In the worst of times, it is often the oldest of friends who are best able to restore a bit of hope.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
They understand a lifes ambitions, triumphs and challenges, having been nearby through the years.
One such friend stepped forward Wednesday for restaurateur Jimmy Frantze.
He is being offered a centuries-old saber, a symbol of the esteem JJs reached before the business was destroyed in a natural gas explosion last week.
Barbara Gourdin was married for 26 years to Robert Gourdin before his death in 2007. Her husband was a global ambassador for sabrage the art of flicking off the tops of champagne bottles with a saber.
Its her husbands personal saber that she is offering to Frantze, a replacement for his saber, which was consumed in the fire after the explosion.
From her home in Maryland, Gourdins wife read about the devastation of JJs and the death of one of its employees in the blast.
She knew how much her husband respected Frantze, how he enjoyed visiting JJs, working with Frantze on the techniques of sabrage.
The Gourdins traveled France with Frantze in the late 90s.
Sabrage is a delicate and potentially dangerous endeavor.
The process uses a nearly three-foot saber to lop off the top of a champagne bottle cork, glass mouth and wire cage in one swift stroke. Few master it. Even fewer gain membership in Club des Sabreurs.
Frantze is a member. Julia Child was a member.
Club des Sabreurs was nurtured by Gourdin for the champagne empire of Moet & Chandon. He traveled the world for the label, befriending the best chefs.
Membership in Club des Sabreurs is about distinction, a recognition for a dedication to fine wine and culinary.
But sabrage dates to Napoleon. The act of slicing off the top of a champagne bottle is said to have begun with his cavalry. Legend tells it that Napoleons generals would strike off the tops of bottles while on horseback, a celebratory act after victory in battle.
Robert Gourdin was highly regarded in food and beverage circles. Hed managed the famous 21 Club in New York.
Emphasizing his French accent, the Belgium-born Gourdin would always tell audiences that his saber was on loan from the Louvre in Paris, his wife said.
So in a way, parting with such a personal piece of her husbands legacy feels appropriate, a re-loaning of a treasure.
JJs private dining room was named the Saber Room, in homage to Frantzes membership in the elite club.
After the fire, the small rooms separate entrance, with its distinctive arch, was among the few portions of the building still standing.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.