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!
After my arrival in Perpignan and all the events of my first evening back in France, it was difficult waking up on Monday morning at 7:15 when it is 1:15 a.m. in Houston. Plus, I had not gone to bed immediately. Instead I stayed up trying to send pictures and details of the event by email back to my assistant in Houston! I ended up sleeping just a few hours. Still I managed to pull myself out of bed, get dressed and go downstairs for an early breakfast.
Then I was back on the bus and off to La Villa Duflot about 20 minutes outside of Perpignan, on the coast. If you read yesterday’s entry, you saw that a bus was scheduled to come pick us up for our different events. You could easily spot the chefs since we were always dressed in our white chef’s jackets. Well, this time all the white jackets on the bus were accompanied with a white toque as well! Where do you ever see this many chef’s together other than France?
The schedule of the day included the General Assembly of all Master Chef’s of France from across the globe. This was our chance to all get together and discuss various matters of the organization like the budget, what happened last year and our participation with the French Red Cross.
We also had the honor of hearing Michael Ellis, the Director of the Michelin guide book. After about 4 hours of the generally assemble (we did have one short coffee break) we were ready to move around a bit and hopefully get something to eat. We knew lunch was coming and that it would be specialties from the Basque region (the Southwest part of France). The surprise was the location!
After the general assembly, the group left the meeting rooms and walked around the building to the entrance of the hotel restaurant. We walked through the restaurant towards large glass doors that framed an outdoor area – I could not see well because of the crowd in front of me. Once our group started to spill out onto the terrace, I could see the clear, bright blue pool in the background. Around the pool was a lush, green lawn and spread out around the lawn were small bite “stations”. But before we could dive into the dishes, we took a picture of all of us together for the Master Chef of France blog.
At last, we were free to roam the lawn. As I approached each food station I was more and more impressed and amazed with the quality of the ingredients. It was evident that the foie gras and the caviar were top quality. There was also duck magret, gambas a la plancha, Spanish ham from Jubugo, nicoise tart with sardines and chorizo gazpacho. Considering the number of passed hors d’oeuvres and stations, I thought this was lunch. I did not hesitate to try everything (no, I am not exaggerating). I had at least one of each small bite and even went back for a few second helpings.
We also had some great conversations with Chefs like the culinary school owner from Chili, Gerard Come that I told you about yesterday and Olivier Dubreuil, one of the “Hottest Chefs” in Las Vegas. I really hit it off with my other American counterparts as well: Patrick Ponsaty and Didier Lailheuge.
I was starting to feel full when an announcement was made that we were to meet on the patio by the pool where lunch was being served! Oh my gosh, this was just the appetizer!
When I sat down for the meal I was a little embarrassed since I wasn’t hungry anymore (actually I was stuffed!). But then again, I could not refuse to eat. The main course was codfish on a brick packet of pig feet with garlic confit. Then there was a cheese course followed by dessert: gratin of red fruits and a hibiscus sorbet. The sorbet was floral and delicate, a perfect fit for the location.
As our lunch that was prepared by Chef Michel Vedrines was winding down, I got a call from my friend Lionel who had just driven into town from Montelimar. If you read my blog that I wrote for the Chronicle in 2007 then you will remember Lionel. Remember the late night dinners at his house in his home town of Montilimar and when we cooked an entire lamb? Well that is the Lionel that came to meet me in Perpignan.
When he called, he was just driving up to the hotel. He did not know yet that I was another 20 minutes away from Perpignan. That is when I had a great idea. Check back in tomorrow to hear about how I got Lionel to La Villa Duflot!
French lesson of the day: J’ai trop mangé ce midi!
Translation: I ate too much at noon!