Degustation Dreams: The Dinner Party
This food will tell a story.
As you move the courses you will get to know the chef.
This is the cuisine we imagine when contemplating our aspirational experiences at school and what we had hoped to achieve.
We all want to reach for the stars and we know realistically we all have to start right at the bottom.
But even already, thanks to prior experience, this is what we are capable of creating when let loose in the kitchen.
When given some freedom and opportunity together we can create a night to truly remember.
We have all come from diverse backgrounds, you all know mine – medicine and a blatant obsession with food and cooking from all over the world; but from whence and where do my friends eventuate.
We have the Aid worker from New York who will conquer France, the therapist from the Big Apple with aspirations of cooking as part of sexual assault rehabilitation, the Chinese Parisian who will make waves with French pastry in Shanghai and the Physicist and computer science masters candidate from Israel.
The seasoned Algerian chef who left school at a very early age and has come from the bellies of Americas great kitchens to be reborn as a pastry chef; the formally trained French pastry worker who has returned to pastry school after an office job; the high powered Venezuelan lawyer who left a firm swearing to come stir the pot in Pastry school; the South African with a future empire of baked goods coming to hone her craft, the mother, the father, the sons and daughters.
Finally and most importantly today, we have, our friend, the Malaysian chef who has come to rekindle his passion and prepare for his future conquests and dreams.
We are all here for our own expressed purposes; we have all found each other as supports in this long and at times trying journey.
Today has been planned for some time… brains have been pouring over ingredients and recipes for inspiration, produce has been sourced and people have sent in their acceptance to invitations.
I am here from the very beginning of the prep work for tonight’s extravaganza.
This is a showcase of what we are made of and a celebration of our dreams.
Although I had imagined that I was merely present to document this important process and event, I was actually forcefully thrown right into the deep end!
We were each playing our part in a mock professional kitchen.
The stage for this evening was the most beautiful expansive Parisian apartment in the 7th arrondissement a stone’s throw from Ecole Militaire and the Eiffel tower!
The kitchen however was tight with so many cooks and one chef trying to play their part in the realisation of tonight’s decadent dinner party.
We started with a briefing and planning session. The process was long, complex and clear. We had at our head a seasoned professional. And he was clear with his instructions and timing and we each tried to do him proud.
“Oui Chef” was our reply after each instruction. When finished a task… “next chef?” There was a constant supply of jobs and we worked our way slowly through each element.
What was clear from the beginning was the fact that he was stuck with two basic cuisine students and two pastry students!
I was made sous chef 2 and was in charge of preparing the many vegetables for the varied courses! My knife skills clearly have a long way to go!
But I followed the examples and starting with the shallots ended up prepping huge mounds of baby fennel, zebra beetroots, fresh almonds and mushrooms.
We slowly worked without a break, limited water and no food and we began to falter.
And so I diverged and prepared a much needed snack for the crew with a little help from freshly made mayonnaise!
Tuna sandwiches with fresh coriander, parsley, eschallots, tomatoes, lemon, black pepper and fleur du sel served on the best french toasted bread! We each held them in little packages made from paper towel and continued working! They were delicious!
The lobsters and langoustine, the lamb and beef cheeks, the foie gras and vegetables were all lovingly prepared to the masterful specifications of the chef. The variety of sauces and jus, oils and vinaigrettes were all prepared, taste tested and approved for use on each of the dishes.
We began falling further and further behind. And the chef was encouraging us to keep up with his clear timeline. He was confident and clear, demanding but reasonable, skilled and steady.
Reverently treated ingredients and respected time-tested processes created flavours that enthralled us as we each tasted the next element.
As our reinforcements arrived desert hit everyone’s mind but was definitely playing second class citizen to the cuisine.
The pastry chefs were relegated to the corridor and lounge room. They were forced through adversity to use a coffee table as a work surface, the left over bowls and a hand mixer with no access to the kitchen itself.
After a rough peace deal between the opposing forces the bain marie to melt the chocolate and butter was placed on the stove top but without monitoring or care the high heat and time lead to the first and last death of dessert.
The 625grams of 70% Dark Couveture Valhrona and 250g of fresh butter had split and broken – all it’s glory was destroyed! And so the mighty tower crumbled!! Gone was the dark chocolate and orange mouse with candied orange zest and grand marnier. Gone too, due to time pressures and work constraints, was the pistachio sablé tower with macerated red fruits and cream dressed with a balsamic and orange reduction. All our plans to match the greatness of the 7 food courses with 2 unforgettable desserts had crumbled into the biggest heap of steaming rubbish.
We prayed to the pastry gods and diligently tried to rescue the chocolate using every trick in our arsenal but alas despite our greatest efforts and desperation, persistence over the night did not pay off and the emergency plan was hatched. Expensive but delicious sorbets were bought from the lone shop open on this public holiday in France!
We worked tirelessly throughout the night right up until the guests arrived, and then on throughout the night with a skeleton crew in the kitchen, taking our meals whilst we began the next course.
Here you can find a condensed version of our work through the night … enjoy the visual orchestra and try to imagine the smells and tastes we were melding together as a team.
But one man, the Chief, stood out throughout the day as the champion working like a prized player in a game changing match.
Of course I was in the kitchen all night with the master … I was useful and encouraging!
The guests arrived, 21 of us, to share in a night of wine, good conversation and great food.
Here is the menu, as described by the Chef himself…
Spring Menu 1st June 2011 Paris
–> Entree platter comprising of:
= Spanish baked garlic prawns with langustine oil
= Stuffed baby zucchini halves with mince pork, coriander, bread crumbs and fresh almonds finish thai basil infused oil.
= Michel Bras’s inspired ‘Gargouillou’ of spring vegetables
–> Leek and spinach timbale with poached lobster with a rich lobster bisque finished with confit tomatoes
–> Poached egg wrap with escalopes of marinated salmon with lime, fresh green peppercorns, coriander seeds and parsley, finished with a warm purée of celeriac.
–> Pan seared foie gras with melange of vegetables ala greque
–> 4 hour braised beef cheeks in red wine with truffle mash potatoes and sautéed assorted mushrooms in butter
–> Wild mushroom risotto with dried porcini, girrolles, and trumpet du mort finished with a drizzle of truffle oil and aged pecorino
–> Pan roasted leg of lamb steaks marinated with miso and ginger, stuffed with garlic and mushrooms and finished with a miso jus
–> Debs selections of cheeses comprising of robluchon, fromage chevre, 48 month aged comte, rocquefort
–> Macerated strawberries with balsamic-orange reduction, finished with a fresh selections of sorbets, candied orange peel and the surprise of sucre pettailant
–> A Selection of Wines
Getting back to our true focus we began assembling the dishes.
As people began to get restless the first course was served…
A plate of pimento spiced garlic prawns cooked in the oil from the lobster bisque, braised spring vegetables, and stuffed baby zucchini filled with a farce and fresh almonds all finished with a thai basil infused oil.
Hungry by now everyone quickly demolished the delicious plates. Then I was inspired and began soaking up the extra garlic and prawn oil with the bread and crowning it with the lobster roe. The bread, oil and roe were a taste sensation, one I would love to recreate.
Second course was quite a revelation – a unique creation by the chef himself. A timbale, or mousse, of braised leeks and spinach, silky smooth and light, full of flavour, was topped with luscious lobster meat and a fine dress of fresh pasta, adorned with confit tomatoes and lashings of rich lobster bisque.
This was demolished and revered by all present and was matched perfectly with a chilled glass of crisp and fruity white wine.
After such a winner, what could possibly live up to our expectations? Well the next course was another hit with the appreciative fans – a perfectly poached egg wrap with escalopes of marinated salmon and served above a warm purée of celeriac. The salmon had been marinated in fresh lime and green peppercorns, coriander seeds and parsley; it was then hand cut and lovingly draped over the eggs with the added texture of crunchy creamy spinach leaves.
We each greedily ate our portions and I was especially happy when I sliced into my egg and the golden yolk oozed out onto my plate.
I was a little apprehensive with the next taste as I have really had enough of my fill of foie gras already. It is usually too rich and too overwhelming for me when served in huge quantities fresh on a salad at a local café. But tonight the chef had a little trick up his sleeve.
The slightly sour melange of vegetables ala greque cut through the richness of the foie gras. Having been seared on a high heat it developed strong caramelised flavour and melted in your mouth.
The beef cheeks were hard to procure but they were lovingly treated after being seared, they were braised in red wine for over 4 hours. They were served with the most perfect truffle mashed potatoes and sautéed assorted mushrooms in butter.
The meat fibres pulled apart with a fork, the mash was smooth and creamy, the mushrooms were earthy and flavourful – need I say more. After serving the course, the wonderful waitresses and cooks had a little extra mash for themselves.
The left over mushrooms were made into a wild mushroom risotto with a drizzle of truffle oil and aged pecorino – by this point we were all already becoming quite full with all the portions generous and the food so flavourful that no one was willing to leave a mouthful behind.
There was a serious discussion about whether to make and serve the next course with most of us voting to save it for the next day. But the chef wanted to test his metal and so the next course was prepared and served to the willing masses.
Pan roasted leg of lamb marinated with miso and ginger and tied up into the perfect package securing the garlic and mushrooms inside, and served with a miso jus.
It was delicious and so we all ate some despite our growing stomachs and over-eager eyes!
The next course was reserved for great cheese aficionados who were spoilt by a wonderful selection of cheeses handpicked by the hostess from an artisan fromagerie in Paris.
Served were a Robluchon, aged Chevre wrapped in a leaf, a 48 month old aged Comte and Rocquefort.
Dessert as you all know, did not go as planned, with the desperate attempt at rescue a dismal failure; however, Plan C, worked just perfectly.
Somehow, a very smart sous chef had procured some of the best sorbet any of us had ever eaten – Cerise, Mousse au chocolat, fruit de la passion, vanilla de Madagascar et framboise – Cherry, Passionfruit Chocolate Mousse, Madagascan Vanilla and Raspberry.
These incredible sorbets were then teamed with macerated strawberries finished with balsamic-orange reduction, grenadine candied orange peel and the surprise of sucre pétillant. To reveal the true gravity of this discovery you need to know that this translates as sparkling sugar, or as you remember it from your childhoods – POPROCKS! The sugar quite literally lit fireworks in all our mouths.
Everyone had their favourite flavours, and there was no denying that everyone had second, third and fourth helpings, and then began just eating directly from the tubs!
But the meal did not just include the food it was teamed with a wide selection of wines which kept everyone’s glasses full and matched the meal step by step. The paired wines were mostly chosen by our wonderful hostess and her husband who certainly know their oenology and have great taste.
Slowly people shuffled out and the core few of us were left to start the final clean and celebrate the chef’s success and our hard work!
I later interviewed the chef and this is just a taste of the insight he has into his profession and how he sees himself…
“To me this is the core of cooking… You must taste the personality of the chef in every bite.”
And so it seems that the essence of that person, their inspiration, will be as unique as the sensation of sweet or salty.
“To me it is the person that produces that food that is the chief – the chef.”
“You must know exactly what you want then you will be able to pull it off.”
He recognises it takes time and he understands the principles and techniques that really produce a dish that works as a whole.
He says that when you conceive and create a dish for it to be truly successful “there must be a marriage, there must be a connection a reason why” you use each ingredient and the way you prepare the dish.
He is looking for something elegant, a story, “that sense of beginning and finishing the dish!”
He wants an environment that promotes “freedom of cuisine” and hopefully he found it that night!
This night of all nights could not have happened so smoothly without the aid of our trusty cleaner and waitress – she was hired help, paid with unlimited praise and admiration, as well as a few hilarious stories. She was the light in the corner of the room with her incredible Irish accent she kept us going the whole night!
Today was the culmination of the vision and hard work of our esteemed colleague.
We were all saddened when he did not make the top five in cuisine.
According to his fellow classmates he runs rings around everyone.
But such is life… it is these small obstacles, the things that are taken away from us, that drive us even stronger to reach greatness!
A very dubious plan was hatched for an equivalent night to showcase the talents of the pastry chefs after our dismal representation on this very special of nights!
And so planning began for a dessert degustation evening of verrines and petit fours matched with wines and cocktails.
First on the list a tart lemon éclair!
Second and onwards the rest are trade secrets!
A Special Thanks goes to our brave man who was one of our most useful assistants and made his mother very proud!