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From Paule's Kitchen: Our Own Private Robuchon

Our Own Private Robuchon

Many of you were kind enough to let me know you enjoyed my first newsletter ! I hope you will appreciate this one as well. Comments are always welcome. And, to do justice to Marcia and Lenny Comeras, please note that chef HANDKE, which I mentioned as being from Chicago, "is our favorite chef in our city of Columbus, Ohio, and has a wonderful restaurant that we love."

OUR OWN PRIVATE ROBUCHON

On May 7th L' ATELIER de Joël ROBUCHON finally opened. In the eyes of many, including me, it is the major event of the year on the Parisian food scene.

Joël Robuchon, who just turned 58, has been the most famous chef in France since he won his third Michelin star in 1984, as the proprietor of Restaurant Jamin near Trocadero in the 16th. He retired from the restaurant business in 1996. He did not disappear from the French food scene, on the contrary, hosting a daily 25 minute program on Channel 3. He has written numerous cookbooks, has a restaurant in partnership with Taillevant in Japan, a line of prepared foods in the supermarkets and is a consultant for various companies. Every so often there were rumors that he would return to restaurant business and so he finally did, called it "L'ATELIER" (the workshop) and it is ... simply great. Not only the food, but the congenial atmosphere.

The major event of the year on the Parisian food scene

The layout is revolutionary for French cuisine: two sushi-like bars on either side of a narrow entrance, one seating 18, the other seating 17, yes you have not misread the place seats a total of 35. Because you are facing a counter and the waiters, dressed in matching black behind it, your whole attitude towards eating the finest food becomes other: relaxed, informal, playful, and detached of any time constraint. L'ATELIER opens daily- that alone is unusual- at 11:30, closes at 3:30, reopens at 6:30, closes around midnight, but of course come at least 45 minutes before closing. No reservations are taken, which is unsettling. So be prepared for a long wait, unless you get lucky. More advice : don't come more than 3 at the time, this is not a place for conversation other than with your neighbor and the waiter.

There is no "menu prix fixe" but a large carte to choose from: you could eat as little as an appetizer with a glass of wine, without being frowned upon, you can come alone if you are a woman and feel extremely comfortable (not always the case in Paris). Of course, you can have a more consistent meal, order larger "assiettes" of fish, meat, poultry, vegetable dishes (even Spaghetti Carbonara) from 18 to 40 euros plus delicious desserts. The wine list is wide in range and price.

Everything is as Robuchon's philosophy has always been: the best quality of products, and simplicity in preparation (but rigor and precision are also his trademarks).At L'ATELIER, he shares the tasks with some of his faithful trainees, who quit the kitchens of famous restaurants to come share this adventure with "le maître."

He became most famous for his "purée de pommes de terre" (mashed potatoes) and it is available at L'ATELIER. I have never had anything silkier (Robuchon is a big advocate of butter, to this day)

LA PUREE DE POMMES DE JOEL ROBUCHON *
For 4 servings

  • Two pound small potatoes (in France the Ratte variety, fingerling shape) unpeeled
  • 8 oz (250 g) butter, very cold (of course unsalted, and 82% minimum fat content)
  • 1 cup (25 cl) whole milk,
  • coarse sea salt (one tablespoon for 4 cups water)

wash the potatoes, place in a pot, cover with cold water up to one inch above the potatoes, add the salt
cook at a simmer for 30 minutes or until done, drain, peel while still warm
bring the milk to a boil
puree the potatoes through a traditional food mill, return to the pot and dry out, using a wooden spoon, for 2/3 minutes over low heat, add the butter, cut up in morsels, stirring it into the potatoes, then add the hot milk, a fine streak at the time, stirring with the wooden spoon. Using a whisk, make sure the puree is extremely smooth before serving

if the amount of butter in the above is really too much for you, here is a variation

PUREE DE POMMES A L'ANCIENNE AUX APPETITS*
("les appétits" refers to fresh chives and the likes, which help open up the appetite)
For 4 servings

  • Two pound small potatoes (in France the BF 15 variety) unpeeled
  • 3 oz (100 g) crème fraiche
  • nutmeg
  • chives
  • sea salt and pepper from the mill

wash the potatoes, place in a pot, cover with cold water up to one inch above the potatoes, add the salt
cook at a simmer for 30 minutes or until done, drain, peel while still warm
in a saucepan, heat the crème fraiche with the nutmeg. With a fork, mash the potatoes roughly, add the crème fraiche and check the seasoning
chop finely the chives, mix in the salt and pepper
serve the puree in individual plates, forming a dome, sprinkle with the chives, salt, pepper mix

To make mashed potatoes less starchy, avoid using food processors and new potatoes
*both recipes in "Le Meilleur et Le Plus Simple de la Pomme de Terre" by Joël Robuchon and Dr Patrick P . Sabatier, Editions Robert Laffont S.A. 1994


A BIRD AT MY TABLE

Having come back from two weeks in Southern California where "June gloom" kept us cool, everyone told me how lucky I was to have escaped the "canicule" (heat wave), not to mention "les grèves" (strikes).

I just rediscovered a heaven of peace and freshness in the center of Paris, and it is easily accessible: the garden of Hotel Ritz, Place Vendôme. It is part of the Bar Vendôme, the first one to the left when you enter the lobby. It has a fountain, and little birds who come to look for crumbs on your table.I had an afternoon tea there recently, on a very hot day, and it was a moment of bliss. Tea was my choice, because I love that beverage, and tried two sorts, both from Mariage Frères. Tea alone is 8,40, euros! Of course you can have a cool drink, or a cocktail, and food as well, prices will rise consequently. Space is limited, so it is better to call ahead to reserve a table. I observed that the clientele, that day at least, was very eclectic in nationality and age, which added to the charm of this experience.


A TASTING LABORATORY

Speaking of experience, I want to share this one, though it was a while ago. In October 2002, in Torino, the capital of Piedmont in Northern Italy, Slowfood was holding SALONE DEL GUSTO. It was my dream to go there, and I did manage to find a hotel room and, of course, an overnight train. The food and wine fair takes place in pavillions adjacent to the Lingotto, FIAT's historic factory, now reconverted into a huge shopping center of little interest other than the architecture, by Renzo Piano, and the miniature "pinacoteca" art museum and bookstore donated by the Agnellis, lost in the middle of Italian fast food and cheap clothing stands. I will not even attempt to describe Salone del Gusto, where 3 halls are entirely devoted to food and beverage, mostly Italian. Not one olive, nor one sausage that was worth tasting was missing, and I quickly had my overdose. I did discover some marvels, such as Lardo de Colonnata (pork fat, pure white, very dense, rubbed with seasalt). The real reason for my trip was to attend the Laboratori del Gusto - taste workshops. The only one I was able to get into (this was the week-end) was "aged parmesan and aged balsamic," but then, nothing wrong with that !

Is the result unique and
the taste wonderful?

In a large room, 4 straight faced Italians, two representing the Aceto Balsamico de Modena consortium, two representing the Parmegiano Reggiano consortium, sat on a podium facing the "students." We, the public, each took seats at school-like tables, on which were already laid out 2 little plastic glasses, each containing a teaspoon of a thick dark liquid (balsamic vinegar at different stages of aging) and a plastic plate with large broken morsels of aged parmesan.

The Parmegiano Reggiano representatives spoke first, gaving a detailed historic background of their cheese, then a detailed description of the manufacturing and aging process and the characteristic signs of recognition. We first smelled the morcels on our plates, the 24 month old one - a "classic" in Italy - is for cooking. The 39 month old one - admittedly very special - serves as the absolute reference of what Parmesan should/can be.

The same went on for the Balsamic: the detailed history, the traditional process the characteristics, all unique to Modena. We then tasted the 12 year-old and the 24 year-old samples. The real stuff calls for that much aging, plus of course a few other requirements.

Is the result unique and the taste wonderful? The answer is definitely yes, without a doubt, for both the Parmesan and the Balsamic. Is it expensive ? Yes, rarity and quality have a price. Was I satisfied with the SLOW FOOD tasting work shop? OUI OUI OUI!

Is it absolutely necessary to use these luxurious products at all times? My answer is pragmatic. I advise using intermediate quality most of the time, as an acceptable compromise. I saw lots of Balsamic on the shelves of stores in California, probably the compromising kind. However, be aware that balsamic vinegar, like saffron, is often fraudulent (fakes add caramel to red wine vinegar ).

I bought a bottle (100 ml, hardly more then 3 ounces) of 25 year-old BALSAMICO DE MODENA, for 47 euros, with the drip-top to control the flow of this precious liquid, the consistency of a liqueur. I use it on special occasions, such as a few drops on a very wonderful vanilla ice cream.

For the recipe below, a more or less real balsamic, hopefully 6 to 10 years old, will do the job

RED FRUITS WITH BALSAMIC REDUCTION
For 4 servings

o 1 pound red fruits such as strawberries (preferably small), raspberries, and cherries
o 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
o 2 tablespoons (50 g) butter
o 1/4 cup 50 g granulated sugar
1 frying pan

***

melt the butter in the pan, add the sugar, throw the fruits into the pan, stir quickly over high heat, not more then one minute, remove and set aside, deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar and pour the sauce over the fruits . Serve while still warm, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (crème Chantilly)

Voilà ! I had a wonderful time in California, found excellent ingredients, gave two cooking classes to some faithful students and their friends. I thank my hostesses in Los Angeles and San Diego, and I wish everyone a wonderful summer and perhaps a visit to Paris, where I plan to be most of the time.

 
 
 
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