haeringer throws out while preparing recipes during the filming what Mr. Gancie calls "a fine line between crude and lewd."
In fact, the sexual innuendos are far less shocking than what can be heard daily on prime-time television. "In one of shows I say you should do this wearing only an apron, or if maybe its a first date you should have on a pair of hot chili-pepper shorts," he says, chuckling.
It has taken nearly six years to make the concept a reality and, to date, nearly 150 television stations have signed on, Mr. Gancie says. "We went to them because we know APT has 53 cooking shows, most of the big ones." WETA-TV will air three of the segments during the stations pledge week on March 10 between 5 and 7 p.m. Maryland Public Television plans to run them starting March 25.
The actual classes have been delayed by damage from last Octobers $250,000 fire. It was caused, the elder Mr. Haeringer reports, by a malfunctioning $50 fan. It damaged nearly all of the restaurant, but Jacques Haeringer says classes will resume again in the fall. The restaurants reopening is planned for sometime late next month. He says the fire had "a silver lining" since it allowed the family two other brothers also work there to install new equipment and improve the kitchen design.
"Classes always were sold out and always had a romantic angle," he says. At first, only women signed up, and eventually "The ladies started saying, 'My husband would enjoy this, so classes now are about 50-50. Its not all couples singles come, too. Its a great meeting ground. People have caught onto the message about making food a gift."
Romance is in Mr. Haeringers background in many ways, not the least of which is the number of weddings that take place at the restaurant.
"The chef is like captain of a ship. He can marry people, but only on the premises," he claims. "I did marry a couple there. Truly. Anyone in Virginia can marry someone else. An attorney friend of mine said all you have to do is write the circuit judge and say that on such and such a date you want to marry so and so. Then you post a bond. You arent allowed to be paid for it. You have to fill out a bunch of papers and a lot of hullabaloo. Actually. a lot of these small town mayors do it if you have a scenic town.
"I did it once. The couple are still married and come to the restaurant all the time. She was Jewish and he was Methodist, and we wrote a little ceremony, and I married them on the terrace in a suit and then I went back in and cooked for them."

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