The year 1894 saw the convergence of
three of the greatest figures of the Art Nouveau culture: the famed French playwright and
librettist Victorien Sardou (writer of
Puccinis Tosca), the prolific actress
Sarah Bernhardt, and the struggling Moravian artist Alphonse Mucha.
Bernhardt was a theater
sensation in Paris. Sardou wrote a play for her called Gismonda in which she
would play the title role. At that time, Mucha was trying to make a living in Paris as an
apprentice painting posters for a theater scene painting firm. The producer of Gismonda
commissioned the firm to paint a theater poster for Sardous new play to open at the
Theatre de la Renaissance. Mucha was given the task.
The rest is history. (And so is the past, isn't it?) Bernhardt
was at the apex of her long career, but Muchas was just taking off. His Gismonda
poster (left) was such a sensation that it inspired a whole new art deco poster style
called the Mucha style. For the next several years, Mucha made a handsome living in
decorative art (what we would call commercial art today) that included not
only advertising posters (Job cigarette paper, Perfecta bicycles, and De La Meuse beer),
but also bank notes, postage stamps, and stained glass windows.
(Note: if you are a collector
of the Job cigarette paper posters, it is
illegal in California to display it within 500 feet of a school or place where minors are
Mucha's work was significant
because it contrasted greatly with the cubist movement in vogue at the time. Cubism was
favored by art critics and intellectuals, who viewed the decorative arts with disdain.
Mucha's work, which emphasised beauty over cubism, was not hung in museums, but endures in
popularity to this day.
What does all this have to do
with this recipe? Nothing. Unless a Paris bistro in near the Theatre de la Renaissance
invented this and served it to the after-theater patrons. Id like to think so. This
is a bistro dish which is cheap, simple, and flavorful and can be dished up in a hurry.
3 large whole chicken breasts, halved, skinned, and boned
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T water
½ c freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 c fresh bread crumbs
½ c butter
2 lb fresh spinach, sautéed
1 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
Coat the chicken breasts lightly but thoroughly in flour seasoned with
salt and pepper.
Beat the eggs with the water and dip the chicken in the mixture. Blend the
cheese and bread crumbs and dip the pieces in this, coating thoroughly. Pat
lightly to help the crumbs adhere.
Melt half the butter in a large skillet and cook the chicken in it until
golden brown on both sides, turning once.
Meanwhile, sauté the spinach according to Rick's recipe.
While the spinach cooks, the remaining butter in a skillet and
cook the mushrooms, stirring, until light brown.
Spoon the hot spinach onto six hot plates and top each with a chicken
breast. Scatter the mushrooms over all and serve hot.