From the archives: Chef Haeringer in his own words
Francois Haeringer is part of a disappearing breed of restaurateurs who run their kitchens with discipline and tradition, not "concepts" and trendy cuisine. Perhaps as a result, his Great Falls, Va., inn, L'Auberge Chez Franc ois, is notorious for its two-week waiting list for dinner reservations.
At 68, Haeringer still works seven days a week, supervising his staff of 60, planning the menu, ordering the food, cutting tenderloins into fillets and tasting the sauces prepared by his two sauciers. His days begin at 6 a.m.
An Alsatian, Haeringer says he was the first Frenchman born in the town of Obernai after German-controlled Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France following World War I. He came to Washington in 1947, worked for his brother Alfred at Haeringer's Buffeteria on 14th Street and then ran the kitchen at the Chevy Chase Club with his uncle. He briefly cooked at an Alaskan resort before returning to become the chef at the three Musketeers in downtown Washington. in 1954, Haeringer bought the three Musketeers and changed its name to Chez Francois. when the restaurant was razed for a new office project, he moved to Virginia and opened the inn at Great Falls in 1976.
A small man with a raspy voice and thick accent, Haeringer can be somewhat gruff. His wife of 39 years, Marie-Antoinette, calls him a perfectionist and readily admits that he is a difficult man.
On the other hand, Haeringer can be generous and warm, feeding the entire restaurant staff every day and sitting down each afternoon at 4 to have dinner with his wife and three sons, all of whom work full-time at the restaurant. it is this regard for family and hominess that sets the tone at his restaurant. Haeringer may not want to admit it, but that's one of the reasons why the phone is always busy at L'Auberge Chez Francois.
In the chef's words:
Years ago, when I was a little boy, you had no television, you had nothing. so what do you think [the French] did? They ate. They made love and ate. That's all. Period. That's all there was.
At 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning, my mother was in the kitchen cooking. the whole damn day. this was her life. On Sundays, it was very simple. between 1 and 1:30, we were sitting at the table. At 4 o'clock, we were still at the table.
There were five brothers; two died. One died very young, and Jacques, he died when he was 16 years old. That's why I came. Mama was very disturbed. she was going to the cemetery every day and talking to him. the doctor told her, the only thing is to have another child. my mother had me when she was 40 years old. I was always her little one. even during the night, she would see if I was covered up -- and I was already 7, 8 or 9 years old. I think I was a little overprotected.
Daddy was always out working. my sister and brothers were older. They're very outgoing. I'm a loner, really. I get that from my mother. I don't talk too much. I am not always a joyous man. It's just not in my nature.
When I was 16, it wasn't that I didn't like school. I wanted to be a cook like my mother was. so I went in an apprenticeship at L'Hotel Chambard in Kaysersberg [in Alsace].
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