Doña Patrona (1896—1992), the Julia Child of Buenos Aires, instructed generations of Argentinians in the ways of the kitchen arts. She preferred white table cloths, serving napkins folded the most "artisticamente posible," and for champagne, coffee and liquers to be served after dessert. I found her great big book (53rd edition, 1959, 2 1/4-inch thick) at an antique market in Mexico City one morning and lugged it around with me all day. I have always had a thing for lamb cakes—and it was the cover that wooed me. Whenever I would start to get annoyed at having accumulated such bulk so early in the day, I would pull it out and admire the illustrations, the end papers, and discover bookmarks left behind by the previous owner.
Doña Patrona was part sculptor, part cook. She made cakes in the shape of boats, clowns and bunnies. I wanted to vacation in her Gateau El Ranchito (complete with palm trees made of barquillos). Her cold platters, like the clock face made of lobster and mayonnaise, would be perfect first courses for a Surrealist banquet. (See the shrimp fan above.)