Joe Rader Roberts was a western artist who could paint the wind blowing so real, you could feel the sand blowing in your face. He was one of Rick’s patients. Like the old country doc who would barter for taking care of someone, Rick accepted a picture Joe painted of a lone Indian sitting on his horse, the wind a driving force against his body and his mount. Rick also bartered in farm fresh eggs and a lamp one time in exchange for his bill. That lamp still sits in our living room. At the time I was a fledgling artist and because Rick liked Joe as a person and to give me the opportunity to question him about art, he invited Joe and his wife, a portrait artist, to dinner. This was an important meal to me so I spent the entire week preparing the menu and making preparation ahead of time. I had been taught how to cook French cuisine by a little French lady named Marie Odell, years earlier when Rich had done his internal medicine residency in Tucson.

Joe was somewhat of a cantankerous old coot and did not follow the conventional drive to make all the money he could. He only did originals and refused to let his paintings be made into wholesale prints. A lot of money could be made having prints made off of his paintings, but Joe always felt that was selling out. I think maybe he had been burned by this experience once upon a time. Although it hurt him financially, he lived true to his beliefs and for that I admired his crusty self-reliance.

The night for the party came and I had prepared poulet gratiné savinyon, wild rice, green beans almandine, and chocolate soufflé for dessert. I had figured out long ago that everyone knew what fried chicken tastes like and will compare yours to their wife’s recipe, their aunt Gertrude’s’ best chicken ever, or even the Kentucky Fried Chicken joint on the corner. But, very few people knew what poulet gratiné savinyon tastes like, so they have no idea if you got it right or not. My mama didn’t raise a complete dummy. To be honest, this is just chicken with a yummy cheese sauce poured over it all. But with a fancy French name, it sounds incredible.

During the enjoyment of the meal, Joe gracious commented that this was the best meal he had ever had. As I drank in his compliment, he withdrew it and said,  “No, this is the second best meal I have ever had.” I had knocked myself out trying to cook an incredible meal for him to impress him and oh course, I had to know what meal could possibly have topped my offering.

Joe then recalled a story of when he was much younger and he had gone into the Sierra Madre Mountains to explore and had become lost. He had wondered around for three days with no food, only water he found in the streams. During the third day, he happened upon an old adobe hut, lived in by an elderly couple speaking only Spanish. But as is usually the case between humans, they found a way to communicate that Joe was starving and the couple indicated they would feed him. The kind matriarch sat a bowl of tortillas and frijoles in front of Joe. “That was the best meal I ever had!”