Tag Archives: food trends

How to give good bread: Buying the perfect baguette

5 Aug

Every day I am faced with at least two or three bad baguette sightings, and it bothers me more than it should, like a niggling sore throat in the morning– every, single, time.

When I say ‘bad baguettes’, I simply mean a Parisian civilian walking along their way, carrying a really crappy, shitty, nasty-looking… baguette. Last week it happened again, and this time it really got the better of me. I watched a Frenchman walk out of an award-winning bakery holding a baguette that looked even worse than what they sell in a Carrefour supermarket.

These days I can detect them from a mile away. My bad bread radar picks up on the tell-tale faux golden colour, the floppy sunken spine and the flourless flaky crust– so thin you can almost see the mesh pattern of the baking tray. They remind me of those awful ‘French sticks’ my Mum used to get from the local bakery in country Victoria, only she had the good sense to make croutons from them, and nothing more.

Parisienne Baguettes

Parisienne Baguettes: The good, the bad and the ugly

And now here I am, living in Paris – the mecca of the baguette, the land of milk and honey, the country of good bread, and I see French people buying and eating so much bad bread that it still to this day perplexes me.

Now, I personally don’t actually eat a lot of bread, since as you may have noticed, I prefer to consume my calories in the form of cheese rather than carbs, (and I am of the belief that grain foods are not good for our health in general) but whenever I DO buy bread, I’m going to make sure it’s the best damn baguette I can get my hands on within my given 1km walking radius.

In my effort to understand this bad bread phenomenon, I decided to conduct a logical retrace of steps in order to figure out where it was all going wrong. So for just one minute, please imagine with me that you’re an average Frenchy in Paris. Ready?

1. You wake up and decide to buy some bread – as you do, to dip it into your coffee, smother it in nutella, smear stinky runny cheese all over it… whatever you do with your bread it doesn’t matter, but you’re French so it’s likely that you eat a lot of it.

2. There is probably a boulangerie within 200 meters from your home. Even if it’s not the best, you’re in Paris after all, so by global standards it’s going to be pretty damn good.

3. You walk in, wait in line, and get your change ready or prepare the coins using the bread money machine (you wouldn’t even think about paying with a note).

4. You cast an eye over at the freshly baked, piping hot baguettes on the back wall, and this is where you would say something like “Une baguette s’il vous plait”. Seems pretty easy, right?

5. And then you pay your 1€ or so and walk out, with your baguette under your arm on your jolly old way.

6. This is the point where if you were walking past me I would probably be sneering under my breath at the sight of your shoddy looking bread. Sorry about that…

bread money machine

No coins? No worries! These bread money machines distribute small change

— Fin —

So, where did you go wrong? Why is that annoying woman frowning at you and your bread?

This challenge was beyond my expertise so I enlisted the help of expert bread buyer, super foodie and most qualified of all: zeee very Meg Zimbeck of Paris by Mouth herself, in order to get to the bottom of it. Lucky me managed to squeeze into a ‘Best of Montmartre’ food tour so I could personally investigate, and of course bring back documented photographic evidence and my newfound wisdom for the rest of us.

This is where you need to hit the play button in this little video we shot below…

Meg Zimbeck with one of Paris' best Baguettes de Tradition

Meg Zimbeck with one of Paris’ best Baguettes de Tradition

Did you catch that? Hear the magic word? It’s a simple as knowing which KIND of baguette to buy. There’s a big difference between what you will potentially walk out with when you ask for a “Baguette” as opposed to a “Baguette de Tradition”. That’s it. Une Baguette… DE … TRAD-I-TION- si’l vous plait. Uh huh. Voila. Open sesame!

Paris' best baguettes in a boulangerie

Devil’s in the detail. “Baguettes de Tradition” sit alongside standard bread at one of Paris’ award-winning bakeries.

Comparing good and bad baguettes

Dead giveaway. A Baguette Parisienne and an award winning Baguette de Tradition are compared side by side.

And there is a very simple reason why. After the First World War, there was a need for high quality bread to be made available to the working class. Baguettes were, at the time more of a luxury item reserved for wealthy Parisians as their long thin shape and lightness meant they only stayed fresh for one day. Real leaven bread (like a sourdough) was cheaper, but took over 8 hours to make, compared to the two hours it took to make a baguette. So, in 1920 the price of a baguette was officially fixed by French law to ensure all citizens the equal right to daily fresh bread.

The baguette price capping legislation was not lifted until 1987, but the legacy stuck. You can imagine how public outrage rose when the cost of a baguette inched past the 1€ mark, so even to this day, it’s still considered unthinkable to pay more than the standard 80 or 90 cents for a standard Baguette Parisienne.

Since the consumer is only willing to pay under 1€ for a baguette, boulangers are forced to ensure their product remains profitable – so quality therefore follows suit. It’s simply not cost effective for a baker to spend eight hours rising and carefully baking bread made from high quality flours and natural yeasts when they can only charge 90 cents for the product, or 40 cents for a demi-baguette.

So this is why you will find BOTH ordinary, inferior ‘bad-guettes’ as well as the higher-end, quality, baguettes made with natural levains and quality flours at the same boulangerie. The latter version must then be labelled as “Baguette de Tradition” “Baguette Ancienne” or “Baguette de Campagne” to differentiate, and cost all of 0 to 50 cents more, but the difference can be enormous – as you have seen.

bad baguettes or french sticks paris

The “Bad-guettes” at a typical Parisian supermarket. Almost sold out, of course.

The prize for Paris’ best Baguette de Tradition is a highly coveted title which began in 1993 and sheds light on the reasons why a boulangerie with this title sells both “bad-guettes” and the best “baguette de tradition” around. Enacted that same year, French law states that the bread must be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked on premises, never being frozen. They must be additive-free and can contain only wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. The annual prize-winner gains both great prestige and the chance to supply the French Presidential palace with bread for the year. Pas mal.

So now that you know how – you have no excuse to give bad bread.

If you’re visiting Paris, you can check out the best boulangeries, pâtisseries, cheese shops and secret foodie gems with a Paris by Mouth group or private food tour. Tours resume for summer 2012 on August 16th with 2 x 3 hour tours daily at 10.30 and 3.30pm. Book a few weeks in advance and don’t eat breakfast! More info here

Now go forth, and give good bread ☺

Meg Zimbeck comparing baguette quality on tour

Weapons of dining destruction. Meg Zimbeck holds up an example of a bad baguette

Paris by Mouth Food Tour Group

The Paris by Mouth Montmartre food tour group

 

baguette car

I don’t know where this photo came from so I can’t credit it but it was just too good to leave out.

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Mamma Mia Ciasa Mia! Could this be the best pasta in Paris?

20 May

I know I know, it’s a big call, but trust me — I take these statements very seriously. After my first meal at Ciasa Mia, I got home, and in an unprecedented event, I could not sleep. And not because I ate too much either. I simply could not stop thinking about the incredible meal I had just experienced, and found myself lying awake dreaming about that amazing PASTA like some intoxicating whirlwind holiday romance.

ciasa mia best pasta in paris

The stuff dreams are made of. Ciasa Mia’s Kamut Spaghetti with Mussels, Girolles and Smoked White Pepper with Pecorino.

Ciasa Mia potato and rosemary ravioli with speck

Potato, speck and rosemary ravioli filled with cèpes and mageret de canard fumé

The discovery wasn’t all mine, so I do admit I was tipped off. When you hear your Italian friend’s voice rise two decibels excitedly describing food with dangerous hand motions and enough passion to scare the French diners at the table next to us, I knew I had to check this place out. And yes I’ve been back multiple times since, just to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself the first time, but the food at this place never ceases to amaze and delight me.

For someone with a terrible memory, I can still remember and describe in intricate detail, every course I have eaten there: Truffle-filled egg yolk amuse bouche, pine infused ice cream, cèpe and white truffle carpaccio with parmesan soufflé, scallops in hay-steamed smoke, pastas that are delicious enough to overcome the strongest of carb-nazi willpower, deconstructed tiramisu, melt in your mouth house-made focaccia, and not to forget the famous “colours d’automne”- a dessert experience you absolutely must save space for. The flavours, the products, the seasons, the passion for quality, innovation and creativity with respect for tradition and romance, the flamboyant service with flair and precision… the passion the food is made with here paired with the warm friendly ambience of a family–run Italian alps ski chalet is so cosy you could just crawl up by the fire with your limoncello, satisfied belly and just dream away.

Who would have thought this little gem on a tiny street just next to the pantheon was hiding there? If you didn’t know to look past the cutesy quasi-kitsch restaurant signage and lace curtains on the facade, you could easily miss it. And if you can’t get there in person, don’t worry. In my usual form, I shamelessly went back and asked the chef for the recipe so we can all enjoy the pleasure of THAT PASTA (scroll down for recipe).

Where was the best pasta you have ever eaten? My runners-up for Paris are Procopio Angelo and Bocca. Drop a comment below to share your favorite addresses in Paris and beyond.

Ciasa Mia Restaurant is located near the Pantheon in Paris’ Latin Quarter at
19 Rue Laplace 75005
Ph: +33(0)1 43 29 19 77
www.ciasamia.com

See a video review by Francois Simon here

La lotte en croute Ciasa Mia Paris

La lotte en croute de peau de poulet (monkfish in chicken skin crust) with balsamic lentils, rosemary potato and vanilla eschalotte

ciasa mia italian wines

Wine selection at Ciasa Mia

Lemon brulee with almond praline

Lemon brûlée with almond praline- amazing!

ciasa mia paris truffle injected egg

Six minute scallops- steamed in hay smoke with sea salt. Black truffle jus-injected egg yolk. explosions of flavor- literally.

Deconstructed Tiramisu Ciasa Mia Paris

The delightful deconstructed tiramisu

Pine infused Icecream ciasa mia paris

Pine infused ice cream – unforgettable.

Chef Samuel Mocci with Italian white truffles

Chef Samuel Mocci with Italian white truffles

Organic kamut spaghetti with mussels, girolles, pecorino, and smoked white pepper

Recipe by Samuel Mocci from Ciasa Mia Restaurant, Paris

Serves 4 people

This recipe cooks the pasta using the absorption method, like you would a risotto. It soaks up all the flavor from the stock and self-sauces once you add the cheese and remaining ingredients.

Ingredients:

300 grams kamut spaghetti (or substitute with a similar fresh pasta of your choice)
1 litre of unsalted chicken stock
30 grams sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 knob butter
50g pecorino finely grated
50g parmesan finely grated
Freshly ground smoked white pepper (if you can’t find smoked pepper you can use smoked sea salt to add the smoky flavour)
200 g mussels (weight without shells)
200 g girolle mushrooms (you could substitute for cepes or chanterelles also)
2 cloves garlic- finely diced
2 tbsp finely diced flat leaf parsley

Recipe Ciasa Mia Pasta

Preparing the Ciasa Mia Kamut Spaghetti Recipe

Directions:

Bring the chicken stock to boil in a large pot with olive oil, butter and sea salt.

To cook the mussels: In a separate pot, place mussels in their shells with white wine, olive oil and finely diced garlic and parsley. Once the mussels open, remove the mussels from their shells (leave a few in the shell for presentation purposes). Leave in pot and set aside. Thoroughly rinse and then pat dry the girolles with paper towel. Dice the mushrooms finely and set aside.

Once the water is boiling add the spaghetti to the pot and gently stir the pasta and water until all the water has been absorbed by the pasta, being careful not to let the pasta stick together or to the pot. Check that the pasta is cooked just to al dente. If it is still too firm, add more stock and cook further until it’s absorbed (as you would a risotto)

Once the spaghetti is cooked, remove from the flame and add the parmesan, pecorino and a generous portion of freshly ground pepper. Mix through well- you will see that the remaining moisture in the pasta mixes with the cheeses to ‘self-sauce’

Sprinkle the diced girolle mushrooms on the base of the serving plate and then season with quality virgin olive oil. Serve the pasta into portions over the mushrooms and then add the mussels, with a few still in the shell over the pasta. Serve with extra grated pecorino and diced parsley to garnish if desired.

My top 10: The best addresses for cheese shopping and finding a good coffee in Paris

30 Apr

It’s about time I shared the love. Two of my great loves are of course: coffee… and the other you already know — cheese. Not necessarily together or in that order! I’m often asked for tips and addresses on both of these subjects so I have compiled my top 10 and made interactive maps for both the lists. After all, what trip to Paris is complete without eating too much cheese? Then after all the fun of running around buying and tasting it, you will be needing a good coffee to pick you back up again if you want to make it on your last legs to that pastry shop…

Coffee and latte in Paris

COFFEE:

Let’s start with coffee, since it’s rather problematic in this city. A good friend of mine recently moved for a six-week stay in Paris and called me in a panic: “All the coffee is so aaaaawful here… what am I going to dooooo?? Why can’t I just go into a café and drink a decent latte?”

And she’s absolutely right. Unlike cheese, the good stuff is simply not common and easily available in this city, in fact, getting a real coffee is more like a treasure hunt — you almost need to plan your day/meeting around it to make sure you get your fix in one of the very few places that know how to make it. There has been a lot of press on the issue recently, and the scene is quickly changing for the better thanks to French-Australian partnerships who are raising the bar, such as Café Lomi who supply most of the places on my list.

So here is the list I gave my latte-longing friend. There is hope, I promise.

Where to get a good Latte / drink real coffee in Paris:

Café Lomi Paris 18eme
Black Market – Paris 18eme
Le Bal Café – Paris 18eme Clichy
KB Café Shop (formerly Kooka Boora) – Paris 9eme
Coutume Café – Paris 7eme
Sugarplum Cakeshop and Café – Paris 5eme
L’inconnu Bar/Café – Paris 10eme
Ten Belles – Paris 10eme
Télescope (great coffee in a central part of town) – Paris 1eme
Vélo Café (mobile coffee cart at Place de la Bourse) – Paris 2eme
Alto Café (mobile coffee cart at Galeries Lafayette and Passage du Havre) – Paris 9eme.

cafe lomi latte

L’art du Cafe at Lomi, Paris. Image © Rachel Bajada

CHEESE:

First things first, I need to lay down the rules of engagement here: no cheating and buying cheese at the supermarket! Sure, you may be able to find a decent fresh chèvre or biodynamic faisselle in the dairy isle, maybe even the occasional genuine AOC Camembert, but the vast majority of cheeses sold in big chains like Monoprix, Carrefour and Franprix are industrially processed, inferior, pasteurized milk cheeses which are actually slowly killing the real artisanal cheese industry in this country. Sadly, a growing number of French cheeses become extinct every year due to the industrialisation of the French dairy industry so please be a conscious cheese shopper and support artisanal cheese makers and small businesses by favouring quality over convenience and bargain basement price tags.

There is only one time and one reason only when you have an excuse to buy in the supermarket, and that’s if it’s your last stop in Paris and you’re buying cheese to take on the flight home. This leads me to my next important piece of advice and a common question:

Can I take raw milk French cheese back through Australian customs?

The answer is YES, you sure can! There is just one catch. Firstly, you must of course declare it on your arrival card, but as long as the cheese you bring in is “commercially prepared and packaged and originate from countries free from foot and mouth disease” you are allowed to bring it in. And don’t worry, as long as you wrap it in lots of layers of plastic and foil to avoid your entire luggage smelling of cheese, it will certainly last and wont spoil during the long journey home.

Because of this, you can’t just go to the farmers markets and buy a fresh unpackaged cheese to take overseas; so this is when the supermarket may be your only option. I have done this numerous times without problems but usually I stop at Galleries Lafayette Gourmand or la Grande Epicerie where they stock a good range of quality raw milk cheeses with sufficient labelling and packaging to keep you off Border Control at prime time. If you do however find yourself in a sticky situation with customs, here is how to successfully talk your way out of it.

The full details on Australian quarantine regulations can be found at the daff.gov.au site here. I regret that I don’t know enough about current regulations in the US, UK and Canada etc. to provide them but if you know please drop a comment below.

My favourite places to buy and taste cheese in Paris:

Fromagerie SecrétanParis 19eme (owners are extremely friendly and helpful and they stock a range of beautiful seasonal and special cheeses)

Galerie Fayette Gourmande – For the pre-flight stock-up to take home

Market bio 17eme and Marche bio Raspail. Excellent organic/biodynamic producers of goats cheeses and nearly every French cheese you could dream of. More expensive but worth it, make sure you get there before midday. The markets are my weekend sport.Hah.

La Ferme Saint Hubert FromagerieParis 9eme. You will smell it before you find it. This is a good thing. Very traditional with a great range.
A memorable shopping experience.

Quatre Hommes CrèmerieParis 7eme. A top quality cheese shop which also produces and sells exciting new cheese varieties such as Pistachio Brie.

CantinParis 7eme. Run by cheese queen Marie-Anne Cantin fromager de tradition and Affineur with 7 impressive caves, the shop has been open since her father set it up in 1950.

Marche BastilleParis 11eme. Here you will find a few great stands with excellent cheeses. My favourite is the best Burrata I have found in Paris from the Spanish and Italian food stall. You can also find more exotic cheeses such as Guinness Cheddar and Goats Milk blue. Photos here

Alléosse Paris 17eme. Stocks an impressive array of artisanal AOC cheeses such as camemberts, Saint Marcellins, a large choice of chèvres and the best part- a selection of rare, hard to find cheeses such as Persillé de Tignes made by the last remaining producers of their kind in the country.

Mmmozza – Italian Mozarella and cheeses – Paris 3eme. A great spot to buy giant buffalo burrata, fresh burrata from Puglia, smoked and classic Mozzarella and Treccia, other Italian cheeses and excellent Prosciutto and Parma hams, in the heart of the Marais and a stroll from Marche des Enfants Rouge.

The ultimate cheese selection at Edouard Loubet, Bonnieux France. Photo courtesy of Arturo Zavala Haag www.arturozavala.com

Ready for the suitcase: Black Truffle Brie at Lafayette Gourmet, Paris

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

French comfort food: Mr Christian Dauve’s ultimate Gratin Dauphinois recipe

2 Dec

It was cold and miserable outside…. the Parisian winter is setting in. My friend and I stepped into the l’Auberge Rouge– a non-descript neighbourhood brassiere, to simply take a drink and catch up. I ordered the best red wine on the menu in an attempt to lift my spirits and defrost a little. The wine was not good at all. I drank it anyway. But then, halfway through our conversation, something happened. Both of us stopped talking, mid-sentence.

Something was cooking. And it smelt incredible.

We both looked around, frantically trying to identify the source of this heavenly smell, and then…. there it was. In front of our eyes, the source literally emerged before us.

A quintessential French chef, like a scene out of a 1920’s film, emerged slowly from a hidden underground kitchen. He was holding an enormous dish of creamy, cheesy, dreamy-looking BAKED POTATOES.

Christian Dauve Gratin Dauphinois

The chef emerges from his hidden underground kitchen carrying....

My usual curious self, driven only by my eyes and stomach, was now on a mesmerised mission. I jumped to my feet and walked over, making a beeline to the chef approaching:

“Monsieur, please, what is that exactly? It smells absolutely divine!”

With a big warm smile, ‘Mr Very French Chef’ in front of me responded:
“Ah madame, ça- ça c’est mon fameux Gratin Dauphinois!”

“Ahhhhh! Bien sûr! Le classique Gratin Dauphinois!”
I responded, not at all surprised that something consisting of potatoes and melted cheese was responsible for this intoxicating allure.

However, it was not enough for me, I simply had to know more.

“But what did you put in there? It smells sooooo good!”

The chef chuckled, grinning with pride at the attention, but responding with full modesty:
“Well, it’s quite simple actually… potatoes, garlic, cream and nutmeg.”

“That’s it? What about the cheese, what kind of cheese goes in your gratin?” I queried.

“Cheese? Oh no no, there is no cheese, madame. The traditional recipe for Gratin Dauphinois is only done only with cream, not cheese.”

And from this point on, my ‘Aussie inquisition’ began, and whilst quizzing my new chef friend about his gratin, before I knew it, a mini pot of the gratin had been served up and whisked over to our table.

gratin dauphinois

The culprit: Mr Christian Dauve’s amazing Gratin Dauphinois served up before us, moments before being devoured

We had just finished lunch an hour ago. Of course, we ate it anyway. And yes- it tasted just as good as it smelt- really, really, really damn, GOOD.

So good, in fact that I went back the next day and asked my new chefy friend for the recipe. In the end I got much more than the recipe- I walked away with a full history lesson on the Gratin Dauphinois and a new knowledge and appreciation of the origin of food, including some fascinating facts on the main ingredient- the humble potato.

So for a quick ‘French food history lesson’, this is how the story of the Gratin Dauphinois goes:

Scroll down if this has made you so hungry that you just want to get to the recipe!

Why does the traditional version of Gratin Dauphinois not have cheese?

Back in the 17th Century in the Haute Savoie region of France, cheese was practically a form of currency- it was an aliment of its own. Cooking with cheese it was unthinkable, and would have been extremely wasteful, not to mention expensive.

Farmers would milk their dairy cows in two rounds. The first round was called “le Bloche”– this was literally the cream of the cream. The first round is rich and very creamy. This would be then put aside and sold to local artisanal cheese makers who would produce quality butter and rich mountain cheeses such as the famous Comté .

The second batch of cows milk was called the “Re-bloche” (‘re-milking’) and results in milk which has a lower cream content and is less ‘rich’. The ‘rebloche’ would be kept by the farmers themselves and used for milk, cream, and for making a secondary cheese- the wonderful “Reblochon.”

The cheese was of course sold, and the cream would be used for cooking and enriching regional specialities such as the ‘Gratin Dauphinois’.

How did potatoes first arrive in France? We can thank the Americans.

It’s hard to imagine French cuisine without potatoes- they are such an inherent part of French food today that I never imagined this staple was an introduced product and has only been part of the French diet since Louis XVI in the 17th Century. My new chef friend Monsier Dauve was like a talking food history book as he explained the origins.

Apparently Jacques Quartier brought potatoes to France after an expedition exploring the Americas. In France, Count Parmentier (yes there is a potato dish named after him) a pharmacist, chemist and employee of Louis XVI, planted them in a garden with the intention of growing and harvesting the potato on a mass scale in order to feed the French peasant population. Unfortunately the potato was not an instant hit with the French who, at the time regarded it with great suspicion and fear. Since in its raw green state the potato is somewhat poisonous and not even dogs would eat them, the potato was a hard sell for Parmentier until he adopted a bit of reverse psychology.

Parmentier planted 50 acres of potatoes on a plot of land on the outskirts of Paris. During the day, he instructed a royal guard to watch over it. When the locals noticed that that the crop was of such value that royal guards were protecting it, their curiosity grew and hoards of people came to see what all the fuss was about. The trick worked. The potato gained a heightened intrinsic value overnight, and very quickly attracted widespread acceptance – today being one of the major foods in Europe and the rest of the world.

So that’s probably enough history on cheese and potatoes now- let’s get down to the best bit: Monsier Dauve’s amazing recipe. Don’t bother trying to read his handwritten version in the photo- I’ve translated if for you below. Enjoy!

Gratin dauphinoise recipe

The original, handwritten recipe given to me by chef Christian Dauve (Here's a pic, just to prove I'm not making it up)

Recipe: Traditional Gratin Dauphinois

Ingredients:
(Serves 6)

• 2 kilograms Bintje potatoes
(Bintje potatoes have a high moisture content and are low in starch, making them a ‘waxy’ variety. They are oval in shape, with pale yellow flesh).

• 3 cloves of garlic

• 1 litre fresh cream

• 1 heaped tbsp salt

• Half teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

And that’s it!

Here’s how you make it:

Preheat the oven to 200 Degrees Celsius

Using a large baking/casserole dish- either metallic or ceramic, finely grate the garlic cloves into the dish evenly so the inner surface is sprinkled with garlic. This is important- the garlic needs to be on the base of the dish, and not IN with the potatoes. This way it flavours the potatoes aromatically during the cooking time without having actual pieces of garlic throughout the potato gratin.

Wash and peel the potatoes. Slice them into rounds approximately 3-4 mm thick. And evenly layer and distribute them into the dish.

Sprinkle the sea salt and nutmeg over the top

Lastly, pour the cream evenly over the top of the potatoes. By adding the cream last, it distributes the salt and nutmeg throughout.

Bake the potatoes in the oven for one hour, uncovered. The actual magic happens in the last 20 minutes of cooking when all the ingredients are at boiling temperature and the potatoes soften with the cream then develop a golden crust on the top.

Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly, then spend the next hour answering the front door as the neighbours pass by to find out what that divine smell is wafting from your kitchen…

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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