I walked through the kitchen of Pigall’s for both the first and last time today. I’ve eaten there before– when it first opened– and had eaten at the Maisonette when I was in high school. I was unable, due to a breakneck schedule, to work in any time to visit it one more time before it closed, but found myself picking up cupcakes from one of its pastry chefs for a party– coincidentally, on the last day of Pigall’s existence in its current form.
Many people have spoken about the sublime experience– food served beautifully, service that is expert but never stuffy, the efficient, but warmly welcoming service of Maitre d’ Richard Brown, the small taste of the “good life” right here in Cincinnati. It was the only Mobil 4-star restaurant in three states. It was honored by Relais and Chateaux as one of the most beautiful hotels and restaurants in the world, by Jean-Robert de Cavel’s home country of France. It was an a gem in the crown of Cincinnati, something that elevated us above just another Midwestern city and back into the words of Longfellow, who reflected Cincinnati as the cosmopolitan, trend-setting place it once was:
And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.
I walked through the kitchen, trying to observe as much as I could as I was whisked through. Everyone was in their place on the line, prepping for the day, as if it were any other day. I don’t think anyone who walked through, whether they knew the circumstances or not, could have missed this air of seriousness, of termination, of an ending era. As I stood, talking to Kirsten, surrounded by the heady, sugary, butter-laden scent of the pastry kitchen (for the record, I could stand in a pastry kitchen– I’ve been in several– for hours, just absorbing that smell), I couldn’t help but think about how many chefs over the years– while Pigall’s was in its first incarnation, or in its latest– have been affected by this restaurant, by Jean-Robert, by this city. It was humbling, and I can’t help but feel as if we, as a city, are somehow tarnished by Pigall’s passing.
I will not get into the gossip here. This is not the time, nor the place– spilt milk cannot be undone. However, my hope is that Jean-Robert continues the tradition of culinary excellence (written about eloquently here) started long ago, and will once again make Cincinnati sparkle with his inspired talent. Meanwhile, I’ll support those artist-chefs who will hang up their Pigall’s coats one last time tonight. I hope you will, too.