Photographs by Jim Graham
For more than a century, the Hotel du Pont’s Green Room was the standard-bearer for fine dining in Delaware. But in recent years, the demand for gourmet cuisine served in an elegant atmosphere has rapidly decreased. That shift prompted the culinary institution to close its doors at the end of last year, with a planned rebirth as the Le Cavalier at the Green Room. The opening was originally planned for spring, before COVID-19 put a pause on construction. Le Cavalier finally debuted in late August.
Shortly before the dumpsters appeared on Rodney Square and doors were boarded up in anticipation of the construction crew, new chef/partner Tyler Akin sat down to discuss the change. His grandfather was a DuPont executive, so Akin had spent some time in the Green Room with his family as a boy. “We want to retain as much of the look as possible,” he says, looking around the cavernous facility, with its huge curtained windows. “The bones will remain the same.”
A door has replaced a window at the kitchen side of the room to allow service for a 28-seat patio overlooking Rodney Square. It’s an informality the stuffy Green Room would never have countenanced. “I want the restaurant to connect with its surroundings,” says Akin.
When it comes to the cuisine, Akin is emphasizing local and lighter, using a classic French brasserie as his model. “I gravitate toward oil and lemon rather than butter,” he says, “I want to make the food vibrant and exciting.”
To mark this culinary milestone, we asked some of those who cooked and ate at the Green Room to share their stories.
My fondest memory was doing Good Morning America with Julia Child in 1994. We filmed from 6 a.m. until about 2 p.m. and finished in the Green Room. Tim Conway and Tom Poston were doing a two-man show in the Playhouse, as it was called then, and the producers of GMA thought it would be fun for them to be in tuxedos pretending to be waiters. We filmed the first seven hours in the Brandywine Room kitchen, where I demonstrated cooking a lobster omelet with a smoked tomato cream.
When we finished in the kitchen, we went over to the Green Room so I could show Julia the brunch where that omelet would be served. As we got to the dessert table, we came across two waiters—Tim and Tom. I pointed to a particular dessert, and Tim picked up a silver spatula and smacked the back of my hand. We actually had to film that three times.
For many years, we’d do the induction dinner for the Philadelphia Bailliage of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. At the end of the meal, we’d come out to discuss the courses and get feedback. Georges Perrier told he’d had the best quail he’d ever eaten, and he asked how I prepared it. I told him I wouldn’t divulge the ingredients. About three months later, my GM, Jacques Amblard—he and Georges were like brothers—asked what was in the dish. Initially, I wouldn’t say, but I finally broke down and told him I used A.1. sauce in the marinade for the quail, along with other spices, herbs and flavorings. I told him I was scared to tell Georges, the finest saucier in America, that I used a simple condiment as part of my marinade.
There was this random Saturday night when I was closing down the place with Pat D’Amico, who hired me at the Green Room. Everyone else had gone home, and Pat got this call in the locker room that Julie Andrews was in the hotel and wanted something to eat for her and 10 people. I’d seen Mary Poppins and had been in love with her since I was 4. I think she was producing a play at the hotel. Her husband, director Blake Edwards, had a late flight and was coming in from Philly. With no help, Pat and I cooked several dishes for the party and sent them out family style, since there was no staff. I went out to see if everything was OK, and she hugged and kissed me.
There were a lot of celebrities who passed through. Another of my favorites was Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs. He and his crew were doing an episode somewhere nearby and came in. I told him that if he wanted a dirty job, he should see the grease pit in our basement coming from all the kitchens. So I got to take him on a tour.
He said the grease was pretty dirty, but that they’d already done something like it.
I have great memories of two different events I organized as part of the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival. In 2015, I persuaded them to do Scrapplegasm, something no one in Delaware would’ve associated with the Green Room. The sold-out event featured the region’s defining breakfast meat—scrapple—redefined by talented guest chefs and combined with all the temptations of a traditional Green Room breakfast. The guests enjoyed a three-course breakfast of goose, antelope, chorizo and rabbit scrapple.
On the Saturday after Scrapplegasm, we organized a 1,000-point tasting featuring 10 wines from around the world that got perfect 100-point scores from wine critics. The $500-per-person event was also sold out.
Around 1998 or 2000, my husband, Patrick, and I were living in Parkersburg, W.V. We traveled to New York as opera patrons all season, with occasional trips to see our dearest friends in Wilmington. The six of us have a long history of fine dining together, with each of us [serving] as chef for the meals and wine pairings. Patrick and I had just bought some lovely old Bordeaux, and we wanted a special meal where we could enjoy [the bottles] and not have to do all the work for the food.
I approached Jacques Amblard and Nick Waller of the hotel. Nick consulted the chefs to design a four-plus-course dinner and gained approval for us to bring our own wines. We were happy to pay corkage. The hotel’s fine champagne—I’m thinking it may have been vintage Taittinger—was poured, and Nick gave us a kitchen tour for the hotel. When we returned to our table, we were getting jealous looks from the other diners, as our wines had been decanted while we toured. The courses were fabulously matched with the wines—Léoville Las Cases and Ducru-Beaucaillou from the ’70s and ’80s, and Lafite Rothschild, though I don’t remember what year.
The courses were magical. We were even allowed to bring a 1980 vintage port for our chocolate dessert. We still talk about that evening.
I’d been working for DuPont in Geneva when they transferred me to Wilmington, and I spent the first few weeks living at the hotel until I found a place. It was then that I met Gerret [Copeland, son of a former DuPont chairman], and we started dating—but we wanted to keep things secret for a while. DuPont started at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. I worked long hours, so I would sneak back downstairs at 9:30 to have breakfast with Gerret in the Green Room—and no one discovered us.
There was practically no one in the restaurant at that hour, and certainly no one who worked at DuPont. I think his cousins might have seen us once or twice, but they probably thought I was just a colleague. We always had a lovely table, and the Green Room has always had a special place in my heart.