In the 1987 film Babette's Feast, a group of puritanical Protestants living in an austere Danish village eat the meal of their lives. The lavish repast is a gift from Babette, a cook who wins a bundle of cash in a French lottery and blows it on a bacchanal for her kind employers and their clique.
A rash of restaurants have tried to capitalize on the popularity of the film by hosting Babette's Feast nights, at which a chef re-creates the famous meal.
A high-end restaurant in tiny De Soto, Illinois, is doing likewise, with one key difference: This Babette's Feast will be cooked up by one of the men who originally did so for the film itself.
About five years ago, Danish chef Lasse Sorensen was looking for a place to purchase an inexpensive parcel of land and pursue his dream: to start a restaurant that would, with any luck, earn the rating of a Michelin star, a daunting goal for any American eatery, much less one in rural Illinois. A fishing trip introduced him to De Soto, and Sorensen and wife Maryjane have been treating a select group of locals to wine dinners, tasting menus and dishes with such exotic ingredients as alligator and wild boar ever since.
He was asked to re-create Babette's feast as a fundraiser for the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Film Series, and now he finds himself once again ready to cook such delicacies as cailles en sarcophage, or quails in coffins, for which the birds are stuffed with black truffles and foie gras and encased in puff pastry. He'll also be serving warm homemade blinis with caviar and crème fraîche, as well as an assortment of pricey wines.
"The challenge for me is to make it as authentic as possible," says Sorensen. "When we did the turtle soup [for the film], we cooked it with a calf's head because it gives the soup that gelatinous feel, and I have not been able to find a calf's head yet."