Dione Lucas


Dione Lucas (née Wilson, 10 October 1909 - 18 December 1971) was a food writer, teacher and a Cordon Bleu graduate.

She was born at the British Consulate in Venice, Italy and raised in France. She had a sister named Orea. Her father Henry Wilson was a sculptor, architect and painter. He also made jewellery.

She was first trained as a jewellery maker by her father and then as a cellist at the Conservatoire in Paris. She then switched to cooking, studying at the age of 16 (according to some sources) at Cordon Bleu, where Henry-Paul Pellaprat was among her teachers. It's possible, some speculate, that one of her classmates may have been Rosemary Hume.[1a]

"One of the first lessons at the Parisian school, Mrs. Lucas explained, was how to chop onions tearlessly. Outraged by having a young English woman in their classes, the French chefs ordered her to prepare onions. "I cried for 48 straight hours," she said, "and then I cried no more. My initiation was over." [1b]

She became the first woman ever to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, earning the "Grand Diplome." After her diploma, she apprenticed at the Drouant Restaurant in Paris.

In 1930, at the age of 21, she married Colin Lucas (1906 - 1984), an up and coming British architect.

In 1933, Lucas became associated with the architectural partnership of Connell Ward & Lucas. In the same year, Dione, in partnership with Rosemary Hume, set up a Le Cordon Bleu branch school in a one-room facility in Chelsea, London. They both had to take additional Cordon Bleu courses to be allowed grant diplomas.

Dione Lucas

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By 1935, they had moved the school to larger premises at 29 Sloane Street London, where they set up an adjoining small restaurant staffed by students from the school. Rosemary ran the restaurant, Dione did the teaching. Colin designed the restaurant for them in modernist style.

The restaurant was successful. In 1937/38 she opened another restaurant called "Au Petit Potager" at 142 Wigmore Street, also designed by Colin.

Sometime during the 1930s, Dione cooked at a hotel in Hamburg, Germany (possibly the Hotel Atlantik.) She said in her book, "The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook" that she learnt there that Hitler was not a vegetarian:

"I learned this recipe when I worked as a chef before World War II, in one of the large hotels in Hamburg, Germany. I do not mean to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab, but you might be interested to know that it was a great favorite of Mr. Hitler, who dined at the hotel often. Let us not hold that against a fine recipe, though."

In 1939, World War II began. Dione & Rosemary closed their Cordon Blue school in London for the duration of the war. It would not re-open until 1945, with Constance Spry buying out Dione and becoming one of the co-owners with Rosemary.

At the start of the war, Colin was working at the British Research Station at Princes Risborough on ways to reinforce concrete for defences. They had a son, Mark, who was seven, and Dione was pregnant with their next son, Peter. Dione left for Canada with Mark and her copper pots in tow -- as well as three boys belonging to an Ursula Walford. She arrived in Ottawa to stay with Colin's aunt and uncle there, Sir Gerald and Margaret Campbell. Gerald Campbell was Britain's High Commissioner to Canada from 1938 to January 1941. Colin stayed behind in England to help with the war effort. The British Government transferred the Campbells down to Washington in January of 1941.

In 1940, 1941 or 1942, Dione Lucas moved down to Manhattan. The sources available as of yet all conflict with each other:

"Her arrival in this country from England via Canada in 1941 was concurrent with the war." [2]

A 1943 newspaper columnist says she arrived in New York in October 1942. "Mrs. Lucas is a pleasant British woman who has been in New York City since last October, when she came over with her nine-year-old son. Her second son was born shortly after her arrival. Her husband, Colin Lucas, remains in England, engaged in important war work." [3]

In any event, she was in Manhattan by 1942. Her first job there was at the Longchamps Restaurant on Madison Avenue, fluting mushrooms 8 hours a day. Then she went to work at the Hope Williams Ranch near Cody, Wyoming.

In 1942, she opened the Le Petit Cordon Bleu cooking school and restaurant in New York, with herself as the Director, at 117 East 60th St., New York. From the opening of the school until the end of the war, owing to the occupation of Paris she was the only person in the world granting Cordon Bleu certification during that time period.

"The Cordon Bleu Cooking School, at 117 E. 60th Street. Mrs. Dione Lucas, who runs the school, has received a diploma, first class, of the Ecole du Cordon Bleu of Paris. Her methods of instruction are admirably reasonable and lead with sturdy logic from one fundamental principle of cookery to another. The school has morning and afternoon classes, during which the pupils cook but do not eat what they prepare, and an evening class ending up with a dinner at which the dishes cooked are served, eaten and discussed. Lessons are five dollars apiece, and there is a course of forty-eight lessons for $192. If you stay to eat your dinner, that's $2.50 more." [4]


(Later, a Jesie Wilson would help her with the school, and in the late 1950s, she moved the restaurant and school to 3 East 52nd Street.)

At the end of the war, Colin came to Manhattan to meet up with his family. He did some architectural consulting work for the British Council there. Dione's career in America was taking off, but Colin didn't see many possibilities for him. At the end of the 1940s, the couple separated and he moved back to England, where he became a successful architect working for London County Council in rebuilding London.

In 1948, Dione started a TV show called "To The Queen's Taste" on CBS channel WCBS-TV. The start began on 12 July 1948 at 8:05 pm. [5] It ran for one year (1948 - 1949.) In 1949, it was renamed to "The Dione Lucas Cooking Show." She quite probably was the first woman to head a cooking show on television, either in the UK or in America. She closed each show saying, "bon appetit!"

"Mrs. Lucas usually prepares two dishes — a meat course, say, and a dessert — in one half-hour program, and many of these are enormously complicated dishes. She hates any form of cheating and insists on performing all possible steps right in front of the camera. If the recipe calls for a boned-chicken, she bones one, keeping up a steady stream of ad lib chatter as she does it... Her worst experience came during the early days of the show. Mrs. Lucas was demonstrating the preparation of a hot chocolate souffle. After going through the mixing stages, she reached for a pre-cooked souffle to show how it looked when finished: Without her knowledge, a CBS technician had pulled the oven plug and the souffle was completely uncooked. When Mrs. Lucas pulled the paper off, chocolate spurted in all directions. Mrs. Lucas, paralyzed with horror, kept right on chatting about its glamorous appearance while the souffle dissolved, before her and everybody else's eyes. The show drew to a close without further explanation... Not all [her] information is practical. Once she explained that the best way to locate truffles in a forest, was to follow a pig: "Pigs love truffles. Pregnant pigs, especially," she added dreamily. "Pregnant pigs adore truffles." [6]


James Beard (who was on NBC) didn't like her:
"Beard actively disliked his best-known competitor on the air: Dione Lucas. Lucas ran a cooking school and restaurant in New York, and her CBS program began shortly after Beard began his regular NBC appearances. In contrast to Beard, who developed his own American-based cooking style, Lucas adhered to the rules of the Ecole due Cordon Bleu in Paris...." [7]


She even has modern day detractors:
"It's unclear as to whether or not the show was a start-to-finish study in preparing specific recipes; there don't seem to be any surviving archival copies of her programs. Those who do recall her personally and on screen noted that she was generally of a dour demeanour, with apparently no more charisma on screen than [James] Beard. [David] Kamp notes that "she was small, stocky, and dour, with her hair pulled back tightly like a suffragette's..." [8]


Though her first show ended after a year, her restaurant and school continued to be a success. At her Cordon Bleu restaurant in New York, in 1950 she would make up to 200 omelets at noon hour. You could choose from 16 on the menu.

Her second TV show started in 1953. Produced through Manhattan channel WPIX, it was a 1/2 hour long programme called "The Dione Lucas Cooking Show." It was syndicated out to close to 60 other cities. Many channels ran it as a morning or afternoon show. One of the sponsors was Caloric Ranges. She endorsed them in ads, and they even released a model named after her, which she used on her TV show. Sponsors varied by channel & state -- on WFBM, Indiana, it was the Indiana Gas and Water company.

Sometime after 1953, she worked for Jimmy Rallis at the Four Chimneys Restaurant in Bennington, Vermont. [9]

In 1955, she gave a cooking demonstration on June 19th at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.

In the mid-1950s, she went to Australia during the summers and appeared on TV programs there.

In 1956, Dione opened a restaurant called the "Egg Basket" for Bloomingdale's in New York on East Fifty-Seventh Street.

"When she opened an omelet restaurant in New York City called The Egg Basket, I think I was one of the first customers. The restaurant had a counter, where you could watch while Dione Lucas prepared omelets for everyone. I had the first stool, and I had the time of my life. She was a magician with omelets." [10]


By 1960, she was endorsing products for other companies such as Standard Brands.

"One interesting meeting [Ed: in Chicago] was that of Standard Brands when they presented a "Seminar in Advanced Cookery." The classroom was the Four Georges Room at the Ambassador West Hotel and the instructor was Dione Lucas, famed authority who has a well-deserved reputation as one of the outstanding teachers of fine cookery today. From a kitchen setting with white brick walls, copper appliances and accent touches of bright emerald green, Mrs. Lucas presented a number of delectable dishes utilizing Standard Brands products. With Chase and Sanborn Coffee, she prepared a famous coffee drink known as Vienese [Ed: sic] Coffee Franz Josef and an Austrian Veal Roast that owes its goodness to a coffee-flavored sauce. Two new Royal gelatins — watermelon-flavor and peach-flavor were introduced in a spectacular Austrian Jelly Tart that combines a rich pastry shell with vanilla cream filling and fruited jelly topping. For the filling, Mrs. Lucas used Royal Vanilla Pudding." [11]


The Egg Basket restaurant was still in operation as of 1961. On 15th of December 1961, James Beard hosted a celebratory dinner for Julia Child at the Egg Basket, to celebrate the publication of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

"Dione Lucas had once run the Cordon Bleu's school in London, but she didn't strike us as especially organized, or sober. A few days before the party, the menu hadn't been finalized and arrangements for the wine delivery had yet to be made. Paul and I made an appointment to discuss these details with Ms. Lucas, but when we arrived the Egg Basket was closed and dark. Tacked to the locked door was a note, saying something like "Terribly sorry to have missed you, my son is ill, very ill...." Hm. When Judith Jones had lunched at the restaurant two weeks earlier, Lucas had been missing due to a 'migraine.'" [12]


In the 1960s, she adding writing for the Australian Women's Weekly to her list of chores.

By 1964, she was working at a New York restaurant called "The Gingerman" at 51 W. 64th St, opened by the actor Patrick O'Neal and his wife Cynthia Baxter, and his brother Michael. Patrick was at the time acting in a play based on the book "The Gingerman" by J.P. Donleavy.

In late 1963 / early 1964, Patrick and Michael were waiting for their liquor licence to be approved before they opened. During that time, Michael decided to take a cooking course at Dione Lucas's cooking school. Lucas expressed interest in becoming the chef for his new restaurant, and they agreed. At the restaurant, there was a window into the kitchen so that customers could watch her at work.

Dione Lucas Four Chimney's

Dione Lucas Four Chimney's

In April of 1968, she moved back up to Bennington, Vermont, as seen in this advertisement from the Bennington Banner. Bennington, Vermont. 2 May 1968. Page 6.

There she could be closer to her sister, and to her son, Peter, who was living in North Bennington (Mark was living in England.) Her sister, Orea Pernel was a violinist and taught at Bennington College for several years. She can be heard playing with Isaac Stern on the CD "Pablo CASALS 1er Festival de Prades 1950."

In September 1968, she switched to working for a restaurant called the Potters Yard Brasserie, also in Bennington, working for David and Gloria Gil.

"The menu at the Potters Yard Brasserie features the dishes for which Mrs. Lucas is well-known. There are 10 varieties of omelets offered for lunch, ranging from "plain" to "red caviar" concocted from sour cream, chopped onions, strained hard boiled egg yokes and whites, and parsley. All omelets are served with salad and coffee or tea, and are priced from $2 to $3.25." [13]


A listing for skiers later in the same paper called the restaurant "Expensive but worth it." [14]

Again, there was a window so people could watch her:

"I particularly remember the day my wife and I went to lunch at the Brasserie and happened to have our daughter Abbye, age one and a half, along. Mrs Lucas saw us through the glass window that separated the dining room from the kitchen, nodded hello, prepared the two lunches as ordered, then herself brought Abby something special: a perfect minute omelette [sic] bonne femme, exactly the shape of a whale and no more than three inches long." [15]


She stayed with the Brasserie for only 9 months [16], and then returned to New York:

"Dione Lucas has been lured back from Bennington, Vt., where she was operating a restaurant, to East 51st Street, where she has a new Dione Lucas Store and Cooking Center. She limits her cooking classes to six or eight students, and has a waiting list of celebrities. The great lady is now 60, but wields her heavy omelet pan as if it were a table tennis paddle..." [17]


"Dione Lucas, for years the ultimate authority among cooking instructors, classic French style, has returned to the city and will be in charge of the Dione Lucas Cooking School on 51st Street as of Dec. 1. She will have special classes for "men only, career girls and for children. ... "Mrs. Lucas will hold two-hour classes Monday through Friday for six-week periods, and there will be five different menu agendas for prospective students to choose from."' [18]


"DIONE LUCAS, whose fame internationally as a cook began many years ago with her Cordon Bleu cooking school, has opened the Dione Lucas Store and Cook Center at 221 East 51st St. New York city, according to a New York Time's article Thursday by Craig Claiborne." [19]


The combined cooking school / store seems to have been the latest incarnation of a non Cordon Bleu Cooking School run by her. According to David Blum who worked in the store from 1967 to 1971, she got the cooking school space free of rent in exchange for lending her name to the store and above, which became a franchise owned by Hobi and then Bevis industries. [20]

At one time, she held classes in the basement of a brownstone: "Some time later I considered myself extremely lucky to be able to attend cooking classes at Ms. Lucas' cooking school in the basement of a brownstone in New York City. There were about seven people in each class, and everyone cooked -- all at once. We were allowed to choose whatever we wanted to cook." [21]

After that at some point, classes were held at East 59th Street, and then under the name of the Gourmet Cooking School, at East 60th Street.

Her last residence in New York was at 200 East 51st Street. Her sister had moved to Ticino, Switzerland by then.

In September 1970, she went back to London to live there for a while and to see her son, Mark. She died there of pneumonia shortly before Christmas 1971, aged 61, on Saturday, 18 December 1971. [22]

A scholarship fund, the "Dione Lucas Scholarship Fund" was set up in her memory at the Culinary Institute of America in New Haven, Connecticut. It is not known if the fund is still extant.

At her death, her papers were willed to Marion Gorman, who placed them with the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.


Other Activity

Dione Lucas Knives

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Dione founded the Dione Lucas line of knives, which some people are still using and still swear by. They were made in conjunction with Bevis industries:

"Lucas invented the Gourmet Knives when the knife she was using proved an unsatisfactory de-fatting tool for her Supreme de Volaille. In frustration she created these knives with their excellent balance, molybdenum-alloy blades, and strong rosewood handles curved to fit the fingers. In 1974 four knives sold for $19.94, with a lifetime free-replacement guarantee." [23]

At some point, she worked for the Heritage Village Restaurant in Southbury, Connecticut.

She was fanatical about her omelets. If waitresses hadn't collected them to serve to the customers fast enough, she'd throw the omelets out. In references to her life, over and over again you will hear the omelets mentioned. She preferred aluminum omelet pans that were thick and free of pitting, and brightly polished. [20]

Books

    • 1936. Au Petit Cordon Bleu: an array of recipes from the 'École du Petit cordon bleu,' 29 Sloane Street, London. With Rosemary Hume.
    • 1944. The Cordon Bleu Cook Book. Little, Brown and Company, Boston. Dedicated to Rosemary Hume.
    • 1955. The Dione Lucas Meat and Poultry Cook Book Boston, MA: Little Brown (with Anne Roe Robbins.) 324 pages. Illustrated.
    • 1960. Good Cooking. Sydney: Australian Consolidated Press. 64 pages. Illustrated.
    • 1964. The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook. New York: Bernard Geis Associates.
    • 1973. The Dione Lucas Book of French Cooking (published post-humously by co-author Marion Gorman.)
    • 1977. The Dione Lucas Book of Natural French Cooking (with Marion & Felipe Alba.)
    • 1982. Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook (with Darlene Geis.)


Literature & Lore

"Undisputed monarch of gourmet cooking in America..." -- Cannon, Poppy. Lucas Omelet Souffle. Alton Evening Telegraph. 14 January 1965. Page 22.



"Dione Lucas has long been the high priestess of haute cuisine in New York..." -- Claiborne, Craig. Take Pride in Cuisine. New York Times News Service. Appearing in: San Antonio Express and News. san Antonio, Texas. 21 January 1965. Page 58.


"It's best to cook a strudel when you feel mean. The beast stands or falls on how hard you beat it. If you beat the dough 99 times, you will have a fair strudel. If you beat it 100 times, you will have a good strudel. But if you beat it 101 times, you will have a superb strudel." -- Dione Lucas.

Language Notes

Dione pronounced her name "dee-oh-nee."

Acknowlegements