Edmond Gay: Medieval times at the Franco center
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been waiting for the perfect time to shake the dust off that old velvet tunic you have tucked in the back of your closet. And if you’re lucky enough to own one, it’s time to sport your kirtle — you know, that loose gown worn by women in the Middle Ages over a cotton smock or chemise.
For the men out there, it’s time to don your favorite cloak or surcoat, trousers and leather finery. If you possess a fur or two, go ahead and throw that around your neck. Word to the wise: Bring your dagger. It may come in handy.
Whether you fancy yourself as medieval royalty, a sassy wench or the more common 13th-century peasant, your preferred destination on Nov. 9 and 10 will be the great hall of the upcoming Medieval Feast at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston.
The night is reminiscent of festivals of medieval lore — typically based on ancient agricultural events, such as the planting or harvesting of local crops. Festivities usually included the royal court, jousting knights in armor battling for sport, minstrels and court jesters.
“The actual feast,” said Edmond Gay, the Swiss-born and French-speaking chef, facility manager and banquet organizer at the Franco center, “was a huge part of those festivities.” In charge of this all-important feast, Gay has planned five courses, or — as he prefers to call them, “removes” — which will be served throughout the evening.
Since eating utensils were either rare or not yet invented, Gay said the entire meal is designed to be eaten with your fingers. In the case of this year’s first course — a creamed carrot and potato soup — it means slurping from wooden soup bowls.
“After the soup, we (will) serve a meat pastry,” said Gay. In French, this meat-filled pastry would be called risolle. Making quick reference to his nearby French dictionary, he translated: “pockets of pasty filled with meat.” Served hot, the turnovers are made with a buttery dough and are filled with a mixture of ground pork and beef, along with several spices. Not quite as refined as a true appetizer or hors d’oeuvres, which Gay said tend to be a little fancier and more elegant, the turnover is an "amuse gueule," Gay said, explaining it is the more common and slightly crass version of the more proper term "amuse bouche."
Gay shared his recipe for the risolle, which you can see him create at www.sunjournal.com. An old-fashioned, hand-operated apparatus he borrowed from the Italian Bakery in Lewiston will help speed up his production for the feast, which he expects will be attended by nearly 200 people.
The amuse gueule will be followed by the third remove, a salad. Before we panic about eating a salad sans fork, Gay will cleverly prepare leaves of romaine so as to become finger food. He laughingly referred to the salad dressing as “ancient vinaigrette,” served on the side, in which said finger food can be somewhat neatly dipped (or not!). Talking about the salad, he was reminded to point out that along with a wooden plate, bowl and drinking mug, diners will graciously be provided a large, cotton napkin.
For the main meal, serving wenches will make the rounds to offer two different meats, roasted chicken and “sausage a l’ ancienne" (what Gay referred to as “rustic”) — both of which are easy enough to tear into with your teeth. This is when the aforementioned dagger would be advantageous. Served with roasted vegetables and potato, Gay is thoughtful enough to skip all the mashing and small dicing, leaving the side dishes in extra-large chunks — perfect for hand feeding.
The fifth remove will be, of course, dessert — this year, a ginger-flavored hermit cookie.
Interwoven between the removes will be entertainment and storytelling, along with royal lute music provided by strolling minstrel Neil James.
A highlight of the festival will include “The Idiot’s Guide to the Dark Ages” — an original comedy this year written by four of the troupe’s medieval players and directed by Richard Martin, the Franco center’s program director. The king and queen of the feast will rule over the opening ceremonies, judge costumes and award prizes for the best attire, and will declare the winner of the dragon wing (read: “hot wings”) eating contest.
Before retiring in 1995, Gay previously worked for IBM in several capacities in both Switzerland and the United States. “My cooking experience comes from my passion for good food in different cultures, influenced by French, Swiss and German traditions.” He said he gained his food industry experience while working many years at Graziano’s in Lisbon.
Because the Franco-American Heritage Center is host to many events, festivals and weddings during the course of the year, Gay offers much variety in the food he serves. Although not on the menu for the medieval feast, I asked Gay if he would share his recipe for French crepes, since they are quite renowned in the area and are served at many heritage center events. They are easy to make, he said, and can be enjoyed with many different fillings: sauteed vegetables, cream sauces with chicken or seafood, jams or fruit. He chose to share a popular yet simple spinach-mushroom filling.
When it comes to hosting weddings in the hall, “We serve more sophisticated things!” he said. Menu selections might then include black oak ham, prime rib, chicken marsala, or roasted pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce or marinated in herbs and red wine.