Monday, February 18, 2013

Villa Chez Nous - MIddletown RI

Many of you (if not all of you) will not recognize this place. It is not a famous home, being located in not Newport but nearby Middletown RI. The home, known as Villa Chez Nous, is located directly across from 'Vinland', where the owner of this house worked for nearly 40 years as chef-de-cuisine. His name was Joseph Donon. 

French Chef Joseph Donon In The KItchen of The Twombly Estate 'Florham" 

He previously worked for the Henry Clay Fricks, and was about to go with them onto the Titanic, but Mrs Frick broke her ankle and they didn't go. He was lured away from them by Florence Twombly, who wanted him to cook for her at her three homes. 

'Vinland', The Twombly Cottage In Newport RI, Across From Villa Chez Nous

After Florence Twombly's death in 1954, and after a year of waiting for his replacement, Joseph decided it was time to retire. Mrs Twombly had left  him nearly $100,000 in her will, though he only received about $5,000 due to the massive inheritance taxes on her estate. In addition, he had been paid very well by the Twomblys and he also received a stipend for his services in the French Regiment. He retired to Villa Chez Nous, where he actively participated in fishing and cooking as a hobby. He made a guest appearance at 'Marble House' for a special event held by the Preservation Society and served as Head Chef. He died in 1982 and the home is currently in heirs hands. 

Photos Courtesy of Robert Bruce. 

1 comment:

  1. Tyler - I've spent years researching the Newport-Titanic connection, including those Newporters who, like Chef Donon, missed the boat. Donon was the last chef trained by Escoffier and was working as a chef at London's Carlton Hotel when Frick hired him (Frick had dinner at the Carlton, loved the cuisine and lured the chef away with a better salary). Donon left the Fricks in 1914 to serve in the French military after war was declared. After being injured by mustard gas in 1916 Donon returned to America. The Fricks had already hired a new chef but Mrs. Twombley stepped in and made him a legend. Donon was constantly surrounded by reminders of his near-miss on the Titanic, both in Newport and in New York. Titanic survivor Lucille Carter, with her 2nd husband George Brooke, rented a house diagonally across the street form Vinland and then bought the house next door, Cave Cliff. On the other side of Vinland, Titanic cancelee Alfred Vanderbilt (Mrs. Twombly's nephew)summered at The Breakers before his marriage to Ellen Tuck French. Three years after cancelling on the Titanic, Alfred went down on the Lusitania. In New York, Mrs, Twombley's second Fifth Avenue mansion was next door to Titanic survivor Eleanor Widener's house on one side and Mrs. Frick's block long palace on the other. The house built by Titanic victim Isador Strauss's son was less than a hundred feet in back of the Twombley residence on 71st Street. Donon could never get away from his missed date with disaster on April 14, 1912! Titanic Bill


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