Q: What is the history of The Ripe Tomato restaurant? I remember their indulgent Chantilly pie.
Oralia Orozco, Fresno
A: Chef Rudy Liebl opened The Ripe Tomato on his birthday in 1977 at Fig Garden Village in a storefront that now houses Pieology Pizzeria. The upscale restaurant, which closed in 2014, was known for its French cuisine, customer service and an intimate setting enhanced by iconic, colorful French Provencal-style Pierre Duex fabrics.
Liebl said he was working as a claims manager for an insurance company when he decided to quit his job and open a restaurant. “I decided I just didn’t like what I was doing,” he said. He often hosted friends at dinner parties, and his guests urged him to start a restaurant.
In a 2008 Fresno Bee interview Liebl said his favorite thing on the menu was the rack of lamb stuffed with pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes served with a honey-merlot sauce.
Asked to recall his earliest food memory, Liebl talked about the hotel and restaurant in Austria owned by his grandfather and grandmother, who later moved to New Jersey near Liebl’s family. “So my fondest memories when I was growing up was being in the kitchen with her. We lived maybe four miles apart. Two or three times a week, I’d walk there, just to go be with her and hang out in the kitchen. I was probably about 10 years old.”
Liebl, who studied cooking in Paris, said music was his first love. He learned to play the trumpet when he was 10 and played professionally on the East Coast.
He attributed the closure of the restaurant to several reasons: a sluggish economy, people not seeking fine dining and his age. “I’m going to be 75 years old, so it’s probably time,” he said about a month before the restaurant closed its doors. But, “after 60 or 90 days I might do something else.”
Looking back, Liebl said, “I truly wish I still had the restaurant. I miss my customers and employees.” Earlier this year he cooked a charity dinner at a local restaurant. Another fundraising dinner is planned for early 2018.
Here’s Liebl’s recipe for Chantilly pie:
▪ 2 cups sugar
▪ 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
▪ 1 teaspoon baking powder
▪ 2 cups black walnuts, chopped
▪ 1 1/4 cups egg whites
Thoroughly grease two pie tins. Mix the sugar, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and walnuts. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites. Divide the mixture between the two pie tins. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Q: When Gottschalks was still in business I remember going there every Christmas to buy delicious chocolates in gold and green boxes. The name was something about Bavarian mint chocolates. They truly melted in your mouth. Every Christmas I try to find them again but without luck. Can you find out the name and if the maker is still in business?
Karen Ramsden, Fresno
A: The candies you recall are Bavarian Mints from the House of Bauer division of Supreme Chocolatier of Staten Island, New York.
Greek native Emmanuel Katsoris settled in Chicago in 1901. He opened the Port Richmond Square Candy Kitchen in New York in 1911, “making candy on his marble slab table in a small retail store kitchen,” according to the company’s website. He also made ice cream. Katsoris died in 1951, and the company is still run by his descendants.
Today the 106-year-old company makes “enrobed and molded chocolates” under the brand names House of Bauer, Blum’s of San Francisco and Superior Confections, which was the firm’s first brand. The Blum’s brand began in 1890 and predates the company’s start.
The House of Bauer products “focus on our Bavarian Mint and our Bavarian Meltaway products,” the company says. “These products contain a rich, smooth creamy center in a variety of flavors” and are called Meltaways “due to the soft, subtle texture … of the centers” that the company says seem to “melt away” in your mouth. The company is still in business and sells its products online.
Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.