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  • Writer's pictureCRAIKER

Notre-Dame Cathedral Revisited

What’s Been Done Two Years After Fire Destroyed the Spire

On April 15, 2019 while most of us were paying our taxes and dreaming about Spring, an international monument was desecrated by fire. The central roof and the Spire Tower of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was consumed by an incredible fire that was seen by NASA satellites.

At the time, the spire was undergoing restoration but was completely destroyed during the fire. The cleanup effort took over a year as they tried to delicately remove 300 tons of debris.

Immediately, the French government launched an international competition to redesign the spire of the cathedral that had lost much of its roof during blaze. French Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, said the competition’s aim was “giving Notre Dame a spire adapted to [the] techniques and challenges of our times.” The artist’s imaginations around the world were cranked up.

The initial budget for reconstruction was over $100 million. Since the ownership was a combination Church, French government and national pride, collecting resources for rebuilding was difficult. Wealthy individuals contributed millions of Euros, at least in spirit, but it wasn’t enough. I drew and submitted my proposal immediately, but it went by the wayside.

International proposals from architects, artists and landscape designers featured walkable garden roofs, massive glass mosaics and giant glass towers. My proposal was simply a modern interpretation of the spire. Rather than use steel for the structure I proposed Graphene, which is the strongest material known to man. Graphene is an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms by fusing them into a mesh-like structure, a substantially stronger and very lightweight material ten times stronger than steel but only five percent of its density.

After a vociferous public outcry, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, ended speculation that the 19th century peak designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc could be rebuilt in a modern style. As an architect, you get used to rejected proposals. Oh well…

In May 2019, we ventured to Amsterdam to see my niece and took a five-day trip to Paris. Of course, we had to see the Eiffel tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre but for us, visiting the wonderful museums of d’Orsay, Monet, Rodin and small local hideaways was essential. Not the Louvre, thank goodness!

But most of all we had to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral. It couldn’t have been more underwhelming. Other than minor clean up, nothing had been done. The plaza was vacant, and construction companies were advertising their wares. Only this year have been able to clean up the tons of toxic lead roofing and ten thousand cubic kilograms of damaged structural lumber. The replacement is still going on.

It wasn’t until this year that the French found a forest of oaks that have been standing for hundreds of years in a once-royal forest. Clear-felled this spring in the Loire region’s Forest of Bercé, the lumber will be reshaped to replace the cathedral’s fallen spire. In another ten years.

But you can’t visit Paris, walk 5 miles, (8 kilometers) without getting hungry, thirsty and looking for a place to dine. Along the Seine River, we found a little place that specialized in Au Gratin dishes. Yes, potatoes and cheese, but so fresh and astonishingly good. Bistro Des Augustins was barely a hole in the wall but within minutes of Notre Dame. Two little ladies ran the place with precision and grace. We loved the smoked salmon Gratin. We ate there 3 times and loved it!

Upon returning to Napa, I tried to duplicate the dishes and found most recipes incredibly complicated. I fashion the recipe below as an aide-mémoire of that special time in Paris. The use of O’Brian frozen hash browns may sound crazy, but it works. And as an olive oil producer, butter should be used only as a flavoring.

Ingredients for four individual Salmon Au Gratin boats:

  • 1 1/4 cup half and half

  • 4 tablespoons virgin olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, divided

  • 1 tablespoon herbs de province

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/2+ tsp ground pepper

  • 12 oz. frozen shredded O’Brian hash brown potatoes

  • 2 oz. smoked lox salmon, cut into 1 in. squares

  • I cup 8 oz. grated gruyere cheese (parmesan works well), divided


  1. Set an oven rack in the top third of your oven and preheat the broiler

  2. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine first 6 ingredients and half the gruyere cheese, bring to a bubbling simmer, constantly stirring for 3 minutes.

  3. grease the boats with the butter.

  4. Add the hash browns and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 4 minutes.

  5. Pour half into each boat, divide the salmon among them then pour the rest of the potato mixture on top.

  6. Sprinkle the cheese over the tops (garnish with sage or thyme if available)

  7. Place boats under the broiler and cook just until the tops are golden brown, maybe 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully; the cheese will brown quickly, and if you're not careful it will burn. Let sit for 5 minutes.

An architect couldn’t ask for more than great architecture, art and nourishment. Oh, and the wine is OK...

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