Our dinners with Henri

Ten years of food, drink and innuendo with CN&R’s senior food writer

Sacre bleu! It seems only yesterday that Henri fled the Big Pomme—after that devastating contretemps with L—arriving in Chico, crushed, with only Miss Marilyn and a box of VHS movies for comfort, hoping to somehow recover some sense of self-worth. He never once imagined staying, finding a home here, and living relatively contentedly in a town that had originally struck him as so hopelessly parochial.

But here we are, 10 years later, Miss Marilyn a little longer in tooth (actually she only has a few left), Henri grayer and sparser of lock (but with a growing beret collection). We still live in the same little house—mon soeur Colette and Mr. Theo of course now part of our little famille—and enjoy our movie nights, our walks downtown to the farmers’ markets and to the bistros. And Henri is still unattached, a condition about which he has decidedly mixed emotions and that he is convinced, despite Colette’s misguided counsel, has little to do with his dour nature, his indolence, his drinking, his narcissism and his being shaped not unlike a food pyramid.

So Henri has been spending long afternoons in reflection, naps serving to sharpen his recollections of his 10 years in Chico.

Where are they now?

Dr. Epinards: The well-meaning doctor continues his admonitions—to lose weight, to drink less, and especially to exercise. Sir, show me an exerbike with a decent cup holder for my wine glass, and I will capitulate anon at least to the latter part of your little troika.

Jonathan: Sadly, I have not seen Jonathan in several years, since the last time I hired him to help me harvest my tomatoes. I will always cherish my memories of him, though, in his espadrilles and cut-offs, reaching in for my Better Boys.

Colette: Colette is still in contact with three of her five ex-husbands, one of whom wrote recently to say that the last time it went much better with the parole board. She dates occasionally, often thoughtful enough to pick up breakfast to-go for both of us on her way home.

Pierre: Pierre has not been well, and in fact, we’ve been taking cabs more and more, as I fear my little Renault might be on its last legs. I don’t know what Colette was talking about when she lectured me about “oil” changes. Sometimes we buy Lodestar Farms, sometimes Chaffin Family Orchards’ extra virgin. I even buy a bottle of Trader Joe’s sometimes.

Mr. Bob: Henri is forever indebted to his Chico News & Review editors, especially Robert Speer—who recently announced his retirement—for the opportunity to share my culinary and other observations with Chico-area readers. Au revoir and bonne chance, Mr. Bob.

So, merci beaucoups, Chico. Thank you for les années. And who knows? Maybe I’ll still be here in 10 more, with Miss Marilyn II.

In the meantime, how could Henri not leave you with a recipe? I adapted this one from a San Francisco Chronicle article. We’ve made it several times, and it’s absolutely delicious.

Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs with Leeks


2 Tbsp olive oil

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

3 Tbsp. butter

1/4 cup shallots, minced

1/4 cup red bell peppers, diced

1/2 cup white wine

5 cups leeks, thinly sliced (white and light-green parts only)

1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced

1 tsp. fresh basil, minced

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Place the thighs in pan, skin side down, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the skin has browned and crusted. Turn the chicken, and cook another 20-30 minutes, until cooked through.

While chicken is cooking, melt the butter in large skillet on medium. Add the shallots and bell pepper and cook about 3-4 minutes. Add the white wine, bring to a simmer, then cook another 1-2 minutes. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the thyme and basil, and season with more salt and pepper.

Divide the leeks mixture among serving plates and place chicken thighs on top. Excellent with a chardonnay or pinot grigio.