In all of France there is probably no courtesan more fondly recalled or respected than Anna Deslions who, in 1865, was deemed by the critic Sainte-Beuve to be "as true a queen as Paris has ever known." Deslions, who was known throughout Paris as La Lionne des Boulevards, was the model for the title character in Emile Zola’s famous novel Nana.
Unlike her two major rivals, Valresse de la Bigne and Blanche d'Antigny, the beautiful and cultured Deslions never charged for her services, relying instead on the generous gifts that her clients bestowed upon her. This practice made good sense, because in addition to being generous with their cash, quite a few gave her diamond and emerald jewelry, several gave her sable coats, one gave her a cottage in Normandy, and another presented her with an apartment in London.
During Deslions' reign as "queen", the most fashionable restaurant in Paris was the Café des Anglais, an establishment favored by princes, emperors and society idols. Anna found the restaurant much to her taste, and the owner, Maurice Chevreuil, so adored her that he had a private dining room built for her on the second floor.
In addition to a table permanently set for two, the room also contained a large chaise longue and a comfortable canopied bed. Chevreuil, who was a meticulous restaurateur, also kept a list of Deslions' lovers, including the crucial information as to what each of her lovers liked to eat and drink and at what time they had to be awakened to return home to their wives.
The still-famous dish known as Pommes de Terre Anna was named in her honor by Adolphe Dugléré, the most famous chef of the Café des Anglais. Dugléré also concocted several more dishes that he dedicated to Annette, a further homage to Anna who was known by this diminutive only to those with whom she had been intimate and a few close friends. It is said that three kings, twelve emperors, eighteen princes and thirty-four dukes knew the lady as Annette. According to the lists kept by Chevreuil, she was also known as Annette by two princesses and several well known actresses of the day.
Pommes de Terre Anna
2 lb (900 gr) medium size potatoes, peeled and sliced as thinly as possible (but not soaked in water)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste
In a shallow flame-proof casserole heat the oil and 2 Tbsp of the butter. Once the butter is melted, tip the casserole to coat the sides. Remove from the flame before the butter browns and arrange a single layer of potato slices in an overlapping spiral pattern.
Sprinkle over salt and pepper, and dot with butter. Continue building spiral layers. Salt and pepper each layer, and dot each with butter until the casserole is full.
Place the casserole over a medium flame and cook until the potatoes on the bottom layer are browned (about 12 minutes) and then transfer to a hot oven. While the potatoes cook, press them gently with a spatula from time to time, until they are tender when tested with a fork (about 25 minutes). To serve, loosen the edges with the spatula, place a preheated serving plate over the casserole and invert so that the potatoes fall on the platter. (Serves 6)
1/2 cup highest quality apricot or peach jam
1 tsp vanilla extract
salt and pepper as needed
4 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp confectioners' sugar
In a saucepan heat the jam and keep it warm, ready for use.
In 4 separate small bowls, using a dinner fork, beat together 2 eggs, 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract and a pinch each of salt and pepper. In a 9" (23 cm) omelet pan (or similar heavy skillet) melt 1 Tbsp of the butter and make four omelets of 2 eggs each. (Add additional butter to the pan only if it becomes dry). After each omelet is cooked, just before folding, spoon in 2 tbsp of the heated jam.
When the four omelets are done, place them on an oven-proof serving plate, side by side. Sprinkle over the confectioners' sugar, place in a hot oven just until the sugar begins to melt and serve at once. (Serves 4)