Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons can conjure up visions of Vivaldi’s masterpiece, music that is beyond famous, or the names of places, among them the restaurant in New York City. When rummaging around in a flea market a couple of years ago, I found a copy of the cookbook from The Four Seasons Restaurant, and I just had to buy it, even though I am not a cook. This is a very large, attractive book, which one would probably call a coffee table book.

Many years ago, in the seventies, I worked at Calasanctius Preparatory School in Buffalo, a school for gifted children run by the Piarist Fathers. My children were students at the school, and I worked as Secretary to the Board of Trustees member in charge of finances, in exchange for my children’s tuition. Many of the priests affiliated with the school were Hungarians, and the Headmaster, Father Gerencser, was a very close friend of Paul Kovi, the Director of The Four Seasons Restaurant.

From time to time, the school held gourmet dinners and wine tastings as fund raisers. I was in charge of arrangements for these festive occasions, with duties including everything from maintaining the mailing list and sending notices to those who were most likely to attend, to being hostess at the door and gently reminding those who had not yet paid for their tickets. I made several long gowns for the hostess part of the job.

When Paul Kovi presented one of his gourmet dinners, I was involved in every tiny detail. Father Gerencser had a copy of the cookbook from the restaurant, and one of my jobs was to make copies of the menu and recipes for the cooks at the school, after the dinner was planned. The cooks would start preparations long before Paul arrived in Buffalo. I can not remember each item on the menu, but early in the dinner there was a small bird under glass, and the entrée was Rack of Lamb. I had remembered the large photo of Rack of Lamb in the cookbook for all these years.

Dessert was fabulous torte, prepared by Lenke, an older Hungarian woman who had an office of her own in the house that was used by the staff as an office building. Lenke had a pet squirrel that would come through her office window and sit on her desk eating nuts. He had a tail, ratty in appearance, which had been damaged when he was hit by a car.

The dining room at Calasanctius was in a new building behind the mansions that had been converted into a school, on the edge of Delaware Park in a very exclusive section of the City of Buffalo. It was a beautiful area, and the new building was tucked into the property so as not to be obtrusive, although it was rather large. There was a library near the dining room, and these sections of the building were rather imposing. The dining room was just that, not a cafeteria in appearance, but a carpeted area with proper furnishings, chandeliers, and batiks on the walls done by Father Gerencser’s sister in Hungary.

Betsy, the head cook for the school, was from Indonesia, and spoke Dutch. She was an exceptional cook, and had birthday parties for herself at her home, preparing all the food. I was a close enough friend to be invited to her parties for several years. She worked long hours preparing for the gourmet dinners, instructing her staff, and was in constant communication with Father Gerencser and Paul Kovi regarding the menu for this very special occasion.

Table settings for the gourmet dinners were very formal, of course. I think there were about ten wineglasses at each place setting, many pieces of flatware, and several pieces of dinnerware were used for each setting, also.

Ladies wore gowns, and the whole occasion was one of great festivity, a highlight of participating members’ social life. Luckily, I was able to attend these dinners and partake of the meal after greeting everyone at the door. Owning The Four Seasons Cookbook will help me to remember an interesting part of my life.


  • At 2:38 PM, April 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Who would have thought Gerencer, Kovi, and Betsy would ever surface again? I wonder if Betsy is still alive and making those grilled tunafish sandwiches?

  • At 5:07 PM, April 25, 2005, Blogger Rita Xavier said…

    That's a good question. She and I had a lot of fun in those days.

  • At 11:02 AM, July 26, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I want to thank you for this nice memory capture which I just now came across! I graduated from Cal('75), and lived upstairs in the faculty lounge house for a year or more, taking all my meals with the Fr's and guests, which brought the benefit of some interesting dinner conversations, not dissimilar to eating with the dons at Oxford years later, and almost as elegant (in the dimmed dining room you nicely capture, not at all a cafeteria, as you put it).

    Cal was a magical place in time in many ways -- from the quietude of its corner of the park, the stately solidity of the mansions, and the retreat of the batiks and books, to Father Gerencer's wry smiles, Wayne Chambliss's remonstrative and clever quips, and Fr. Krigler's Pouli dog, which seemed a near pefect match of personalities. Betsy was always so energetic and happy, it was impossible to be down around her! Lenke was a virtual grandma, always a calming reassuring hand (I'd forgotten about the squirel, how wonderful to recall).

    I later worked for Paul Kovi at the Four Seasons as a host the summer after graduation; he was very kind and the consumate professional in a business of what might kindly be called promoters and posers. The wine tastings and dinners at Cal were a wonderful gift from him to Cal, but also a small window to the real Four Seasons. There is an excellent illustrated history book on the FS via Amazaon,"The Four Seasons, A History of America's Premier Restaurant" J.Mariani and A. Von Bidder,Smithmark,N.Y., 1999 --replete with recipes, the celebs and the power mystique well laid out.

    Although I didn't fully appreciate all that Cal was at the time (which adolescents fully consider such things!), I came more fully to realize it over time, and to be saddened by its slow passing. At its height, Cal represented not only the dedication to rigorous learning, and to the development of education for the gifted (before that was such a ubiquitous term...), but also a world view which was at once realistic and optimistic, with a twinge of humanism -- a sort of updated classical liberal ideal, with none of the subsequent 'decontruction' and fashionable relativsm which have so hollowed contemporary education. Like much of the cultural legacy from which it arose, its apogee past, Cal lives on in its works, the minds it shaped.

    Again, thank you for your post (and your blog), and congratulations on your granddaughter's great achievement as a PBK! I wish you all the best.


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