Here’s why Rue Dumaine’s downsizing is a big deal

The news that Rue Dumaine will scale back operations and will no longer have regular hours as a public restaurant rocked the Miami Valley’s foodie community.

“I am so saddened by this and can’t even come to terms with it,” one Facebook reader wrote in a comment. Another wrote: “Selfishly sad, as I really enjoyed her delicious food. Her passion for what she does so well was inspirational to watch.”

Shanon Morgan, president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, said, “I am sad to hear that Rue Dumaine will no longer have daily service available to the public. Anne Kearney is an amazing person and chef. Dayton diners are privileged to have her here. I am very eager to see the exciting new offerings from Chef Anne and Rue Dumaine.”

It’s not just that Rue Dumaine chef and co-founder Anne Kearney was nominated earlier this year for a regional James Beard Foundation award for the sixth consecutive year. It’s that no other chef in the Dayton area has ever been nominated once.

Kearney’s passion for food was on display in abundance in an email exchange I had with her in 2010, three years after Rue Dumaine opened, about one particular dish that was on Rue Dumaine’s winter menu then, and was still on it this past winter: the classic French dish Cassoulet. (Check out a great photo of the Cassoulet and several other dishes in this Feb. 18, 2016 “On the Menu” review by Vivienne Machi.)

Here’s what Kearney had to say about that dish, how it’s made, and why it is so special to her. Do you think this chef has passion for what she does?

“I learned to make cassoulet from my mentor, John Neal. Besides being a great co-worker he sort of took me under his wings on our days off. I had a few friends in New Orleans, but John was my food god, and he would have his friends over on his days off. He would cook good old fashioned French stuff on those cooler winter nights.

“John made cassoulet as it is made in Southern French countryside.

“He would soak the beans for 2 days prior to cooking them. Render out thick lardons of bacon until crisp. Remove it from the pan and wilt a mirepoix of carrots, onions, leeks and celery. Throw in some chopped garlic, then the beans. Add a bouquet of thyme and bay, cover with stock and cook until the beans begin to become tender.

“In the meantime he would sear duck confit legs we had made at Peristyle (NOTE: a New Orleans restaurant that Kearney and husband Tom Sand owned and operated before returning to their hometown of Dayton) and slice a decent version of purchased garlic sausage.

“I started making my own sausage once I bought Peristyle. I made my first garlic sausage for my first Peristyle New Year’s Eve menu in 1995. I have enjoyed teaching many young cooks how to make sausages, terrines, pates and the like. The sausage is pork butt, fat back, garlic, pepper, and salt; that’s all.

“Once the beans were tender, John folded in the lardons and a pinch of fresh chopped thyme, removed the bouquet and poured in into a 4-inch-deep casserole dish. He nestled the duck legs into the beans; filled in a few spaces with slices of the sausage. Then he would sprinkle a nice crust of olive oil-doused dry breadcrumbs over the top of the entire dish.

“Into the oven it goes (400 degrees) where it would bake for 20 minutes. John would turn the beans into themselves around the legs cracking the crust and folding it back into the beans. Cook for 15 more minutes. Pull it out and allow it to cool for a bit.

“All this while we listened to Aretha Franklin and played cards.

“Now back to the present. I had bought these funky cast iron moon shaped dishes on the $1 shelf at (a restaurant supply store) about 5 years ago. Last winter the duck confit dish that I had on the menu was struggling. So I ran my version of restaurant-worthy Cassoulet for a special, and the response was strong.

“I tweaked the recipe and tried not to stray too far from the concept of it. I put each component it its place by creating it separately up to the point of sale. When an order comes into the kitchen, we sear half of a garlic sausage (par-poached in duck fat) while tender stewed navy beans go on for reheat with a dash of stock, a generous spoon of mirepoix and rendered lardons.

“Then we also sear the duck confit leg. Hot beans go into the cast iron pan, nestle in the duck leg, seared side up, and on with the seared sausage then dust with olive oil-dressed dry breadcrumbs. We then put it into a 500-degree oven to achieve the final crunch.

“I really hope that guests get what we put into this dish.”

Well, we do now. And that’s one reason why Rue Dumaine’s fate is a big deal to food lovers in this town and beyond.