Remembering Richard Olney

By Lulu Peyraud, July 2001

Richard Olney’s kitchen © Gail Skoff

What is the first thing I would say about Richard Olney? That he was a handsome man, very elegant in his bow ties, discreet, considerate, a careful listener, and a good friend.

We met him, my husband Lucien and I, thanks to Magdeleine Decure and Odette Kahn, publishers of the magazines Cuisine et Vins de France and Revue du Vin de France, back in the 1950s. In view of Richard’s remarkable aptitude for wine tasting and his innate understanding of the cuisine of the great chefs (to whom Magdeleine and Odette introduced him), there was no way they were going to leave Richard free to focus on the passion that had originally brought him to France: his painting. Speaking perfect French with a lovely American accent (which added to the charm I found in him), schooled by entering a circle that presented prestigious tastings in the noblest cellars of France and at its most celebrated tables, Richard acquired, with the seriousness and unaffectedness that came naturally to him, a competence rare for a foreigner who had so recently arrived in that privileged milieu. Accepted in the world of gastronomy and oenology in Paris as well as in the provinces, he began writing articles for Cuisine et Vins de France.

Then he created the Lubéron College for foreigners seeking food and wine instruction, with classes and practical experience at certain wine domaines and restaurants. After that he spent seven years, mostly in London, where I sometimes visited him, working on the Time-Life series The Good Cook. Several other books followed, which have been translated into several languages.

Before that, however, he had left Paris for Provence and moved quite close to us, and thus the ties between us grew stronger. He would visit our home at Domaine Tempier, which was filled with children that he watched grow up, and full of our friends with whom he shared parties, banquets, tastings, and celebrations. All these events gave us the occasion to go pick him up, because Richard never learned to drive. Or, we would go up to his hillside home to dine outside in the shade of his vine-covered terrace. He would prepare succulent meals all by himself, including vegetables and salads from his own garden. We shared the feasts with friends we had in common, like Michael Lemonier, Jill Norman, Aubert de Villaine, Alice Waters, and Kermit Lynch and his family. Richard would always give us his enlightened, to-the-point opinion when wine tasting, whether we were judging the newest vintage or enjoying an old treasure.

His rigorousness, his candor, and the friendship that grew between us were a source of great happiness, because whether times were good or bad, we could count on each other.

He did Lucien and me a great honor when he wrote his book (Lulu’s Provençal Table) about Domaine Tempier, which featured recipes from my kitchen.

We met his numerous brothers and sisters, who gathered every summer at his house here in Provence, and we enjoyed entertaining them with luncheons at the domaine. We also received Richard’s parents from Iowa, the time they traveled together to France to see him, and I still have the charming painting his mother did of a vase of flowers, which hangs in the entry hall at Domaine Tempier.

During his health problems, we kept his family informed, right up to the final, fatal attack. But Richard’s spirit is so alive in all of us that we will never stop honoring his memory when we get together.

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