Perpignan or bust!

As many of you know now, I was given the honor of being named Master Chef of France in late 2011. The induction ceremony took place in France on March 24, 2012. This event coincided perfectly with my Mom’s birthday and since I wanted to take my sous-Chef, Manuel, to France for some culinary inspiration, I booked my trip right away. This is the account of my week-long trip to France, adventure by culinary adventure. Enjoy!

Sunday morning I woke up to find my breakfast neatly placed on the fold-down tray on the seat in front of me. I was not hungry and I knew that even after an 8-hour flight from Houston to Paris, I still was not at my final destination. I had to change airports so I figured that I would just get something to eat later. But those who know me, know that I could not pass up a cup of coffee.  The coffee helped lift the sleepy fog around my head just in time to gather my affairs and be the first to jump out of my seat as soon as the plane landed (and the seatbelt sign was turned off of course). At once I was out of the plane, through customs and waiting for my luggage to come around the moving black belt. The bags were already heavy with gifts for my family and friends in France; I could not imagine what they would be like on my return flight with all the goodies that I was already dreaming of bringing back…

My good friend, also named Philippe, met me at the airport. He would be an “accomplice” to my master plan of dining at amazing restaurants for lunch and dinner (sometimes twice for dinner) for the 5 days I spent in Paris. That sounds good now but $12,000 later and maybe a couple of pounds heavier… well; there will be more on that later. Anyway, Philippe picked me up at the Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris and drove me to the Orly airport 30 miles away from there on the south side of Paris. There I finally got something to eat. A chocolate tart was just enough to tide me over for the next flight to the south of France.  My flight arrived in Perpignan around 2pm. The sun was shining with only 70⁰ outside, it was beautiful.

The streets of Perpignan
Sunday afternoon

I arrived at my hotel to find that my room had already been stocked with tons of information about the Master Chef of France conference, not to mention gifts such as a beautiful box of chocolates, sea salt, olive oil and vinegar.  As I read the packets of information, it hit me.

I. Am. A Master Chef of France!

Now I finally FELT it. But it really was not until later that night that it started to sink in…

After I unpacked I took some time to walk around the old center of town. I was alone at the time just to sit and have a coffee and think about the week that was coming. My week was planned with every little detail in place and there was no room for error.  As I sat and thought, I could feel like it was like the calm before the storm.

Back at the hotel, I got ready for the first activity with the other Chefs. I buttoned my white Chef’s jacket and headed out with my Imagine Houston book in hand. Outside the hotel, a small group of other “white jackets” were gathered together. I made my way over to them at the same time a small bus drove up carrying even more dressed in white jackets. We all filed into the bus one after the other. It was funny to see all of us together. We were just missing our tall white “toques”!

We arrived at the Exposition Center of Perpignan that was just 5 minutes away. I was excited to meet my new colleagues and especially the new president of the association, Chef Christian Tetedoie. There were about 20 journalists and photographers following the president around all night so it was hard to catch him. Once I did, I told him all about Houston, what a great city it is and how Philippe Restaurant has been so successful there (thanks to all of you). I presented him with the amazing book of images and he even asked to do a Master Chef of France event here sometime. I said “yes” immediately but then later thought “Oh my god. What have I gotten myself into?”

Me with the president, Chef Christian Tetedoie
offering the Imagine Houston book

Later in the evening I ran into Gerard Come, I worked for him in Holland in the early stages of my career. I knew he was a Master Chef, so I wasn’t surprised to see him there but he didn’t realize that I was new to the group. This was a great reunion for both of us!

The evening was catered by the Toques Blanches de Roussillon. They had prepared an amazing cocktail dinner with specialties from the south of France such as escargot in an egg shell closed with puff pastry and served in a small metal basket. There was also foie gras and magret wrapped with Jubugo – aged ham from Spain, pea soup with a creamy foam, tuile of toasted bread and shaved carrot and a large (and long) selection of cheeses.

I also tried a delicious sweet dessert wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Rivesaltes. It is a white wine fortified with brandy and it goes great with cheese or a light dessert.

escargot in an egg shell closed with puff pastry
pea soup
foie gras + magret wrapped with Jubugo ham
cheese selection
sweet dessert wine

I was so tired by the end of the evening. I had been up for at least 48 hours! It was time to finally get some rest and get ready for the next day of the trip…

French lesson of the day: Je souffre de la fatigue due au décalage horaire!

Translation: I suffer from jet lag!

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