Postcards from Paris

I left off my last blog entry saying that I might be tired and poor after my trip, but that I was happy to be back home!  My bank account did suffer a bit but I was extremely happy to be home and ready to share all that I had seen and learned on my trip. I was inspired to bring new flavors back from France and what better way to do that than with a tasting dinner. I decided to invite a few press contacts and let them taste some of the great flavors that I was bringing home to Houston. Each dish was like a culinary “postcard” sent directly from France via our kitchen! You might recognize some dishes that we have since done as specials or have incorporated in our menu at Philippe Restaurant + Lounge.

I’ll let the video below do more explaining.  Enjoy!

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Flashback to Paris

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!

While there is nothing better than finally resting in province for a few days, I did not make this trip just to be on vacation! On Tuesday morning I woke up to get ready for my trip back to Paris. I said goodbye to my family and got back on the regional train to Lyon and then the fast train (the TGV) to Paris. I was in Paris around 5pm. I did some shopping and bought some slate plates and a summer suit. I needed a new suit for the fundraising and social events in Houston! Unfortunately, my budget was very small after spending so much on restaurants.

After dropping off my goodies at the hotel, I met up with Philippe Pantoli for one last round. This time it was at Le Petit Pergolese. This is the restaurant of Albert Corre one of my colleagues at the restaurant of Jacques Cagna many years ago. Albert has the most amazing resume of anyone I have ever seen with all the Michelin starred restaurants he has worked in.  It was nice to see him again along with the work he is doing. It is like a modern bisto with a very nice, loyal clientele. The food is good, strait forward and affordable. Albert does not mince words and he told me about the high taxes he was paying on another 1-star Michelin restaurant that he ended up selling to focus on his smaller restaurant. He is glad that he made the change so he can spend time with his girlfriend and their new baby.

I thought about how it had been a long time since we were partners in crime, going to night clubs in Paris on just a small budget. Although we worked in a great restaurant at the time, it did not pay well! After Cagna, Albert went to work for Robuchon and I went to Carre des Feuillants.

After our diner at Le Petit Pergolese, Philippe encouraged me to go to Hotel Costes. I explained the problem we had with Manuel but he was sure he could get us in. In fact he did and I finally got to see the crowd that was there. The people were handsome and pretty but they were not very helpful or smiling. It was there that we finally saw some “Top Chefs.” I had just been watching the show the night before on TV. At one point I turned around and there were the two finalists living their 15 minutes of fame!
After a quick drink, we met the chef of Costes in another restaurant. He was having dinner with the owner of the restaurant who knew Gilbert Lecoze (the owner of Le Bernardin who passed away 18 years ago).

When I got back to the hotel it was already late and I still had to pack for my flight leaving the next morning. Once I started packing and my suitcase got fuller and fuller, I started to get a little worried. Then as I tried to close the suitcase and the zipper started to break, I got really worried. I finally figured out a way to close my luggage without causing permanent damage. What I did not realize it that while I sat on my suitcase to make it close, I also ended up breaking a gift plate that I received at the Master Chef ceremony! That was not the end of my troubles because at the airport I was running around like a crazy person with all my luggage…

Fortunately, after arriving in Houston the customs people did not bother me; and I made it back with everything else intact. It was difficult traveling with so much stuff but it was worth it once I got back home to Houston. I may be tired and poor from my trip🙂 but I’m happy to be back home!

French lesson of the day: “Les voyages forment la jeunesse”… si les baggages ne sont trop lourd!

Translation (figurative): “Travel broadens the mind”…and the shoulders if the luggage is not too heavy.

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Robuchon, a Chef with no need for an introduction

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!

Saturday morning we went to the Marais by taxi* to do some window shopping.  We stopped and bought some dried sausage for Manuel (it was later confiscated). After the Mariais, I went back to my hotel for my bags. We had one last meal with Manuel and then I had to catch a train to Roanne, near Lyon.

Once I had my suitcase and checked out of the hotel (just for a few days because I was coming back to spend my last night in Paris), I met up with Manuel and Ines Pantoli for lunch. Ines is Philippe Pantoli’s daughter and she used to work with us at Philippe Restaurant last year. Lunch was located at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the 7th arrondissement.  This was again, one of my favorite meals even though I’ve already been there at least 3 times. It is really a top level cuisine, especially for the price. It is well executed and the portions are perfect. This was my last stop before heading to Roanne to spend some time with my family so I actually relaxed a minute and appreciated the moment.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon has quite a different ambiance then any of the other restaurants we dined at. The décor is all black and red,from the tables and chairs to the plates and napkins. The kitchen is centrally located with a bar wrapped around it. The servers are between the kitchen and the bar (see video below). It is pretty amazing because you can actually see the chefs cooking in the kitchen.

With Chef Robuchon, the food always has a creative presentation. He has a “recipe for success” with his precision in mixing flavors, seasoning, and contrast of texture, perfect cooking temperature all within a chic and casual atmosphere.

After lunch, we said our goodbyes and I caught a taxi for the Gare de Lyon. I hopped on the TGV train (fast speed train) and settled in for a nap. Once in Lyon, I changed trains. This was a regional train and it was much slower. I enjoyed watching the countryside and looked forward to seeing my family again. When I arrived, I was so glad to see everyone but I was so tired from my last few days in Paris. Fortunately over the next few days I had time to rest and visit with family. We even celebrated my Mom’s birthday on Sunday. Tuesday rolled around before I knew it and I was off again to Paris. I had one more night in the city and one last meal to conquer… Check back tomorrow to hear about the final moments of my trip.

* This must have been the taxi driver that I gave my business card to. After I got home to Houston, someone from Dallas contacted me to say that they would be dining at Philippe Restaurant while in Houston…it had been recommended by their taxi driver while on a recent trip to Paris! What great PR for us!

French lesson of the day: Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point.

Translation: There’s no point in running; you have to leave on time. The equivalent English proverb is “Slow and steady wins the race.”

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Last Tango in Paris

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:

  1. Champagne service along with a taste test and knowledge test
  2. The repetition of making the same cocktail several times in the row, to challenge your consistency
  3. An Iron Chef style test where you are given unknown ingredients and from them you must make an interesting cocktail
  4. General knowledge of world and current events so that you can have conversation with the clients
  5. Marketing and PR skills to see if you know how to sell the drinks and yourself as well
  6. 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
  7. 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…

Facade

inside Agape Substance

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!

slow poached egg, corn puree

pigeon, potato filled with aioli-type sauce

lightly baked sea urchin

poached egg with foie gras and smoked potato broth

root vegetables, salad and herbs, olive oil powder

pea soup

crunchy salad with fresh herbs

sponge cake

calamari

fish cooked sous-vide, watercress sauce

smoked eel in squid ink sauce

dry pear with sorbet and crumble cookie

light mousse-type passion fruit, ice cream and crispy meringue

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?!

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Planet Marx

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!

I slept in on Friday morning since we had been up the night before until 4:30am visiting the market at Rungis. Fortunately, we didn’t have a reservation until 12:30 at our next highlight of the trip, the restaurant of Thierry Marx, Sur Mesure. It is located in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel which is another palace similar to the Shangri-La that I had visited on Tuesday night.

Thierry Marx was just awarded 2 Michelin stars this year. He is an avant garde chef doing a lot of molecular cuisine of very high quality. He is often referred to as Planet Marx because what he does can be so “far out there.” He is also a judge of Top Chef, just like Jean-François Piège that I talked about last week.

We were seated and we chose our menus. Manuel and I each ordered a 7 course meal while Philippe Pantoli decided on just 5 courses! Only a chef of this level can dare to do something like lobster claw in squid ink making it look burned. Of course it was not. Some of the dishes were quite technical and the server had to keep going back and forth to the kitchen to make it work. I guess being such a creative chef is risky business sometimes! We also had caviar that came with a very dramatic presentation (see video below). Even our desserts were spectacular with some very elaborate presentations. Of course the wine that went with our lunch was chosen by one of the best sommeliers in France – a Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny – a wine from the grape Cabernet Franc, light bodied, savory, herbal with bright cherry notes.

lobster with squid ink crust

dessert with a little crown, now that’s elaborate!

Wine from the Loire Valley

While this was an expensive place, the portions were appropriate making for a satisfying meal. The dishes were adventurous but the food was accessible. I really enjoyed the experience! The only critic would be that despite the modern all white design, the acoustics were questionable especially if you come here to do business.

I mentioned in a previous post that it is often difficult to find work in the country regions of France, so hospitality industry workers end up going to the big cities and especially Paris to find work. This is also true for famous chefs. I have spoken to chefs over the last few years that have explained how heavy the taxes can be on their business. Some go to Paris to have a better chance of being more financially successful and having more media attention in a bigger market, while others choose to work for someone else, like for a big, luxurious hotel in the case of Thierry Marx. This allows those chefs to leave the business part to someone else while they focus on their art. They can also bring prestige to a big hotel so it works well for both parties.

After our lunch, we did some more shopping and then got ready for our last evening in Paris. Check back tomorrow to hear about my final dinner with Manuel…but not our last meal in Paris!

French lesson of the day: Parfois être chef peut être un métier à risque!

Translation: Sometimes being a chef can be risky business!

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Off to the market

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!

Thursday night of my trip, we had eaten at the restaurant of Jean-François Piège and then gone for a drink at the Kube. After that, we took a 25 minute taxi ride to Rungis so we could see the large professional market. When we arrived at 1:30 am, the doors were closed! We asked out taxi driver, Charlie, to drop us off at the fish market entry and asked if he would come back to pick us up at 4am. He gave us his number and just said to call him when we were ready to go.

Since we had to wait half an hour, we made our way to a brasserie across the street. We also asked about the market next door and when it would open. The guys next to us said they were also waiting for the market to open. So we stayed there and had coffee and croissants at 1:30am with fish mongers and butchers all waiting to get in and have first pick of the freshest products.

When the first doors opened (the fish market opened first while fruits and vegetables did not open until 4am for the meat and 5am for produce and flowers), I found that it was very different then I had imagined. This was because of the timing of our visit. We arrived before the action got started. Also you had to come in covered, wearing a long white jacket. Fortunately we were able to purchase one there because that is the last thing we would have thought to bring!

Once we got our jackets on, we headed off the see the goods. We were in the fish building. Some products like fruits and vegetables were spread out over 10 to 12 buildings! The entire complex of buildings is spread out over 570 acres.

We saw a large variety of fish and seafood: live langoustine, sea urchin and shark (see video below). After checking out tons of fish we made our way to the meats. Here again, there were aisles and aisles of fresh and cured meats, sausage, tapas, etc.

We were getting tired so we headed on over to the fruit and vegetable section. They were just opening so we only got to see a bit of the selection. The little that we saw was incredible, but we just could not take it anymore. By that time it was 3:30 or 4 in the morning and we had to get back to our hotels for some rest. We called our trusted taxi driver Charlie and he came to pick us up.

He returned us safely to the center of Paris. That night – or morning should I say – I did not hesitate to do anything else except find my bed and crash!

Check back tomorrow, we get back to our favorite passed time: eating!

French lesson of the day: Charlie, pouvez-vous revenir nous chercher a 4 heures du matin?

Translation: Charlie, can you come back to pick us up at 4 in the morning?

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Top Chef judge M.I.A. from his restaurant…

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!

Well, after an exceptional lunch at Apicius and some afternoon shopping at the chic Galerie Lafayette, I was excited to get to our dinner at the restaurant of Chef Jean-François Piège. Getting a reservation was not easy: you had to call exactly 2 weeks before the date you wanted to book. So I called, at 9 am (so 2 am Texas time!) as instructed on March 15 for a reservation on the 29th. I had recently seen some creations by the chef in my Thuries magazine. There seemed to be a lot of buzz around his new place that is upstairs from his more casual brasserie and that was designed by the famous India Mahdavi. It is set in what looks like someone’s apartment.

interior

Maybe my expectations were too high – I was in fact expecting perfection – because I was a bit disappointed with our meal. Chef Piège comes from the ranks of Ducasse so I know he is talented. He is in fact one of his most famous chefs as he is known for his collaboration with Ducasse on writing several important culinary bibles: Le Grande Livre de Cuisine, Bistro, Brasseries et Restaurants de TraditionDesserts and Pastries and others.

However like many restaurant patrons, my experience started when we walked up the stairs to the second floor dining room. The hostess seemed a little cold and it did not quite set a relaxed mood for us.

Then we were seated in what seemed like a very intimate table. I might have enjoyed it more if I was on a date but dining with my sous-chef Manuel in this low-lit (you will see later that it was not good for taking pictures), romantic setting just did not do it for me!! All joking aside, the seating felt a little strange. I think that the well-educated Houston diners would agree and come to the same conclusion as me: the tables were too spread out and isolated in this small place making it hard to get the overall feel of the restaurant.

I wish the chef had been there, maybe I would have understood things better with his explanation. He had a good excuse because he was judging the French Top Chef competition. In fact, I later saw him in action on TV and he was amazing. He was very articulate in giving precise feedback to each participant. He was able to verbally express his vision and philosophy about food which was really amazing to watch.

While the ambiance impacted our overall experience, the flavors* of our dishes were rather exceptional. To start, Manuel had the lobster Thai style with fresh coconut and cilantro. The broth had a pure clean savory flavor of lobster and was sweet at the same time but the flavors blended well, neither one was too overpowering. I had the bass with baby vegetables with carrots, fresh herbs, carrot dust and watercress pesto underneath.

lobster

bass with baby vegetables

Following our appetizers, we had the choice of one meat that would be interpreted 2 ways by the chef. Manuel’s first dish was a homemade spicy sausage with cumin harissa broth and couscous made of broccoli, cauliflower, mint and parsley. I was amazed that there was no grain at all in the dish but had the same texture and taste of couscous. My first dish was chicken ravioli in a light broth.

Manuel’s second dish was a lamb loin sous-vide with celery sous-vide and a ragout of carrots and beans. It was a little spicy; it must have been made with espelette. My second dish was chicken sous-vide and crayfish. It was a revisited classic of “poulet ecrivisse”. It also had a crayfish sauce and a seaweed tuile.

Sous-vide is a slow cooking technique at a low temperature. It allows the meat or fish to cook evenly and stay juicier. It also keeps the original color of ingredients but this can give the impression that the meat is not cooked and so people might not like this aspect.

spicy sausage

chicken ravioli

lamb loin

poulet ecrevisse

The desserts were the highlight. They were very well executed. There were actually 3 small desserts: a macaroon type meringue filled with a creamy berry Chantilly (it had a creamy yogurt texture), a sorell granita (kind of like an herbed icy sorbet) and a very light blanc manger (you can try our version from our Pastry Chef Jami Kling at Philippe Restaurant + Lounge).

desserts

Since we did not finish up that late we decided to try out a bar that I had been to a few years ago, the Kube. That is where I had seen the bags for keeping wine bottles cool back in 2010 and where I had some amazing cocktails. Unfortunately it was completely dead because it was already after midnight! We had a quick drink but did not stay long because that night we planned to stay up all night. No, we were not planning on going to a discotheque…we had plans to go to the huge professional market in Rungis.

After our drink, we caught a taxi that took us to Rungis. We got there at 1:30 am only to find the doors locked! Check back next week to find out what we did…

French lesson of the day (I am always making sure this does not happen to me!): Rouler quelqu’un dans la farine.

Translation (figurative): To pull the wool over someone’s eyes.

* I apologize, I could not take any notes and my account is from what I remember. Therefore I might not be 100% accurate in detailing the ingredients of each dish.

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