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How's Bayou? Keeping up with the Joneses

Celebrated British hotelier Ron Jones and wife, Eve (Photo: The Times, London)

Celebrated British hotelier Ron Jones and wife, Eve (Photo: The Times, London)

They were amazed at how quickly breakfast arrived in their penthouse suite at the Windsor Court Hotel during a visit to New Orleans in the 1980s.

Ronald Jones, retired managing director of London's toney Claridge's Hotel, and his wife, Eve, a journalist and wine expert, demanded nothing less than the finest service at the legendary hotel. After all, you couldn't expect Her Majesty to be amused while waiting for her egg mayonnaise to arrive at a formal dinner in the venue's stately ballroom, given in her honor by a Middle-Eastern potentate in reciprocation of her invitation for a bite to eat at Buckingham Palace. And it was Ron's duty in his position to ensure that everything went like clockwork.

But a full breakfast that arrived less than 15 minutes after the order was placed? What the Joneses didn't know at the time was that the then-owner of the hotel, a regular at Claridge's, had set up a full kitchen in the second penthouse suite on the same floor so that meals would arrive sooner than at Claridge's. Staff just had to walk across the hall, making sure the door to the other suite had closed firmly behind them to keep the secret.

It's called Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Now the egg mayonnaise, which I gather is a royal favorite, is little more than a perfectly-boiled egg drizzled with a specially-spiced mayo from any of the Queen's kitchens. The dish strikes terror in my heart as, from childhood, I've never been able to ingest a hard-boiled egg in any shape or fashion.

Once, at an engagement party for a fellow writer in a shotgun cottage, I hovered over a tray of deviled eggs in a back room till guests moved toward the front, then scooped out the deliciously-doctored yolk with an index finger and filled each tiny cavity with a cherry tomato from an adjacent tray. A guest passed by and picked each diminutive red globe from its nest, destroying my culinary sleight of hand.

Another night, at a Contemporary Arts Center opening, I found a mirror-image soul mate in the wife of the director of the city's arts council, Geoffrey Platt. I would pick up the deviled egg, scoop out the yellow, and hand the white to her to consume. She didn't understand how anyone could eat the yolk.

Top honors go to an English friend, with the classy hyphenated surname Hay-Drummond-Hay, who actually received an invitation for a weekend at the real Windsor Castle when Her Majesty was in residence. Protocol demands that each guest sit next to Her Majesty at least once during the stay, and it was Peter's sorry lot to be at the Royal Right Hand as the egg mayonnaise was brought out, to the great delight of all but he.

Mother, myself and my English 'mum,' Liz Percival, at Claridge's in December 1998

Mother, myself and my English 'mum,' Liz Percival, at Claridge's in December 1998

Let it be said that one doesn't fiddle around with what one is served in such circumstances, and my brother-in-arms in the Hatred of All Things Albumen Society, had to gobble down every last bit with feigned gusto.

Memories like these streamed forth at a recent dinner with the Joneses at The Gin Joint, a casual restaurant in London's Barbican Centre, a massive Brutalist structure that glares menacingly at Christopher Wren's splendid St. Paul's Cathedral, where Charles and Diana married, just steps from London's financial heart, "The City." Not only does the Centre have hundreds of desirable apartments; there are restaurants, libraries, theaters, cinemas, schools and anything else one might need for a self-contained existence.

Built in the 1970s, when the heavy, fortress-inspired style was popular on both sides of the Atlantic, its interior spaces have been redesigned and lightened with the aplomb of a Mario Buatta of Minimalism. Colors mask what once were relentless stretches of tan or gray poured concrete.

Across the Thames, where the similarly-unadorned South Bank Arts Centre thrusts forbidding concrete towers into the sky, red, purple and green light floods the exterior surfaces at night; and a gigantic fake topiary of a woman who resembles the Queen appears to sweep the jutting terraces in lofty silence.

It, too, seems to be Keeping Up with the Joneses.

But who can keep up with Ron Jones himself? At a dapper 87, he's still dashing around giving talks on cruise ships -- ably assisted by the lovely and talented Eve, advising small hotels on how they should be run and participating in a slew of Barbican Centre activities. From his first job at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool at the tender age of 14 to his final bow to majesty at Claridge's, he's kept a stiff upper lip through times both lean and prosperous. He and Eve ran Madewood for six weeks in 1998 after his retirement. The cultural shock still lingers in their memories.

"Royalty and heads of state are seldom difficult," he wrote in Grand Hotelier, his chronicle of a lifetime of behind-the-scenes endeavors, "although the newly-elevated can be trying."

And dealing with la vie de bayou may top it all, though the ever-discreet Ron Jones would never let you know.

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.