Tell Luc Besson I was here

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!

The morning started off slow, thanks to the cocktails from the night before. While I did not have a hangover (that is not my style!), I am still not used to drinking even small amounts of alcohol. Therefore, the main side effect for me is fatigue. Despite being tired, I could not afford to slow down the pace, so Manuel and I met up in the lobby of my hotel where we picked up our tickets to the Louvre from the concierge who had already ordered our tickets.

From there, we took a taxi to the museum. We discreetly made our way past the lines and under the glass pyramids as we watched the scene of CGT (General Confederation of Labor) strikers march down the rue de Rivoli.

Once inside, we went straight to the Mona Lisa. The people at the museum were really nice and they gave us lots of information. When we went to the other side of the museum to see the temporary exposition, they even gave me permission to film and take photos! I had been looking forward to the exposition about the discoveries from the underwater excavations of the Rhone River. I was excited to see the only bust of Caesar that was done during his lifetime!

The Louvre

After our speed tourism was finished, we made our way to the Metro station. This was Manuel’s first encounter with the Paris Metro. Having lived in New York for long time, Manuel did not need any help understanding the way the system worked. He did say it was quite a bit cleaner!

We took the metro to the George V station. From there we walked to our next gastronomic adventure, Apicius.

This, by far, was my favorite meal. First of all, the setting was magical. From the street you just see a large rock wall, but once you see the gated entrance, you can see a lush green lawn leading up to a large manor house in the background.  When we arrived, a guest was sitting out on the patio enjoying the nice spring weather.

The “hotel particulier“ where Apicius is located on the ground floor is owned by the film producer Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element, The Big Blue, etc). The renowned chef, Jean-Pierre Vigato, moved his restaurant to rue Artois just 2 years ago. The building and design were elegant and modern. Even the bathroom had an interesting décor! The atmosphere was sophisticated but not stuffy. The dishes were a little bourgeois but they had character.  From the amuses bouches to the dessert (even the wine cellar), everything was well executed for the restaurant’s clientele that was probably 70% Parisien.

The only inconvenience was the price – that was another bill that was difficult to digest!

amuses bouches

light seafood soup with toast

crusted paté

carpaccio of scallops and oysters with purified sea water

spring vegetables with mascarpone and parmesan

foie gras

frog legs

John Dory

pigeon napoleon with filo dough, ginger-quince chutney

tete de veau

serious butter and knife – look how huge this is!

peach melba

citrus terrine with sorbet mandarin

chocolate trio

petits fours

After Apicius, we made our way to the Galerie Lafayette and Beau Brumel. I was amazed at the number of tourists there despite the bad economy. I guess Paris is always packed whatever the world economic situation – even all the hotels in the area we stayed were booked solid! At the department store, we found some dishes, spices, photos and some souvenirs. After our shopping spree, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for an evening at the long awaited restaurant of Jean-Francois Piege.  Check back tomorrow to hear if it was worth the wait!

French lesson of the day: Avoir la gueule du bois.

Translation (Figurative): To have a hangover.

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If “marathon dining” was a sport, I would be the coach!

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!

Manuel and I met up just outside my hotel after our already full day of food, shopping and sightseeing. Now we were back to the eating part again. This time we had 2 restaurants reserved back to back. The idea was to have the starter course at one and then the main course and dessert at the second one.  It did not quite happen like that…

We started off by arranging to meet up with Philippe Pantoli at 39 V (one of the new restaurants from Ducasse’s empire). It is located at number 39, avenue George V…  As we searched for the entrance, Philippe walked up. He said to follow him around the corner. We walked into the archway of what looked like a residential building on rue Quentin-Bauchart!

entrance from the street

From there, we went through a side door where we were greeted by a hostess. She showed us to a small door that was actually an elevator. So far, this experience seemed like we were walking into a dream world. Well, it was almost the case because when we stepped out of the elevator into the restaurant on the building’s top floor, we were met by an attentive staff and a warm and welcoming décor. We decided to first have a cocktail on the terrace where we ended up staying for a while before moving to the adjacent dining room that was separated from the patio by a wall of transparent glass doors. From there we could see that the restaurant circled around the building as we could make out tall white hats scurrying around back and forth. That is when we realized that the windowed area in front of us was actually the kitchen!

Sitting on the patio with a drink in hand, this was another one of those few moments that I actually felt relaxed. I tried to take it in while we sipped our cocktails and sampled some of the delicious cured Spanish ham that Philippe Pantoli sells to them. Philippe explained that this ham is like “caviar with 4 legs” and that you must show a lot of respect in how it is presented and served. Fortunately he was happy with the presentation!

multi-tasking as usual, every second counts… where is my Verizon 4G LTE?

cured Spanish ham – the 4 legged caviar!

We did not take long to decide on our first dishes of the evening. There were eggs poached with asparagus (asparagus was all over Paris by the way), lobster with pearl vegetables and endive 3 ways.  I was surprised to still see endive on the menu since it is more of a winter vegetable. All the dishes were precise and well executed (Ducasse style of course).

foie gras ravioli, lobster consommé

slow poached eggs with asparagus 3 ways

bass with trio of endive

John Dory a la plancha with asparagus

lobster with pearled vegetables

At one point in the dinner, the chef came to greet us at our table. His name is Frederic Vardon, he was one of the soldiers of Ducasse for 14 years, traveling and working in some of the best restaurants around the world.

We ended up eating an appetizer and a main course. We avoided the dessert but forced ourselves to taste the cheese. The restaurant had the only female sommelier that we saw on our trip. She was really good and suggested a lovely wine. You could tell that she knew her stuff but our Vanessa Trevino-Boyd is still the best!

At 9:30 we finally left to go to Le Diane that was literally right across the street. That is right, we like to strike while the iron is hot! Le Diane is the gastronomic restaurant of the hotel Fouquet’s where Nicolas Sarkozy had his infamous celebration party after winning the French presidential elections in May 2007. Well, we shared the dining room with some similar high-rolling guests although I could tell they were neither French nor American. I am not sure what language they spoke but they were having a good time we could tell and it did not look like they were so concerned with the cost of the menu, unlike me.

I was a little shocked when I saw the details of the small but very expensive menu.  And I was a little disappointed, probably because we had already stuffed our faces at 39 V! The amuses bouches, such as tartare with avocado were not really my style; but the appetizers were great and the salmon mi-cuit was well executed. The desserts were nicely presented but the flavor was very “traditional”.

amuses bouches

salmon mi-cuit

apple napoleon

The Chef was very nice to stop by our table and say hello although he had to leave quickly for personal reasons. After the meal, the sous-Chef came by and we talked about our trip. We told him that we were looking for places to try new cocktails and he indicated 2 new “Meilleurs Ouvriers de France” barmen that worked in the area. One actually worked at the bar of Fouquet’s and the other at George V hotel.

We decided to have a drink after dinner in the lounge which was located on a beautiful outdoor patio that wrapped partway around the building. After just one drink, we decided to try the Buddha Bar back near my hotel. You have probably heard of Buddha Bar, it has been around for a while but I know they always have new cocktails and I really thought that Manuel would like it, which he did as he ended up going back several times!

There, we had some great cocktails and met a young girl that had studied at the Ecole Hoteliere in Bordeaux and was doing an internship in Paris. This is very common of people who work in the restaurant and hospitality industry to go to Paris for work. I will share more on this in a later post.

After our long discussion with the server at Buddha Bar we decided it was time to head back to our hotels and get ready for another day of activities. Instead, once I arrived at my hotel I got back on my computer to document my trip. Again I did not go to bed until 3 am…

Check back for tomorrow’s post. Our routine of eating, eating and eating gets shaken up as bit as we do some sightseeing. Do not worry, we get back to the eating after that!

French lesson of the day: Battre le fer tant qu’il est chaud.

Translation: Strike while the iron is hot.

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Fashionably late – that is my style!

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!

Wednesday morning I woke up wondering if Manuel’s flight had gone well. I was expecting a call from him to say he was at the airport but as soon as I looked at my phone, I had a text saying that he was already at his hotel! I got ready quickly, grabbed a croissant and a coffee on my way out of the hotel and rushed to meet Manuel. He was staying at a hotel just a couple of blocks from mine. Once I got there, he was already in a bit of a dilemma. The hotel had a problem with the room and needed to send Manuel to another hotel for a couple of nights. He was not having much luck. First his flight was cancelled and now there was a problem with his hotel.  Anyway, I arrived just in time to translate and explain the situation to Manuel. He was soon on his way to getting settled into a room and unpacking.

We called Philippe Pantoli to fill him in on our adventures and asked him to pick us up before heading towards the Champs Elysees.  There we had reservations at the Mini Palais. We took the roundabout at the Concorde and then headed west towards the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. If you have been to Paris then you know what an architectural treasure this area is…you might have even seen it in the Tour de France. This is also one of the most expensive shopping districts in Paris so we were not surprised to see the typical Parisian scene similar to that of New York with ladies doing their shopping on Madison Avenue. As we searched for the valet, we could see the Eiffel Tower across the Seine River.

We made our way up the steps of the Mini Palais which is a restaurant housed in a corner of the Grand Palais. When we arrived in the dining room, the hostess said, “You are late for your reservation.” I said, “No, not really.” To which she replied, “Yes, you are 25 minutes late.”

In fact, we were pretty late for our reservation. I had not realized the time but hey, we were in Paris where everyone is late, at least 15 minutes fashionably late! The hostess looked like she was trying to play tough but I could tell that she was really a sweet girl. I decided to try the charm instead of getting mad and I said with a smile and a little laugh, “Mademoiselle, I am very tired from traveling and the only thing I want to hear right now is ‘Mr. Schmit, we are happy to see you. Your table is ready.’”

At first she looked at me a little strangely and I thought maybe she took it the wrong way. Then I could see a smile starting to crack and we both started to laugh. She showed us to our table and wished us an enjoyable meal. That was the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous meal in a most unexpected setting. (Lesson in French culture: If the French try to stick it to you, then you have to stick it back to them… with humor of course! Do not let them take advantage of you!)

As Philippe and Manuel sat down to study the menu (they could only think of their stomachs at the moment), I admired the scenery.  First of all, we were seated near a widow and as you looked out you immediately saw large Roman columns with tables and chairs scattered among them. You could also see some of Paris’ most amazing architecture from where we sat.  The people ate outside and enjoyed the nice spring weather. The restaurant is one of Eric Frechon’s. He is not the actual chef there but you can tell that he is the inspiration there. The food was simple and had great flavor. It was kind of like Gordon Ramsey’s way of cooking: meat, veggies + sauce – straightforward and well executed. Where we were sitting allowed us to see many dishes go by, so now I really feel like an expert on the Mini Palais! See some of our dishes below.

sardines from Portugal – not as good as the ones that Philippe Pantoli will soon supply to Philippe Restaurant

fish carpaccio and steak tartare

blended asparagus soup with poached egg and bacon emulsion

chicken breast with potato pancake, sauteed romaine hearts and an extra side of delicious mashed potatoes

duck magret with glazed turnips + spice sauce (star anis, cumin and coriander)

baby lamb with espelette jus and mint pea puree

baba au rhum with non-sweetened Chantilly

Chocolate Jivara, caramel ice cream made with salted butter

chocolate fondant

wild strawberries

As my first encounter with the hostess predicted, we got along well with the staff here. This was in fact one of the rare restaurants that had such a welcoming staff and quite reasonable pricing I would come to realize later.

After lunch, we made our way to the Grand Epicerie. If you do not know it already, the Grand Epicerie is like an upscale Central Market. We of course wanted to buy everything in the store but settled on a couple of David Guetta signature Coca Cola bottles, a few dishes for molecular cooking (for the expert Pastry Chef in our kitchen, Jami Kling) and a chocolate croissant. We got some great ideas for bread and took a picture of the foie gras presentation. The quality of the fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese was remarkable. It is crazy to think that some Parisians do all their grocery shopping there – but it is true!

From the Grand Epicerie, we hopped in a taxi and made our way to Ile de la Cité to see Notre Dame Cathedral. There were many people outside the church taking pictures. It is amazing how we can now just snap a picture with a phone and then send it across the world in a matter of seconds. Fortunately the line was not too long so we made a quick trip through the cathedral. We wanted to cross the bridge to Ile Saint Louis and get an ice cream at the Maison Berthillion but it had just closed. Instead, we took a taxi back to the hotel but on our way, we stopped by Collette on rue Saint Honoré for my friend Catherine Moellering who is a trend forecaster in New York City for Tobe. Collette is a trendy store in Paris that sells just about everything from headphones, to clothes, to accessories, to helmets! From what I understand, it is very avant-garde and has quite an influence on upcoming trends worldwide!

Back at the hotel, we had just enough time to shower and change before saddling up for our next restaurant, the 39 V. Check back tomorrow to hear about our dining marathon (2 restaurants in one night)!

French lesson of the day: Monsieur, vous avez vingt-cinq minutes de retard!

Translation: Sir, you are twenty five minutes late!

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Feast like a King in a Parisian palace

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!

As I unpacked my things at the hotel in Paris, I thought about how after all these years living in America, I was finally keeping up with French news. However I did not expect to connect with everything considering I would be living in a bubble with my intense schedule. That is when I thought of two people that I really wish I could have seen on this trip, Sylivia and Virginie. No, it’s not what you are thinking…

Sylvia is one of my very best friends. She was a manager at La Goulue in New York after graduating from the most notorious hotel and restaurant management school in the world and located in Lausanne, Switzerland. I used to stay at her apartment during some of my trips (she lived on my favorite street in Paris, rue Mouffetard – near the Pantheon). It’s on a hill with the market and I used to walk there every morning looking at all the fresh ingredients and small kiosks.

I wish my old assistant Virginie was still in Paris too. Instead, she recently took a great job in New York City for the next two years. She would have been able to give me an additional and actual assessment on Paris.

Both of these smart, working women could have also been another source of information for Manuel since I did not want him to see Paris through only my eyes – but from actual Parisians!

Fortunately I would meet one of my good friends, Stephanie, that night who also worked at La Goulue many years ago and who has been a great source of information about many things including art – her forte. She used to run a small art gallery in NY in the past and is very much connected to young talents from Paris and France!

I snapped out of my day dream as I finished unpacking my bags. I had just enough time to run to Mama Shelter in the 20th arrondissement before meeting Philippe, Stephanie and her husband for dinner. Mama Shelter is one of those places that I’ve been hearing about for a couple of years now so I had to go, even if it was on my own in a long taxi ride across town. I had a quick (and great) cocktail at this trendy hotel and lounge that is hidden away in a completely out of sight, residential and popular part of Paris. This place is a big “bric-a-brac”, very eclectic mix of furniture; the ceiling is at a slant with all sorts of writing, it is cool and relaxing but a mess in the design. It was confusing, at least for me, but it could also be the reason why people feel comfortable in this place which seems to not care about perception! Their motto must be “You dress the way you want, and we will furnish the way we want!”

Once I had visited Mama Shelter, another Stark creation by the way, I was back in the saddle and galloping to the Shangri-la Hotel. Yes, I was already a little late for my reservation!

This place is a huge palace. The outside is almost overwhelming when you approach the entrance. It is not my taste in décor, but it is very luxurious! There are three restaurants in the hotel. We went to the gastronomic restaurant (l’Abeille), aka the most expensive…after all the reputation as we learned from Philippe Tailleur (the director of Bread and Roses) is that they give you a day to digest the food and one more day to digest the bill!! Humm, what were we in for?

Shangri-la entrance

Shangri-la staircase

Shangri-la hallway

Well, we all set down in a small and luxurious dining room. The service was a little pompous but very attentive. The food was great and beautifully presented but served warm, not hot. I learned about this technique from the Corporate Chef of Marc Veyrat (3 star Michelin in Annecy). He explained – at one of my most pleasurable dining experiences at the restaurant of Laurent Petit, Le Clos des Sens – that some restaurants are doing such special and difficult plating techniques that it became a trend to serve warm food.

We were served some extra amuse bouches before the appetizer and extras desserts with petits fours and chocolates. I guess you get a little extra with the big bill you pay in a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Paris!!

Here are a few photos of the dishes we tried and the lovely cheese chariot!

amuses bouches

salmon mi-cuit, orgeat emulsion (anise liquor)

bass with watercress sauce, granny smith apple

turbot with green strawberries

aged braised beef osso bucco in red wine sauce

cheese tray

dessert: napoleon with black truffle mushrooms, white chocolate, green apple jelly, vanilla syrup and gold leaf – $42!

chocolate trio

dessert tray

Have a great Memorial Day weekend. I will be back on Tuesday with the next post from the trip.

French lesson of the day: Quel beau plateau de fromage!

Translation: What a beautiful cheese platter!

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Timing is everything!

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!

Tuesday morning I woke up somewhat rested. No. Actually I was exhausted to tell you the truth. I had stayed up the night before until 3am sending back notes and pictures of my trip to my assistant so that she could start gather and collecting all this information. So when I woke up to my alarm I really just felt like going right back to sleep. Instead, I finished packing my bags, checked out of the hotel and caught a taxi to the Perpignan airport.

There I finally got my morning coffee. My plane was scheduled to arrive at noon and I was to meet Manuel, my sous chef, in Paris…so I thought. When my plane landed at the Orly airport I was greeted again by my friend Philippe (I told you about him previously) only he was alone. When he explained that Manuel’s flight was cancelled (he found out at the CDG airport!) my heart sank a little because I had been so excited to see him and to start showing him around Paris. I had fantasized our arrival of driving into Paris like Caesar and Maximus (reference from my favorite movie) riding in on their chariots to conquer Lutetia!! And then I realized that the schedule that I had worked so hard to plan was now thrown completely off course.

As you can imagine, my arrival in Paris was not the way I envisioned it many times in my head! I was finally making a dream come true by bringing Manuel to France. Many of you may not realize that Manuel and I have been working together for many years. I wanted him to see French culture and eat it too!  Now I had to make the best of my deception and move on, because I was on a mission. A mission to video, take pictures and absorb culinary inspiration for our upcoming media dinner and beyond.

We made our way to Philippe’s car. I suggested that we stick to the schedule and that we grab a bite to eat. I was starving. He agreed and we drove into Paris.

Philippe took me to my hotel, the Sofitel near the Concorde, just so that I could drop off my bags. From there, we headed to the Royal Monceau Hotel. First of all, this place is amazing. It was recently redone by Philippe Stark after a famous demolition party! Read the account from Wikipedia below:

In June 2008, the entire furniture of the hotel was put up for auction. This auction sale, carried out by Cornette de Saint-Cyr, yielded 3,3 million euros. On June 26, 2008, A “Demolition Party” was organized in order to celebrate the beginning of the construction work ; 1500 people turned up and, led all along by construction workers, watched live performances by various artists (fluorescent wood installation in the lobby, screening of a movie directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, live production of a short movie directed by Olivier Dahan, gigs…)

The significant renovation works started the very next day under the leadership of the renowned French designer, Philippe Starck. The extensive works were finished in the autumn of 2010, and the hotel re-opened on October 18, 2010. The luxury hotel now includes 149 bedrooms – instead of 260 – of which 61 suites and 3 prestige apartments (located in the attached building, 41 avenue Hoche, now part of the luxury hotel), a 1500 square meters spa with a 26 meters long pool.

Well, once we were seated at the bar I ordered my lunch. I had (don’t laugh)… a burger! I know, I did not fly all the way to Paris to eat a burger especially when I know that the best burgers are in the States (in Texas should I say?)! But after being so tired and traveling so much, that’s what sounded good. Plus I wanted to see how they do burgers in Paris especially at a place like Royal Monceau! Well, here’s how it’s done: with a “basket” of fries and 3 sauces.

burger + 3 dipping sauces

Philippe’s beer – I do not like beer but I liked the bottle!

After lunch Philippe suggested we attend a wine tasting of rosé wines. It was at the Ritz so why would I refuse such an offer?

rosé wine at the Ritz tasting

The Ritz hotel

After the wine tasting, I had just enough time to mail some postcards to our media contacts for a media wine dinner we had planned for my return and to buy another memory card for my camera. Then I headed back to the hotel to unpack and get ready for the evening activities.

Unfortunately I had to start without Manuel, but check back tomorrow to see where my culinary adventures in Paris really began.

French lesson of the day: Nous allons à une dégustation de vins rosés.

Translation: We are going to a wine tasting of rosé wines.

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A Night to Remember

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!

So yesterday I told you about my friend Lionel that drove into Perpignan as I was finishing lunch at La Villa Duflot. We were planning to meet up in the city but my lunch had been moved to a location 20 minutes outside of Perpignan. I was also planning to meet with a French chef – Cedric – that had contacted me through Facebook and who is interested in working in the US. All three of us needed to meet but we were in 3 different places. So what did I do? I called Cedric and asked if he could pick up Lionel at the hotel and then come to the resort on the coast to meet me. The suggestion wasn’t that bad considering the fancy location and great weather. Later I realized what a crazy idea it really was because I did not even know Cedric! He could have turned out to be some lunatic! Fortunately he was a nice guy and after our visit he took both Lionel and me back to the hotel in Perpignan.

Fast forward to that night, Monday night. We had just been informed that morning that we needed to come dressed to the gala in a suit and tie. At the last minute, I had to iron a shirt and let me tell you, I’m not the ironing king! I got myself ready for the evening festivities and brought along another white chef’s jacket. It’s a good thing that I brought 3 of them with me on my trip! Lionel came as my guest and was my faithful cameraman throughout the night, helping me record this special moment.

I’m in!

When we arrived, the room was set for the party. The funny thing is that the ceremony took place in a church (again, only in France!).  Everything was in place and ready to go; and fortunately we got business out of the way first. They called all the Master Chefs on stage one by one to shake hands with the president and get our picture taken as we were presented our certificates. Once that was behind us, we were able to concentrate on my favorite part again…the food!

Here are some of the delicious dishes we were served:

lobster with pea puree

veal wellington revisited with truffle and foie gras

sheep cheese, ice cream parfait with creme fraiche, red currant jelly and blueberry coulis

dessert from the World Champion Pastry Chef – passion fruit mousse, sponge cake, Chantilly and topped with biscuit crumbs, a sugar tuile and fresh red currant

sweet amber wine

Once the party died down, I decided to head back to the hotel because I still had work to do. I stayed up late sending updates and photos about my trip back to my assistant in Houston-again.

Finally at 3am, I decided that I had to get some rest before my trip back to Paris the next day. I mentioned yesterday that my schedule was very detailed. So far, everything was going as planned and I was on schedule. If one thing went wrong though then it would “thow sand in the gears” and mess up everything…I did not know what was waiting for me the next day.

French lesson of the day: Mettre un grain de sable dans l’engrenage

Translation: To throw sand in the gears

 

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Oh merde, I forgot my Chef’s hat!

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.

Master Chef of France International General Assembly

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.

products from Languedoc-Roussillon

chroizo gazpacho

niçoise tart with sardines

Jubugo ham

gambas a la plancha

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.

Patrick Ponsaty, 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.

codfish on a flaky pastry with pig feet and garlic confit

lunch setting

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!

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