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Welcome to Paris, hello New York! The French obsession with American food

29 Mar

paris j'adore
It all started with a cupcake.

Then, before long a queue of New Yorkers appeared- lining up on a Manhattan street for cutsie iced cakes in a myriad of colours and flavours. The trend spread across the globe faster than a pandemic superbug. Australia, UK, Japan and Paris jumped on the cupcake bandwagon. Cupcakes became the new macaron – even in the city of macarons itself.

And so, the French love affair with American food began. In 2003, Starbucks introduced the French to the concept of coffee with milk. Lots of milk, and whipped cream, to wash down a nice big slice of raspberry swirl yew york cheesecake, a donut or a giant white chocolate and caramel muffin.

cupcake camp paris

Homemade cupcakes by participants, and the entry queue to Cupcake Camp, Paris 2011

It’s all rather ironic. The French, well-known for their own celebrated food culture and openly expressed abhorrence to what they have long called “La malbouffe aux États-Unis” (bad food of America) have developed quite a taste for good old American comfort food and it appears that the feelings are mutual. New Yorkers have always had a thing for Paris, but now Paris is becoming equally as fascinated and with New York style dining and the realm of American food.

starbucks paris

Starbucks on rue Montorgeuil, Paris

If you’re visiting Paris, don’t expect to see locals queuing up at cute little crêpe stands – instead you’ll find them lining up by the hundreds for Starbucks, American cocktails, gravlax and cream cheese bagels, pancakes with bacon, and big, beefy, cheesy, American BURGERS.

Au revoir Macarons: Make way for Cookies and Whoopie Pies

Whoopie Pies Grand epicerie paris

Whoopie Pies on display at La Grande Epicerie Paris.
Labelled as "The unmissable replacement for cupcakes this summer" Image snapped courtesy of Carol from parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com

18 months ago in an interview I was asked what I thought the next big food trend was in Paris. I said, “It’s going to be cookies. American-style cookies.” The journalist laughed and left it out of the article. Now they are springing up all over the place.

Move aside ‘Little Miss Combawa Sesame Crème Macaron’, your Grande Epicerie vitrine real estate has been taken over by its sweeter American sister to keep our trend happy Parisian clientele happy with what they want now: WHOOPIE PIES. And it’s only just the beginning. Dare I say it… the American products being made on French turf are possibly even better than what I have eaten when in America.

In Paris’ touristic Saint Germain, I never thought it was possible to have such a moment with a caramel fudge milk chocolate cookie. The tiny It Mylk boutique is now selling a range of handmade cookies, supplied daily. These things are really something else. Their creator rests the dough for up to two days and has cleverly engineered the chocolate chunks to be in a permanently semi-melted state. I don’t even want to think about how many sets of Parisian stairs I should have climbed after eating that.

It Mylk Cookies Paris

Semi melted chocolate fudge American comfort at It Mylk, Saint Germain

American expats Lindsay Tramuta and her business partner Chloe last year launched their own brand American cookies baked in Paris- Lola’s cookies. Lola’s delicious range includes all the classics from brownies and peanut butter and chocolate, through to white chocolate chunk with lemon and cashew. It’s not hard to imagine why they’re fast building a cookie-addicted following amongst hipster Parisians.

lolas cookies paris

Lolas Cookies, Paris. Image supplied

Ze Buerregeurre:

PDG has become a burger institution in Paris since it opened in the same year as Starbucks, back in 2003. The American style eatery serves what is claimed to be one of the best burgers in Paris, using bread rolls from top Parisian baker Eric Kayser. Manager Pierre Lannadere has become used to French customers requesting bizarre combinations such as fried eggs with pancakes and hash browns – knowing it’s merely the norm in the US.

Camion qui fume

Burgers and menu at Paris' first food truck.
Image by William CHAN TAT CHUEN from Postive Eating Blog

More recently, Le Camion Qui Fume succeeded in overcoming French legislation and exhaustive red tape and paperwork, making them Paris’ first mobile food truck. Yes that’s right, American food trucks have made their way to the very city where spotting someone eating a meal, let alone a burger on the run is about as rare a sighting as a free seat on the line 1 metro at peak hour.

The food truck, run by a Californian native, moves about between locations, which are published via their twitter feed which on this day has close to 5,500 followers. Paris’ first food truck is drawing huge crowds of Parisians prepared to wait in extended queues to get their burger fix from a menu offering classics such as cheeseburgers with lettuce, pickles and ketchup, through to the more ‘Frenchiefied’ version of beef, Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese with caramelized onion and porto sauce.

The waiting line for burgers by The Camion Qui Fume. Personally, I don't have the patience. It's just a burger, right? Image by Donald Edwards. He has a cool Paris blog here

What else is cooking?

From the same group who revolutionised the Paris cocktail scene with establishments such as Prescription and Experimental Cocktails Clubs, having sister bars in London and New York, their next venture – the Beef Club Restaurant is about to open its doors (if they can fit you inside when they do). Yes, you guessed it- the concept is a full American-style beef BBQ menu with a basement level cocktail bar and club.

Scwhartz Deli represents a little corner of the NYC in the heart of the historic Marais. A brunch table there on a Sunday is a coveted spot where you will be competing with a horde of others, hungry to fill up on salmon gravlax cream cheese bagels, pastrami sandwiches, turkey sausage salad and matzos meatball soup.

RICCI Italian has opened in an upcoming pocket of the 17th arrondissement as a New York diner-style restaurant serving Italian American fare such as Charolais, speck and Gorgonzola burgers, fresh burrata, meatball pasta and gourmet pizzas to go.

RICCI Italian Paris

Goumet Pizza at RICCI American-Italian Restaurant, Paris. Image supplied

Breakfast in America now has two locations on both Paris’ left and right banks. Their no reservations policy means that you will have to wait (that’s what we do in Paris) in line, at cholesterol corner with the rest of them for your Connecticut omelette or ham steak and eggs, followed by Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, pecan pie and Dr Pepper soda.

Every time I walk into a bookstore, I am spotting more and more New York patisserie cookbooks. Recipe books featuring American desserts and New York street food are fast gaining centre stage. Forget mastering Boeuf Bourguignon- the remaining Parisians who do actually cook at home are now keener to perfect the art of Cheeseburgers and Brownies.

American patisserie cookbooks at La Librairie Gourmande

American patisserie cookbooks on feature display at
La Librairie Gourmande, Paris

On an end note, being a patriotic Aussie at heart, I’m still waiting for vegemite and cheese scrolls to take off in Paris. Something tells me I may be waiting a while for that one…

Sepia Sydney: A sublime performance of senses and recipe by Martin Benn

4 Feb

Have you ever caught yourself starring unabashedly at someone you just met who was so strikingly beautiful, you were almost searching to find a single, reassuringly human sign of imperfection? Well that is kind of how I would describe my recent meal at Sepia.

sepia-sydney-degustation

Sepia Degustation: A sublime perfomance of senses

Being temporarily at home in Sydney, I have escaped the cold of Paris, minus 8 degree baguette queues and icy streets, happily swapping it for a bit of R&R with family and friends, and of course, a big list of new Australian restaurants to check out.

Whilst living in one of the gastronomic capitals of the world for the last 2 years, I have always maintained that Australia boasts some of the best food and finest restaurants in the world. Coming home with a more refined palette, a taste for boundary-pushing creativity and a love of French cuisine, I had high expectations from the talent in my hometown, and I was so happy to not be disappointed – in fact, I am proud to say that out of all the incredible meals I have eaten in Michelin star restaurants and home kitchens across France, my meal at Sepia Sydney was totally up there on the “unforgettable meals” list. Sepia is a 3-hatted restaurant. I’m not sure why the Michelin star system never reached Australian shores but to be honest I don’t think it matters, since in Paris for example, a lot of the best emerging chefs are not on the Michelin system by choice, and are producing by far some of the best food.

My dining companion and I were subject to what I could only describe as a beautifully executed performance of senses during the 4 course degustation menu. We ordered opposite dishes and shared everything. Normally there is at least one dish that lets the team down. We didn’t find one. And the service was so good the staff were practically psychic. The wine list was an absolute field day, and matched so well to each dish that flavours and senses were elevated on a whole other level. “Would you like a sneaky top up, an extra course snuck in there for good measure, and perhaps a seat that’s more suited to your petite stature?” Hell yes. God I love the service in this country. Sorry Paris, but no matter how damn good, sexy and elegant your food and restaurants are, the service only rarely meets up to the standards of us friendly Aussies. Ok maybe I’m bias, maybe it’s a cultural or language thing …

tuna and jamon iberica sashimi sepia sydney

Tuna and jamon iberica sashimi

scallop sushi sepia sydney

“Scallop sushi” Nori rolled scallop, pickled ginger, puffed sushi rice, avocado cream

panfried kingfish,  shellfish custard, New Zealand scampi, Kombu, sepia sydney

Panfried kingfish, shellfish custard, New Zealand scampi, Kombu,

Char grilled miso beef tenderloin, nameko mushroom, braised barley, smoked bone marrow miso mustard, white Barletta onions, garlic chips

Char grilled miso beef tenderloin, nameko mushroom, braised barley, smoked bone marrow miso mustard, white Barletta onions, garlic chips

Queensland spanner crab and buckwheat risotto, mustard butter, shellfish essence, sepia sydney

Queensland spanner crab and buckwheat risotto, mustard butter, shellfish essence

Roasted corn fed chicken breast, WA Marron tail, chestnut mushroom, dashi onion cream leek, wild rocket, puffed quinoa, nori salt sepia sydney

Thrown in for good measure: Roasted corn fed chicken breast, WA Marron tail, chestnut mushroom, dashi onion cream leek, wild rocket, puffed quinoa, nori salt

gin, cucumber watermelon pre dessert sepia sydney

Gin, cucumber watermelon pre dessert

Deconstructed Cheesecake: Goats milk fromage blanc and crème fraiche cheese cake, black sesame crumb, fresh strawberries geranium ice cream, caramel and shiso jellies

Goat milk fromage blanc and crème fraiche cheese cake, black sesame crumb, fresh strawberries geranium ice cream, caramel and shiso jellies

black forest dessert sepia sydney

The famous black forest dessert (and yes it's as incredible as it looks): “Summer Chocolate forest” Soft chocolate, chestnut, lavender cream, sour cherry sorbet, blackberry candy green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, berries, crystallised fennel fronds

Sepia Signature Dish: Japanese stones.

Here’s an awesome video on how the stones are made:

Sepia Restaurant and Wine Bar: Japanese Stones from Trixie Barretto on Vimeo.

So, I’ve always maintained that I am not a food/ restaurant critic/reviewer. I write about the experience of food, the love of food, food as story, culture and passion. I always want to bring the experience to my readers. That’s why I unashamedly asked Martin Benn if he would be kind enough to share a recipe. Luckily, he willingly obliged. Not only is Martin Benn extremely talented, he’s also a super nice guy.

An English native, Martin picked up French techniques under Micheal Lorrain then worked with Marco Pierre White after which he became the head chef of Tetsuya’s – at the age of just 25. Sepia is the result of all those good things fused together- French technique, Japanese style, Nordic influence, matched with a supply of the best seafood in Sydney thanks to a partnership with Decosti’s seafood. On the subject of seafood, we’ve chosen the bonito sashimi with green apple and sheep yoghurt, sake and chive oil, as the feature recipe, as not only is it delicious but it’s also one of the few things easily executable at home, and something you can substitute the fish for depending on seasonality.

I am convinced Bonito is the next big thing. It’s tuna’s hot little sister. It’s mackerel’s sexier cousin. It’s amazing how much food supply and demand, not to mention market prices is based on food trends and what’s fashionable right now. I have seen Bonito springing up on menus across Paris – this fish is rapidly gaining popularity given the demise of tuna, boredom of salmon and perception of mackerel. Even Martin Benn admitted that shortly after featuring it on the menu at Sepia, the retail price had doubled overnight from $9 to $18 per kilo. Make the most of it now, before it meets the same fate as redfin tuna…

This recipe takes a bit of time and preparation but is well worth the effort. You can use any sashimi-grade fish for this great summer recipe supplied courtesy of Martin Benn.

Pickled summer bonito, green apple and sheep yoghurt, sake and chive oil, rosa radish, daikon, Tasmanian wasabi (Recipe below)


Recipe: Pickled summer bonito, green apple and sheep yoghurt, sake and chive oil, radish, daikon and wasabi.
By Martin Benn, Sepia Sydney

Serves 8

1 x Spring Bonito, filleted (700g to 900g whole weight fish)
500ml rice wine vinegar seasoned
140g caster sugar
10g sea salt
1000ml mineral water
1 tsp wasabi paste
½ daikon radish
100ml sake and chive oil (see below)
400g green apple and sheep yoghurt cream (see below)

For the pickled Bonito:
Cut the bonito fillet down each side of the centre bone.
This will produce two long strips, repeat this with the other fillet, discard the bones.
Place the 4 strip fillets into a deep tray and set aside.
Mix the vinegar, sugar and sea salt together until all the sugar has dissolved.
Add in the water to the vinegar and mix well.
Pour the pickling liquor over the fillets make sure that they are well covered.
Leave to marinate for 6 minutes and then turn the fillets over and continue to marinate for a further 6 minutes.
Remove from the picking liquor and pat dry with paper towel.
Remove the skin from each quarter fillet then cut the fillets in half length ways.
Leave on a tray with paper towel until required.

For the wasabi:
Add to a little light olive oil to loosen the wasabi paste then brush over the marinate bonito.

For the daikon radish:
Peel the radish and then using a mandolin thinly slice.
Place the strips on top of each other and using a knife cut into a julienne (thin strips) keeping them as long as possible.
Place into iced water for 2 hours before using:

Dress the plate:
Place a 6cm circle cutter on the centre of a plate.
Spoon into the cutter the apple and yoghurt cream then remove the cutter so you have a perfect circle
Brush the bonito with the wasabi oil.
Lay the pickled bonito onto the apple and yoghurt cream gently.
Drain the strips of daikon well on paper towel and then place on top of the bonito.
Garnish the top of the bonito with baby leaves and cress.
Finally spoon the sake and garlic oil around one side of the apple and yoghurt cream.

Green apple and sheep yoghurt cream
800g granny smith apples (skinned and diced in lemon juice water)
250g butter diced
10g malic acid
50g sugar
Salt

150g sheep milk yoghurt (drained over night in a sieve)

Method:
Drain the apples from the lemon juice water and pat dry with paper towel.
Dice the butter and place into a heavy based pan.
Place the butter over a low to medium heat until the butter is melted and begins to bubble.
Add the apples, sugar and salt and stir so that the apples are well coated in the butter.
Place a lid on the apples and cook gently over a low heat, stirring from time to time.
Once the apples are tender, remove from the heat and drain off the butter setting it aside for later.
Allow the apples to cool slightly.
Pour the apples into a food blender and begin to blend.
Whisk the drained butter from earlier to emulsify and then add back 50g to the apples.
Blend the apples on full until a smooth puree is obtained.
Pass the puree into a clean bowl and whisk through the sheep yoghurt.
Store in a refrigerator until required.

Chive and sake oil
150g thick green chives, cleaned (blanched weight 300g)
3g salt
150g grapeseed oil

Method:
Blanch the chives in boiling salted water and cook for about 3 minutes until the chives are tender.
Drain the chives and refresh in iced water and then squeeze out as much water as possible.
Place the chives into a blender and add in the grapeseed oil.
Turn on and blend on full.
The oil will heat up from the friction to around 60c.
Blend for 3-4 minutes
Pass the oil through a fine filter into a container over ice.
Leave to drain in the refrigerator overnight.

To finish the oil:
80ml Chive Oil (from above)
20ml Sake (good quality)

Place the chive oil into a bowl over iced water until it thickens.
Whisk in the sake until the oil begins to emulsify.


Sepia Restaurant

201 Sussex Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 1990

Opening hours:
Lunch Tuesday to Friday from 12 noon
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm

An expat Christmas in Paris: eating and shopping in the city of lights

4 Nov

Recently I was interviewed by Lucy Cousins, Deputy Editor at Australia’s InsideOut Magazine, for their special Christmas issue. InsideOut’s feature showcases five creative Australians living overseas and how they spend their Christmas. Below is the printed magazine extract, and you can find below the full interview which includes my favourite current addresses for shopping, dining and staying warm in this magical Parisian snow globe – otherwise known as the city of lights. Photo for InsideOut Mag by Carla Coulson

Rachel Bajada InsideOut Magazine

Excerpt from InsideOut Magazine Christmas Issue, 2011. Photo by Carla Coulson

What does Christmas mean to you?

Normally for me it’s all about family, but since mine is now on the other side of the world, Christmas is all about ‘coming together’. Making time to spend quality moments with the people we love, showing generosity and being grateful for the things we have. It’s also a time to embrace and honour traditions and customs whether they be religious or cultural – the important things which bring richness and diversity and meaning into our lives.

What do your Christmas celebrations in France usually involve?

I can summarise this one in about 3 words: eating, drinking and freezing!

What is your favourite part of the festive season in your adopted country?

The observation of intricate, rich customs and practices and seeing how the city changes as everything moves around these. For example in December all the patisserie shops are filled with impressive displays of the ‘Buche’ (a gateau in the form a of a log), then in January the window displays are filled with les ‘Galettes des Rois’ to celebrate epiphany. At Christmas dinner, they serve 12 kinds of small sweets such as truffles, biscuits, chocolates etc. at the end of the meal- 12 to represent the 12 apostles. It’s an endless procession of traditional practices, which as an expat unaccustomed to all of this, I find constantly fascinating.

12 sweets - noel

Christmas cake accompanied by 12 sweets to represent Christ and the twelve apostle

What is a custom or tendency that you don’t understand?

There are many customs in France that continue to perplex me. For me France is the ultimate country of paradoxes… the main set of customs that continue to baffle me are all the hidden codes and procedures when it comes to dining.

Once thing that still gets me is how a dinner party will wait till the last guest arrives, no matter how late they are, to open the champagne and start the aperitif.

Last Christmas Eve, many domestic flights were delayed due to snowstorms and some guests didn’t arrive at the house until around 11.45pm. By this point I was ravenous after a long journey myself, and I had been staring at the 10 bottles of champagne and aperitif snacks all lined up in the dining room, which the host refused to open or serve until all the guests had arrived. We ended up finishing our meal at 4am because we started at midnight!

Waiting for champagne

Patience is a virtue… champagne remains unopened until all guests arrive

How does it differ from your Christmas in Australia?

The difference is enormous. Everything is the opposite. The weather, the food, the way of celebrating, the people I share my time with and the language I speak. The cold weather is a real challenge for me being a real sun-lover, but Paris is so beautiful under the snow at that time of year, that it compensates for the weather. And as much as I love Christmas time in Paris, it just doesn’t compare to the familiar feeling of walking through the patio door at my parents house on Christmas Eve and seeing my Dad sweating at the BBQ with a big smile on his face wearing the same apron he has worn for the last 10 years!

What do you miss about Australia in general?

Things that just work! I didn’t realise it or appreciate it until I left Australia- but in Oz, thing just work. Administrative services, systems, etc are in general more efficient and reliable. Here you post a letter to the other side of the country, and it may arrive a week after something which was sent from the US. Banks and government call centres close spontaneously…

The other thing I really miss is SPACE. Large open living spaces, coastlines, vast beaches and national parks in Oz are all so close and accessible. I loved the relaxed attitude in Sydney- I miss being able to walk to my yoga class or walk in a supermarket dressed in my gym pants and sneakers without anybody glaring because you look so out of place… and of course the lifestyle I enjoyed being able to ride my Vespa to the beach after work and running in the sand then meeting friends for BBQ’s at the beach over long summer afternoons.

What is most stressful to you about Christmas and how do you deal with that?

Waiting in lines. The sheer population of Paris means I am always waiting – I queue to queue. I’m a terribly impatient person, (of course I’m working on it) but the frenzied crowds in department stores, the push and shove on the crowded metro and waiting 20 mins in a line at -4 degree temperatures just to buy your favourite bread on a Sunday morning can be unbearable.

Paris bread queue

Typical sunday in Paris: the bread queue

What is one way you ‘cheat’ at Christmas…(do you make your own wrapping paper or gifts, have you got a fool-proof recipe for pudding etc)?
For years now I have had my own little tradition of making Lebkuchen- a spicy iced German gingerbread (recipe here). Each Christmas I make an entire day of it and bake and ice about 200 cookies. It’s a great way to give a small gift to friends, colleagues or people you have been meaning to catch up with. Each year I package them differently depending on what nice boxes or papers I find in the shops. When you personally deliver them it’s a good excuse to have a cup of tea together and make time to catch up.

Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen – Christmas Gifts

Can you tell us three shops in Paris that are good to visit at Xmas (they might make great cakes, or sell amazing flowers etc)?

1. Go to Gontran Cherrier’s boulangerie in Montemarte and buy the special Christmas bread “La couronne de pain”- a bread wreath with 8 buns made of 4 varieties- wholegrain curry (for foie gras), chick pea and lemon (for oysters and seafood), nature/traditional (for meats and charcuterie) and the fourth is made with chestnut flour to serve with the cheese board.

He also makes a great Pistachio and Citron Confit “Galette des Rois”, which is traditionally served to celebrate at Epiphany in early January.

Gontran Cherrier Artisan Boulanger
22, rue Caulaincourt 75018 Paris
Tèl : +33 (0)1 46 06 82 66
http://www.gontrancherrierboulanger.com

Galette des Rois et La couronne de pain

Galette des Rois et La Couronne de Pain chez Gontran Cherrier

2. You must pay a visit to one of my favourite fromageries/affineurs in Paris- La Ferme Saint Hebert in Paris 9th.

When you walk in this cheese shop, the mere odour of over 200 varieties of French cheeses is just sensational ( I think so anyway) and you instantly know you’re in France. Owners Paulette and Henry- complete the typical Paris experience- right down to their white aprons, hanging Corsican charcuterie and the shop walls that are lined with jars of duck confit, foie gras, confiture, fruit pastes and patés.

At Christmas time we indulge in a winter mountain cheese like Mont d’Or. It’s a seasonal cow’s milk cheese packaged in round wooden boxes. You can eat it at room temperature, or pour white wine into the box, wrap it in foil then bake it for 25 mins. When it comes out of the oven it’s oozes with creaminess on the inside and melts like liquid heaven. The French like to pour the melting cheese over baked potatoes or eat it with fresh baguettes. Mmmm calorific ecstasy.

La ferme Saint Hubert Fromagerie
36 rue Rochechouart 75009 PARIS
Tel : +33 (0)1 45 53 15 77
http://www.la-ferme-saint-hubert-de-paris.com/

La Ferme Saint Hubert Fromagerie

La Ferme Saint Hubert Fromagerie – Image from Bonbon Magazine, Summer 2009 lebonbon.fr

3. Treat yourself to a new fragrance at a French perfume house.

Dyptique on Blvd St Germain is just divine (my favourite is the ‘figue’ scent), Nicolaï Parfumerie on Rue des Archives in the Marias, or the official Geurlain fragrance house on Champs Elysées are three of my favourite boutiques. Fragrances are so sensory, when you buy a new perfume at Christmas time each time you wear it will bring back all those fond memories of those particular moments in your life. It’s also a great way to sharpen your sense of smell – just in time for appreciating all the great wines you’ll be drinking over Christmas.

What are three activities that you must to do in Paris at Christmas time?

1. Walk from place Colette (métro Palais Royale Musée du Louvre) through to the gardens of the Palais Royale and do some window shopping (if you can resist buying a pair of designer leather gloves, foulard or handbag) and walk all the way up Galerie Vivienne. At Christmas time they put out an impressive lighting display complete with draping red velvet curtains at the entrance – the interior is just stunning at this time of year. When you’re there you can have tea and scones at A Priori Teahouse to warm up and talk yourself out of buying those designer heels you fell in love with 10 minutes ago.

Galerie Vivienne Christmas

Galerie Vivienne is transformed by an impressive lighting display at Christmas

2. Visit the Galerie Lafayette and Printemps department stores and gaze dreamily at the window displays. It brings me back memories of my childhood in Melbourne when ever year my grandma would take me to see the Myer window displays. Only in Paris it’s packed with Louis Vuitton, Chanel, YSL… serious eye candy.

3. Go to the Marché des Enfants Rouge (Paris’ oldest open- air market dating from the 1600s) and located in the Marais. It’s filled with stands providing specialties from all over the world. Eat some spicy Moroccan couscous and tagines followed by sweet mint tea then at the flower stand opposite you can choose and buy a REAL Christmas Wreath. The wreaths are real – made of real holly leaves and berries, pinecones, fresh stone fruits – and they’re only about 7 Euros a piece.

Christmas Wreathes at Marche des Enfants Rouge, Paris

Christmas Wreathes at Marche des Enfants Rouge, Paris. Image courtesy of http://cinderellapatch.blogspot.com

What is your favourite Parisian Christmas moment?

My best Parisian Christmas moment was the first time I saw snow in Paris – and it was around Christmas time. I was at my local little Christmas market on a Sunday (organised by the local town hall) and it was absolutely freezing. All of sudden it started snowing and the whole place was transformed. There were children riding on a gorgeous traditional the carousel and little stalls selling spicy warm red wine, fruit cakes and hand-made gifts. One of the stallholders insisted I tried their hot chocolate with a piece of pain d’épice, and then in that moment everything was just magical… I felt like a young girl who had been transported into a snow globe and then whisked off into a page of a children’s fairy-tale.

Paris Christmas Markets

Snapshot moment of a Parisian fantasy snowglobe

What do you like most about living in Paris?

The innate appreciation of beauty.

Paris terrace sunset view

Designed for detail: view from a typical Paris terrace

Where would you recommend visitors go for a special lunch or dinner in Paris on Christmas day?

Le Gallopin Brasserie. A classic and beautiful French bistro where they have been serving bankers, journalists and Parisians quality French brasserie cuisine in a stunning turn-of-the-century setting since 1876. The prices are very reasonable too – book 2 weeks before Christmas to avoid missing out.

40, rue Notre-Dame des Victoires 75002 Paris
Tél : +33 (0)1 42 36 45 38
http://www.brasseriegallopin.com/

What are your current favourite Paris restaurants?

Au Passage (Paris 11e)
Rossi et Co (Paris 2e)
Itinéraires (Paris 5e)
MaSa (Paris 17e)
Le Galopin (Paris 10e)
Avant Comptoir (Paris 6e)
Toyo, Yen (Paris 6e)
Le Pantruche (Paris 9e)

Join the conversation! Have any similar expat or stories to share from visiting Paris? Drop a comment below.

French family recipes – Martine from Brittany and her famous ‘Lotte à l’Armoricaine’

10 Oct

As you may have noticed, I am a quite the incurable food tourist- which is why La belle France, with its rich regional diversity and world-renowned gastronomy, never ceases to amaze me, or my stomach. This recent addition to my French Food Travel series takes us to the stunning coastal region of Bretagne know in English as “Brittany” where the local cuisine and characters serve to reveal the history and culture of this region. I shot a little video this time so here are the highlights – this time more in the form of a photo reportage.
All images are credited to Alexandre Planchot unless noted otherwise.

La Lotte à l'Armoricaine

A Brittany regional classic and the feature dish: La Lotte à l'Armoricaine / Monkfish in Sauce 'Armoricaine'. Image credit: Rachel Bajada

First up, we must meet our local host, and the star of this story- Martine. Martine is from Brest in Brittany where she’s most famous for her tried and tested family recipe for ‘La Lotte à l’Armoricaine’(Recipe at end of this article). When she cooks this dish, her children just happen to be free for dinner that night, and the family cat is never lucky enough to get leftovers for dinner. Martine loves nothing more than the knowledge that her recipe is the best in town.

martine_at_fish_markets

Now it's time to meet Martine

This peninsular region in the North West of France along the English Channel has a turbulent, divided past and fierce sense of self identity. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany occupies a large peninsula in the north west of France, lying between the English to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. The historical province of Brittany is divided into five departments including the Côtes-d’Armor in the north, from where this traditional dish originates. Today, French is spoken throughout this region, but Breton- a Celtic language that most present in the west, can still be heard all over Brittany, and Gallo, a romantic ‘langue d’oil’ is still spoken in the east.

The Fishing Port, Brtagne/Brittany

The Fishing Port, Brtagne / Brittany, France. Image Credit: Flickr user "bpmm"

In terms of local gastronomy, Brittany is most famous for local delights including Clafoutis and ‘Far Breton’

Cherry Clafoutis and Far Breton

Cherry Clafoutis and Far Breton. Image credits: Flickr users jypsygen and kriscar29

Not forgetting of course the now world-famous crêpes and galettes, to be washed down with a good pint of local Breton cider.

Ham and cheese crêpes with apple cider

Crêpes and cider. Image credit: Flickr users jypsygen and Tarnie

And then there is Cancale, on Brittany’s Côte d’Emeraude, where to eat anything but oysters would be absurd– since this region, thanks to its favourable geography sheltered from the strong winds and currents found on north Breton coast, produces France’s finest oysters and shellfish.

Oyster stand, Brittany

Fresh oysters anyone? Image credit: Flickr user Gentse Fieste

Cancale Bertagne

Brittany: Pretty as a picture. Image credit: Flickr user "zenithe"

The sauce à l’Armoricaine is a traditional French recipe from coastal Brittany where it is most commonly prepared with shellfish, or used to flavour firm white-fleshed fish such as La Lotte or Monkfish– otherwise known as poor man’s lobster. It’s creation dates back to1860 when it was first made by French chef Pierre Fraisse- a Breton who had been working in Chicago and recently returned to Paris where he opened his own restaurant serving traditional Britannic cuisine.

Old Brittany (c.1905) Vintage photographic postcard

Old Brittany. The Sea Dogs' Circle (c.1905) Vintage photographic postcard, published by Collection Villard, Quimper, Finistère, France. © Casas-Rodríguez Collection, 2009. Flickr Creative Commons

Legend has it that late one evening some customers arrived at his restaurant hoping to be served dinner just before closing time, and so they had less than an hour to eat. Using the products at hand- a few lobsters and the chef’s staples such as aromatic herbs and fresh tomatoes, he was too pressed for time to slowly cook the lobster in a bouillon (seafood stock) as he would normally do, so instead he flambéed the lobster flesh in cognac and cooked it in a sauce of diced tomato, white wine, garlic and fresh herbs.

The dish was a big success with his late night diners and when they asked what the dish was called, he named it on the spur of the moment- “Sauce Américaine”- in homage of his recent stint in America where he learnt to prepare delicious dishes but make them much faster to suit the pace of his American clientele!

Lobster fishing Brittany Archival photo

Lobster Fishing In Brittany (c.1910). Petit Port de Bestrée. - Préparatifs pour la Pêche de Langoustes. Preparations for Spiny lobster fishing. Vintage photographic postcard, c.1910 Published by Lévy et Neurdein Réunis (originally by Neurdein frères), Paris, France. © Casas-Rodríguez Collection, 2009

Bright and early at 9 am and we’re at Martine’s local market where she comes at least three times per week to buy fresh produce. La Lotte (Monk Fish) is in season, and all the ingredients for the day’s meal are sourced from her favourite market suppliers- and I can see why she loves coming here. Meet Monsieur Marcel- Martine’s poissonier du marche. What a man. Marcel wakes up, rain, hail or shine, at 3am each morning to collect and deliver the freshest seafood; and on this day, he had specially set aside for Martine the best looking Monkfish of the day’s haul.

To add to the fun, I acquired my now expert knowledge on this fish over an entertaining conversation involving a few glasses of champagne and some freshly shucked oysters at the market oyster stand. A few French fishing jokes and generation-specific expressions were lost in translation on my end over our fascinating chat, but here’s what I did understand and do remember:

Marcel_Poissonier_Brittany

Meet Marcel. Martine's charismatic local market Poissonier

The Monkfish is an angler-fish which comes from la mer du nord and is in fact, really really UGLY.

Wondering if the effects of its hit by the ugly stick was the reason that it’s rare to spot an entire fish (with its head and all) at the markets, I asked Marcel the question. It turns out the big ugly head of the monkfish actually takes up more than 50% of it’s body weight and aside from the cheeks, is mostly inedible, thus the fisherman immediately throw the heads overboard so save weight and storage space for the long journey back to the mainland.

Homard Bleu

Homard Bleu. Live Blue Lobster from Brittany

This fish has a very bland but firm flesh and so has been used traditionally and still to this day, as a replacement for Lobster- thus the name “poor mans’ lobster”. Saying that, the economic factor is becoming somewhat obsolete since it’s now not uncommon to pay over €30/kg due increasing costs related to boat fuel and transport.

cutting skin of monkfish

Thicked skinned. La Lotte (Monkfish) has seven layers of skin which also cover the dorsal.

Marcel also showed Martine and myself that the Monkfish has an impressive seven layers of skin which also cover the dorsal. A job best left to the pros I say…

Ingredients_la sauce

Sauce staples: White wine, onions, garlic, tomatoes, fresh herbs

Martine then did her rounds at her favourite fruit and vegetable stalls picking up fresh herbs, onions, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, and lastly cheese (for the cheese course after our meal bien sûr), then before I knew it we were back in the wonderful home kitchen of Martine- the place where all the magic happens.

Martine in her kitchen

Martine et sa cuisine. Are you ready?

Martine’s recipe for la Lotte Armoricaine was handed down to her by her mother, and has been a special Christmas and celebratory dish cooked by the women of her family for more than four generations.

Martine's family photos

Family tradition. The recipe has been in Martine's family for four generations

Due to the given name of this dish, to this day a battle of recipe ownership exists between the Americans and the French, who commonly refer to the sauce respectively as either Americaine or Armoricaine– ‘Armorique’ being an ancient name for the northern region of Brittany where the coast is called les Côtes d’Armor.

‘Americaine’ as labelled by chef Pierre, suggests ownership to the Americans, and ‘Armoricaine’ implies that it originates from the French Armorique coast. Most Bretons today claim that the simply must recipe must come from Brittany, since all ingredients are typical of the region and because Lobsters have been fished for generations by their local fishermen.

Regardless of the friendly food tug of war between them, this dish combines the best of both worlds- the rapid preparation techniques of the Americans, and the rich flavours and regional produce that the French are famous for.

Rachel and Martine dicing onions and herbs

Martine telling Rachel the story of how the Americans and Bretons still argue to this day over who 'owns' the sauce recipe

Rachel Bajada_Martine_cooking

Martine puts the flour-coated fish into a hot pan with olive oil and butter

A relatively simple dish, the sauce is quick to prepare and the fish is cooked twice- first coated in flour, pan fried in butter and then flambéed in cognac.
When Martine poured out a shot glass of cognac in front of me I was wondering why she was offering me a digestif before the meal…then before I had time to ask, it was poured into the pan and then well…. the photos say it all!

Rachel Bajada and Martine flambée scene

"Oh we're just goingto add a tad of Cognac to the pan now...." says Martine

Flambée surpise!

Ohhhh now just a little cognac flambée.... I mean... 2 foot fire in the kitchen!!!

Martine laughs after her successful surprise flambée stunt

The satisfied grin. Just an average day in the la cuisine de Martine!

Rachel terrified after flambee surprise

"O.M.G. Do I still have my eyebrows???!!!"

spics

Secret's in the spices. Real saffron and piment d'espelette make all the difference.

Once the sauce has significantly reduced, the fish is then returned to the pan and cooked for a further 5 minutes only- cooking the fish longer than this can quickly render the flesh tough and dry.

The sauce must always be cooked slowly and gently, and no additional salt or condiments are required as an enormous amount of flavour is gained through the caramelisation of the sugars in the wine and cognac and the existing saltiness in the salted butter of Brittany. Martine swears by using Britannic butter, insisting that the salt from the Britannic ocean, when combined with products of sea and terroir, creates a truly special result that cannot be reproduced in absence of these specific products of the region.

Mijoter. Sauce a l'Armoricaine simmering

Mijoter. The sauce and la lotte left to simmer

And well, there you have it. We couldn’t wait any longer to tasted it so we decided to taste it right out of the pan!

Now... let's eat!

Chin Chin! We couldn't wait any longer so we tasted it straight out of the pan and washed it down with a good chablis. Santé!

Super bon! This dish turned out to be surprisingly simple and was honestly one of the most satisfying, delicious, homely comfort food meals I have ever eaten. Martine has been kind enough to share the recipe (please find below) but in all honesty, I’m sure that no one can reproduce it to be the same as her homemade, 4th generation family recipe goodness.

Dish of La lotte a l'Armoricaine

La lotte a l'Armoricaine. The finished dish. Of course in the end we plated it up, set the table à la Française and served with rice.

martine_laughing

Bravo Bravo et merci encore Martine!

Recipe: Martine’s ‘Lotte à l’Armoricaine’
Serves 4

• 1.2 kg fresh Monkfish fillets (or substitute for other firm white fish)
• 50 grams salted butter (obviously Martine’s is butter from Bretagne with salt de Guérande) but if you don’t live in France you will have to make do with good quality salted butter
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 standard tin of peeled tomato puree
• 1 tbsp tomato puree (concentrate)
• 1 white onion
• 2 shallots
• Dried herbs de Provence (parsley, thyme, bay leaves)
• 2 cloves garlic
• 2 tablespoons of plain white flour
• Half a bottle dry white wine
• 250 ml fish stock
• 50 ml cognac
• 1 handful fresh coriander
• Small pinch piment d’espelette (a special Basque-country, dried spice).
The closest substitute is cayenne pepper
• 3-4 threads saffron
• Sea salt and pepper to taste
• Juice of half a lemon

The monkfish is a tricky fish to prepare by yourself so it’s much easier to have the monkfish prepared and cut into medallions by your fishmonger.

Coat the fish fillets lightly in flour. In a heavy-based or good quality cast-iron pan, melt the butter and add the olive oil so that the butter does not burn.
Place the monkfish fillets in the pan then add the cognac. Light the cognac with a flame and flambé. Take the pan off the heat, place the fish aside in a separate dish and put it aside to rest.

Finely dice the garlic, onion and shallots. Gently cook the garlic and onions in the flambéed saucepan then the tomatoes, fish stock, white wine, piment d’espelette and herbs de Provence. Allow to simmer gently until the sauce has reduced and concentrated in flavour, for at least 20 minutes.

Finally, add the pieces of fish to the sauce in the pan and cook for only a further 5 or so minutes. Just before serving, add fresh coriander and saffron, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with rice. Now close your eyes, pour a glass of wine and imagine yourself on the coast of Brittany…

Delicious Discoveries from the Gourmet Jury at Haute Cuisine Paris

7 Sep
Le Jury Gourmand gathers around Ibéric Jambon at Haute Cuisine Paris

Day 1 on the ‘Jury Gourmand’ This photo somehow resembles the last supper… slight difference though: we’re sharing ham, not bread… From left: Laura Annaert, Emmanuel Giraud, Mathilde Dewilde, Rachel Bajada, Laurent Cagna. Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

Recently I had the honour of being invited as guest on the “Gourmet Jury” at the First Haute Cuisine Paris gastronomy event in the gorgeous Palais Royale Gardens. Over two days I sat on a gourmet-jury style ‘tasting panel’ organised by Madeline Market, where I had the pleasure of discovering some of the finest, freshest and most innovative products on French gastronomy scene. (What a dreadful way to spend a weekend… ) These two days opened out a whole new world of flavours, products, cooking techniques, trends and personalities that I figured are best shared with other food lovers, rather than left as memories in the form of photos on my iPhone and jotted notes in my little black notebook.

In this post I summarise and feature the highlights and most noteworthy of my delicious discoveries, from the finest Ibéric Jambon with a nutritional lipid profile comparable to olive oil, through to an exotic Japanese Turnip, exceptional Italian Carnaroli Rice and incredible micro-herbs that literally explode on your tastebuds. Here I aim to be your ‘French Food Correspondent’ in sharing these delicious discoveries.

This is the part where I add my little disclaimer to confirm that none of the references in this post, (or on my blog for that matter) are of a commercial nature. I like to promote people and products simply becasue I think they’re great, not because I’m paid to do so. Voila!

Plate of Jamon by Origine Gourmet

‘Jamon’ variety Ibéric Jambon from Origine Gourmet (Patte arriere du cochon).
Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

Day one was all about Jambon. I must say, when I was first asked to sit on a panel purely involving the degustation and discussion of Ibéric Jambon, I was admittedly a little intimidated. For someone who had spent a large portion of her adult life as a vegetarian, the invitation was both exciting and slightly daunting at the same time. My former choice to lead a vegetarian lifestyle was what I believe originally contributed to my passion and curiosity for food from an early age; but the main drivers were the ethical, animal rights and environmental sustainability issues linked to the meat industry.

Little did I know, man did not make all Jambon equal. Many of my generalised preconceptions of this product were dispelled through the discovery of this premium, artisanal Ibéric Jambon. Meeting Pierre-André, founder of Origine Gourmet was a big eye opener. This man is on a mission to source and distribute the finest range of gourmet delicacies produced with the greatest respect for terroir, tradition, quality, and artisanal farming techniques and methodologies.

We sampled four kinds of Ibéric Jambon on the jury, each was a unique discovery in itself- exhibiting its own distinct personality and flavour profile. Tasting a fine jambon of this quality is a sensory experience on so many levels. On the palate, it not only apports an incredible array of subtle flavours ranging from red fruits, vanilla and cinnamon to hazelnut, wood and truffle, but it brings one of the strongest sensations connected to ‘terroir’. At the moment of tasting this jambon- you really get this feeling of being magically transported to the place of its origin. An unexplainable connection between the product and the land, was produced from becomes evident through the aroma of earth, truffle, soil, wood, and fruit. I’m also convinced that the strict production methods employed in producing these special products is at the heart of this. The ‘Jamon’ variety for example, (pictured) requires up to four years of careful treatment, processing and ageing following strict traditional and artisanal methods, before the product is finally ready for the market.

A Labour of Love:

Salted for up to 15 days at a constant 5 degrees, then temperature controlled for a further 60 days at 80-90% humidity, the Jamon is then matured during a careful drying process which ensures the gradual and uniform diffusion of fats into the fibrous tissues. The maturation process lasts up to 9 months at 30-35 degrees at 70% humidity with the entire process controlled daily by a “Maesto Jamonero”. Finally the maturation is completed in special ageing caves which allow a natural constant temperature of 10-20 degrees at lower humidty, where the Jamon matures for 20 to 30 months when finally, at the end of the long process, the moment arrives when the Jambon becomes “Jamon”.

Aside from the slow, strict artisanal maturation and treatment process, almost more importantly is the story behind the original product- the actual animal that was raised under the most ideal of living conditions and with great respect for the health, well-being, happiness and physical state of the creature during its lifetime. The ‘Ibérico’ Cochon is a specific breed perfectly adapted to allow for cohabitation with other species- usually impossible with other varieties.

Honestly, these animals have a pretty awesome lifestyle. For the first year and a half, they are raised in vast open enclosures that permit the farmers to have a greater degree of control over their diet. Come October, they are released completely into the wild where they graze at full liberty in oak forests and dramatically increase their body weight until 60% of their body fat percentage is composed of fat tissue. Roaming and grazing with reckless abandon in bountiful open spaces sounds pretty good to me.

The ‘sacrifice’ of the animal is obviously an important part of the process and is carried out in a manner observing the utmost respect for the creature, and in the most humane way possible. Finally, each portion of the cochon is used to produce one of four uniquely different types of Jambon: Paletta, Jamon, Lomito and Lomo.

Furthermore, all of these utopic conditions bring specific health benefits to the product: Nutritional profiling studies on this Ibéric Jambon reveal large antioxidant properties and very high levels of Vitamis B1, B6, B12 and Oleic acid (Omega 9)- the cholesterol-lowering substance normally found in olive oil. Pas mal.

And the price, you may ask? Naturally, due to the highly idyllic conditions involved in all of the above, the Ibéric Jambon is sold for between 180 € and 450 € per kilo. It recently became available for order online with international shipping on Madeline Market where you can buy it in 100 gram packs staring from 18 €.

Rachel Bajada- Degustation de Jambon Iberic, Jury Gourmand Paris

Passion for quality- Pierre André Rouard and Jean Bernard Magescas. Trying to explain the subtleties of terroir and Ibéric Jambon... in French.. not easy!
Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

Extra-ordinary Vegetables:

During day 2 on the Gourmet Jury I discovered the fine, exotic Japanese vegetables of Asafumi Yamashita. I never imagined myself getting so excited by a pretty plate of diced raw vegetables, but the result was what I imagine would occur if Monet, Marimekko and Louis Vuitton threw a party in a veggie garden. Yamashita could honesty transform a hairy celeriac root into a plate of art with a few simple flicks of his Samurai grade vegetable knife and the elegant gestures of a skilled calligraphist.

Assiette des Legumes cru par Yamashita

Beauty in simplicity. Seasonal vegetable tasting plate by Yamashita and Sylvian Sendra, Chef chez Itineraires

Yamashita – a Japanese expat who moved to Paris more than 36 years ago to study French at La Sorbonne; through a turn of fate, fortune and pure talent has become somewhat of a French celebrity gardener. His story is both fascinating and inspiring.

Originally Yamashita was a practicing Bonsai artist when he first set himself up in Paris, until one fateful day when nearly all but two or three of his Bonsai trees were stolen. Unsure of what to do next, he turned to his other passion and natural talent- growing vegetables. Notably, there is one thing these two beautiful artisanal crafts have in common – the artful gesture (which really does sound much nicer when the French say it as “le beau geste”).

Asafumi Yamashita and Sylvian Sendra Cutting Vegetabes

Asafumi Yamashita and Sylvian Sendra

Before long, Paris’s top Michelin-starred restaurants were practically fighting over access to his limited supply of rare and exotic vegetables; all carefully cultivated personally by Yamashita on his own farm and hand delivered in person twice a week to a very select number of top restaurants and hotels. Today Yamashita’s impressive clientele list includes le George V, l’Astrance, Ze Kitchen Galerie and Restaurant Itinéraries (one of my favourite tables in Paris).

Yamashita and Sylvain Sendra- head chef of restaurant Itinéraires, united produce and passion to prepare a selection of vegetable assiettes for the Gourmet Jury. The simple manner of preparation, cutting techniques and insanely fresh, quality nature of the produce itself created sheer delight. I have never tasted fresh corn so sweet, crisp and starch-less in my life… special varieties of fresh Broccoli, cut separately to distinguish the flavour and texture of the stem, leaves and florets… rare Caviar Tomatoes, Red Carrots, Kabodjian Pumpkin, Japanese Herbs and one star vegetable that stole the show: “Le Kabu”.

Brioche with Kabu (Japanese Turnip) et confiture

A surprisingly delightful combination. Brioche au 'Kabu' (Yamashita's special Japanese Turnip variety) and confiture

The Nobel Prize of Root Vegetables goes to this incredible variety of white Japanese turnip (pictured on brioche and jam above). We tasted this impressive variety both simply sliced raw (visible on the base of the vegetable assiette on right) and also whipped up by chef Sendra in a surprisingly delicious combo with Brioche and confiture (fruit jam).

Let’s face it… turnips are normally such an unsexy vegetable. But the Kabu is no ordinary turnip. Unlike the turnips I am accustomed to (and generally not a fan of), the Kabu does not exhibit bitterness, starchy character or a dense fibrous texture. Its exterior is soft and slightly spongy, the interior flesh is delicate and refined with a slight apple-ish sweetness and the density is somewhere between the crunchiness of carrot and soft sponginess of a raw zucchini. When in season, Yamahita produces up to just 300 per month. Unfortunately, supply of Yamashita’s exotic delights is not available to the general public, so if would like to sample Yamashita’s produce, you have one of two options: either dine at one of the restaurants he supplies, or reserve well in advance for the real deal- a long lunch in his very own on-site garden restaurant where you can visit the farm and sample his produce over a delightful ‘discovery degustation menu’.

La table d’hôte de Naomi et Asafumi Yamashita, 35 € per person for lunch and 50 € for dinner. Reservations a must. +33(0)1 30 91 98 75

Incredible Cress:

Have you ever wondered how many of today’s top chefs manage to pack so much flavour and subtlety in their creations whilst keeping them perfectly well garnished and stunningly presented? Slowly I am discovering some of their tricks, and one of the secrets lies in their access to and clever usage of a commercial range of micro-herbs and specialty ‘Cresses’ – fast becoming big business in this industry.

Paris Restaurnant dishes from Kei and MaSa using Specialty Cress

Decorative Dishes: Kei Restuarant Paris using flowers and microherbs,
MaSa Restaurant Paris using Scarlett Cress

On the Gourmet Jury we tasted a wide range of these tiny, delicate ‘mini cresses’, flowers and micro-herbs supplied by Koppert Cress. The range across these special products is just overwhelming. I had never been exposed to such a diverse array of products like this in Australian restaurants to my memory, so for me it was a real eye-opener.

Here are some of the most interesting products I tried:

Dushi Buttons – (pictured) These tiny white flower buds burst with sweetness and minty, chlorophyll-like flavours; it’s most often seen used by chefs in desserts, with marshmallow, or to compliment goats cheese

Scarlet Cress – A deep red, decorative cress with earthy spinach and beetroot flavours. Often served with fish, meat and game. (Pictured in photo from dish at MaSa)

Limon Cress – (Pictured) From the basil family, this powerful leaf has strong aniseed and lemon character. I have seen it used in restaurants to flavour sorbets and garnish fish.

Honny Cress – An amazing leaf with neutral sweetening properties. Similar to Stevia, this product will no doubt soon be widely used as a natural sugar alternative

Elephant Garlic flower (buds) – Tiny purple flower buds from the Elephant Garlic plant. Packed with aroma and sweet garlic flavour

Salty Fingers– A plant grown along the coasts of tropical America and Asia. It’s crispy, salty, slightly bitter with a cactus-like texture.

Sechuan Buttons
– These inconspicuous little yellow flowers are seriously feisty and create more of a ‘sensation’ rather than flavour experience. Thank goodness that was the last one we tried- my tastebuds were on fire and completely out of action for a good 20 minutes after that little piece of dynamite landed on my tongue!

Plate of Scarlet Cress

Scarlet Cress - exhibits the delicate, earthy flavour of beetroot

Limon Cress and Dushi Buttons

Incredible Cress: Limon Cress (left) is packed with aniseed and lemon flavour.
Dushi buttons explode with sweet mint-cholorphyll flavour

The Italians:

Now, what food event is complete without something fine and Italian? No, I’m not talking pasta, or cheese, or Italian dolci- this time it’s Italian rice.

I have the lovely Sophie from Gourmetise to thank for this little discovery. Sophie is the ultimate specialty food hunter. When she told me “You simply must try this Italian rice” my response was something along the lines of “It’s rice, Sophie. Rice is rice, what’s honestly so special about it?”

In the end, I did try this rice, and really, I was blown away. I love it when something so simple is just so darn good. This special variety of Italian-grown and produced rice grain called “Carnaroli” by Acquerello was cooked using the absorption method, with a little olive oil and sea salt for good measure- and that was it. I would have been happy to eat that as my lunch for a week straight- honestly.

This special rice is grown, aged and processed on the 16th Century Colombara farm by the Rondolino family in northern Italy. They use a patented whitening process whereby the unhusked whole rice grain is aged for at least one year then slowly and gently whitened using a helix then restored with it’s original rice germ. The end result is this superior product that retains the nutritional profile of brown rice but cooks similarly to Arborio – staying perfectly intact without losing starch or vitamins.

I made a risotto with it recently (guided by the expert instruction of an Italian friend of course) just to test it out myself, and the results were superb. (Check out the risotto we made here).

Photo of Acquerello Rice

Acquerello Rice. Not just ordinary rice.


The Art of Eating:

Now finally, you have probably noticed by now how much I love CHEESE so I just couldn’t go past this gorgeous creation by designer Sebastian Bergne who exhibited his “Eat & Drink” table-wear range at Haute Cuisine Paris. No kitchen is complete without a good cheese board, and besides, you need to order one to go with the cheeses you can smuggle through the French border, next time you’re in town.

Cheese Board by Sebastian Bergne

Coup de Coeur - Beechwood 'Jerry' cheeseboard.
The understated elegance of Sebastian Bergne design.

Palais Royale Gardens, Paris

One of my favorite city havens. The gorgeous gardens at Palais Royale, Paris.
Photo credit: Barbara Siegel

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