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. To start from the beginning, click here. Enjoy!
On Friday evening I met up with Manuel and Philippe Pantoli at the Maison Blanche (White House) for pre-dinner drinks. It is a great place: it is a Michelin starred restaurant (from the famous Pourcel Brothers), a bar and a night club (only weekends) all in one location.
Unfortunately no one was there, so we just had a quick drink and then went to George V where we had heard there was a young Meilleur Ouvrier de France* working at the bar who we wanted to see in action. The hotel was very extravagant and lavish and as you may know, this is where a lot of celebrities stay when they are in Paris. So it is easy to understand why it is so luxurious and why the staff is so attentive. It is really quite impressive.
The bar was low-lit and intimate. The bartenders wore suits and ties, very classy but very uncomfortable for doing their job I would imagine. There seemed to be a lot American clientele; and after about 10 minutes we were able to secure a seat at the bar. That is when we got to speak to the famous barman himself! We had a nice discussion and he explained that there are 7 steps to passing the MOF barman competition. This is what I remember from what he told us:
- Champagne service along with a taste test and knowledge test
- The repetition of making the same cocktail several times in the row, to challenge your consistency
- An Iron Chef style test where you are given unknown ingredients and from them you must make an interesting cocktail
- General knowledge of world and current events so that you can have conversation with the clients
- Marketing and PR skills to see if you know how to sell the drinks and yourself as well
- A test about ingredients so you can talk about each component of a cocktail but also so you know how to create new cocktails with knowledge of all liquors, fruits, etc
- A blind tasting of coffee!
He gave us a lot of information and even offered to buy us a drink. Too bad we refused because we later found out that just one drink cost 28€ (about $35)! He even told us that some of his inspiration comes from the chef of Alinea in Chicago. That is great that the chefs in the US are making a name for themselves in France too.
From George V we ran by Alcazar to see where Top Chef France is filmed. Our trip there was quick because the finalists were busy filming at that time. We did however get to see a bit of the Latin Quarter which is an area where a lot of students find cheap places to stay during their studies. These rooms are usually located on the top floor of a building (up six flights of stairs, no elevator). They are called a chambre de bonne (a maid’s room). Because of all the students it is a very vibrant part of the city with shopping and a large fountain that is used as a meeting point for tourists and locals alike. There are tons of Greek gyro shops and book stores and the restaurant Cagna where I worked for a couple years many years ago…
When we arrived at our final destination, the restaurant Agape Substance, I was a little surprised. From the outside it looks just like a white storefront with frosted windows. Once inside, it is very small but with mirrors on every side which makes it look larger than it really is. There was one long communal table and one menu: 12 courses for 95€. It was definitely interesting…
I had originally wanted to go to L’Astrance which is a 3-starred Michelin restaurant. Philippe Pantoli told me that the old sous-chef of L’Astrance had a couple of restaurants now and that we should check them out instead.
They presented us with several little dishes, each using new tendencies and methods, lots of molecular cooking. I am not sure this concept would work just anywhere. I feel like a lot of people still want a real appetizer, a main course and a dessert to have what they may consider a balanced meal. It was worth the trip and to see what such a young chef is creating in Paris. It was also interesting to see that the Chef’s were firing off each course themselves as they could see when each person was finished with their dish by way of the mirrored ceiling!
After our meal, it was time to part ways with Philippe Pantoli. So, Manuel and I continued the adventure and made our way to Buddha Bar to have our last drink. We were able to see it in a different light since it was really busy on a Friday night compared to our last visit on a Wednesday evening. Here we got to see another bartender in action (see video below). After Buddha Bar, we were done for the evening. Another adventure-filled day to reflect upon…
This was our last evening together in Paris with Manuel but we had one more meal to discover. Make our Saturday lunch at a place that needs no introduction…
*I mentioned this title yesterday; it is the Best Craftsman of France Award.
French lesson of the day: 28 Euros pour un cocktail? Vous êtes sur Monsieur?!
Translation: 28 Euros for a cocktail? Sir, are you sure?!