Great chef and person, recalled lovingly by a Chestnut Hill chef

Local Life September 6, 2013 0 Comments

Bonnie Shuman, Chestnut Hill Weavers Way’s in-house executive chef, recalls Claude Feninger as being “kind and gentle and never boastful, despite his wild successes.”

by Bonnie Shuman

I have often written in this column about the deep connection between food, friendship and community. To quote the wonderful food writer M.F.K. Fisher, “There is a communion of more than bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk.” As I was thinking about this concept again, I couldn’t help but conjure up thoughts of a dear friend of mine who recently passed away.

My friend’s name was Claude Feninger. I met Claude seven years ago at a reading from the debut of his memoir, “Sang Froid: Keeping My Cool in the International Hotel Business.”

A little background about Claude. He was born in Cairo and educated at the American University there. He then went to the Ecole Hotelier in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he graduated cum laude. His career spanned many years as he traveled all over the world building and managing hotels. (Ed. Note: Feninger, 87, died Sunday, April 28, of kidney disease at his home in Malvern.)

In fact, at the age of 25, Claude was managing the famous Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo when it burned down. He was credited with saving the lives of many of the guests during this horrific fire. He was also a world-class fencer and squash player and an avid scuba diver who dove in many exotic places around the world.

He was alluring, fascinating and worldly. He was kind and gentle and was never boastful, despite his wild successes. And he was a culinary tour de force, which brings me back to my premise that sharing food is an act of love.

There was rarely a time when we went to the home of Claude and Jill, his wife of 26 years, when there wasn’t something exotic on the stove (head cheese! cassoulet!). And it was sitting around the table eating the fruits of his labor when I fell in love with my friend, Claude. As we ate, the air was filled with rich stories of his life, and we knew that we were satiated by far more than the food. It was the camaraderie and the building of a friendship that still nourishes me.

Oh, what a wonderful palate my friend had. We especially shared a love of oysters, of his beef tartare and of my tuna tartare, which is one of the first things I ever made for Jill and Claude during the beginning of our friendship.

So in honor of Claude’s praise for and enjoyment of my tuna tartare, I have replicated the recipe as best I remember it. If you would like a copy of the recipe, please contact me at bonnie@weaversway.coop. Thinking of it now inspires me to go home and make it, to crack open a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and to raise a fork and a glass to my beloved, dearly departed friend.

* This article is reprinted here, with permission, from The Shuttle, Weavers Way’s monthly newspaper. Bonnie Shuman, Chestnut Hill Weavers Way’s in-house executive chef, grew up in the Poconos and spent time there at her sister’s inn, Settler’s Inn in Hawley, Pa., helping prepare meals. In fact, all of her family members are foodies, and her late mother was a great cook. As one friend said of Bonnie, “Some people play piano by ear. Bonnie makes food by mouth.”

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