That Which We Call a Mushroom

Passard_garden_cepe_1

Boletus edulis. Commonly known as Cèpe or Porcini.

Found Wednesday evening, 03 October 2006, somewhere in France.

Delivered Thursday morning, 04 October 2006, to L'Arpège, Paris.

Chateau Alone

After another perfect day in Arpege's potager paradise, a weird thing's happened to me here at the chateau.

I've been left alone.

The other nights, I've had two chateau-mates: the resident Madame Bacharach, who actually sold the grounds to Alain Passard, and Jean-Baptiste, one of the gardeners. J-B - pronounced GEE-bay in French - is a 21-year-old perpetually happy dreadlocked blond who used to be the head gardener at the chef's other nearby garden, but now lives and works here. Tonight he's gone to visit his mother who lives about 30 km away. I'm not sure where Madame Bacharach has gone.

I have to admit that a moment of panic set in - not so much about being left Chateau Alone - but about what I was going to have for dinner. The six gardeners and I polished off the family meal mushrooms at lunch. G-B and I ate about a quarter of them ourselves last night for dinner - just sauteed in salted butter, over riz de Camargue.

There are of course fields full of beautiful fruits, vegetables, and herbs just steps away, but I don't want to accidentally pick the one beet that they've been waiting all summer to mature. There are also filled crates tucked under the trees near the chateau, but some have been set aside for seeds for next year. But the baskets in the kitchen and dining room have been fair game. I've pulled some young leeks - to me, the most French speaking of all vegetables; tiny onions, a Purple Haze carrot - purple on the outside and orange on the inside; black cherry tomatoes; and a small Arpege beet. I found some couscous in the cabinet, Oliviers & Co. organic olive oil, fleur de sel, and a jar/vase of fresh flat-parsley. For dessert I'll have an apple that was grown espalier around the herb garden. J-B also left a half-bottle of his friend's organic red wine.

I think I won't go hungry.

I was just on the phone with my sister Annie and I told her that I'd thought about not posting that I was alone - you know, just to be safe. But then I thought, if someone reading this blog tonight were to make their way all the way out here, I would be so impressed. But you should really email me first because I am armed with kitchen knives and the chateau's rifle - and I do know how to use them. I'd hate to mistakenly take out a well-meaning visiting reader.

Field of Dreams

I'm going to tell you a secret about L'Arpege that even Alain Passard doesn't know yet. Tomorrow morning he's going to receive two flats of the most exquisite cepes that he has ever seen.

Sylvain, his head gardener, and I just got back from a walk in the forest. We started out with an empty wire basket lined with brown tissue paper. "For hope," he said. We had worked in the cold rain all day, so we had the right to be hopeful. But in the first clearing, Sylvain pointed out sliced bases and cast-off trimmings - signs of a forager before us. Undeterred, he picked a few himself. "These are a little old, but they'll do." He placed each find cap-side down in our basket. "See how the gills bruise blue when you touch it?" I've read about it but have never actually done it - in fact this was my first mushroom hunt ever. He covered the cut stems by sweeping leaves and grass over them with his boot. "Always cover your tracks," he said, "so people don't know you've been here."

We pressed on to another clearing. Finally Sylvain somehow spotted a tiny, but perfect cepe. "This is extradordinary - it's so fresh - it's from today. The chef calls this un bouchon de Champagne." And it did look just like a Champagne cork, with a bulbous stem larger than its little head. And then he spotted a whole cluster. And then another. And another. Two unbelievable hours and about 10 kilos later, Sylvain filled our basket with cepes so exceptional that he says it happens maybe once a decade.

We just finished sorting the best specimens for the restaurant - exquisitely beautiful and with forest-fresh firm stems. The rest we're eating ourselves - tonight for dinner, tomorrow for lunch - I wonder if I'll be tired of cepes by dinner tomorrow night?

Only one way to find out.

Le Potager d'Alain Passard

This summer, after a giddy, joyful lunch at L'Arpege in Paris, I told Michelin three star chef/owner Alain Passard how disappointed I was to have not had time to visit his garden during my trip. He grabbed me by the arm and stared into my eyes. "Louisa," he said in his intense French, "The next time you come back to France, you must visit the garden." I nodded, smiling, still glowing from the meal. "But you must stay three days," he said, then added, "And you can stay at my house."

You don't say.

L'Arpege currently serves the single most expensive set menu in Paris. With the current exchange rate, that price hovers around 500 dollars per person. That's for food alone - there's no wine, coffee, or even a glass of mineral water included.

So I'm thinking, this is going to be sweet.

Alain Passard's garden supplies some of the finest rare and heirloom vegetables, some varieties unavailable anywhere else in the world, exclusively to the restaurant. Every morning, the day's pick goes out to Paris by TGV - just an hour by high-speed train.

And remember this kitchen garden - or potager - was the inspiration for the chef's temporary/ephemeral restaurant Vegetable last year.

I had visions of an Arpege in the country - but a bed and breakfast version. And then when I heard the house is actually a chateau, I wondered if I should bring nicer dinner clothes.

Continue reading "Le Potager d'Alain Passard" »

Pierre Herme Desires - 2005 Autumn/Winter Collection

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Pierre Herme launched the Autumn/Winter Collection of his 2005 Desires line this past Thursday. In an unprecedented move since he started the revolutionary cake-/cat-walk in 1999, PH previewed his coveted sweets to the worldwide press not in Paris but Tokyo the preceding Monday.

On opening day, Clotilde and I diligently tasted four of the latest creations: the Dune, an Emotion Mahogany, the Instant, and a Plenitude macaron. On Saturday I went back with friends Liz and Leah and we had one other new item: the Emotion Orientale. Lest you fear we were deprived, we also had the classic Ispahan, Plenitude, a macaron with milk chocolate and passionfruit - which Leah declares as "the perfect fruit", the olive oil and vanilla macaron, and Jeffrey Steingarten's favourite white truffle and hazelnut macaron - just back in season.

Both days we set up our precision mobile pastry-tasting unit at the sidewalk tables of Cafe de la Mairie - the legendary low-key Left Bank literary cafe - which you may also remember as an Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations location. A drink buys you a prime patch of Paris real-estate for as long as you like.

Below is a snapshot tour of the new pieces available last week in the flagship boutique on rue Bonaparte - handily flagged with the season's signature blue. As always you can click on each photo to enlarge.

Above is the Surprise Yu. The official description says it's "crisp meringue, stewed and raw apples with yuzu, mousseline cream with yuzu."
And the official Pierre Herme tasting notes say it's "a cake like bonbon that contrasts tartness and sweetness. The acid taste of the apples is reinforced by yuzu juice with bitter mandarin orange and lime. The slightly buttery taste of the cream competes elegantly with the crispy texture of the meringue."

Following, I'll list each new item by name, the official description, PH's tasting notes, and my own notes as applicable.

Enjoy.

Millefeuille_caramel_ph_fw_05

Millefeuille Caramel: caramelised puff pastry, marscapone cream with caramel
PH: "A pastry chef's dream?...An exercise in provocation?...the crunchy quality of the puff pastry and the creaminess of the caramel cream unite in this outrageously delectable caramel treat."

Emotion_orientale_ph_fw_05_1

Emotion Orientale: creme brulee with gingerbread, tender fruits and dates simmered in tea, lemon gelee
PH: "A colorful palette of tastes: dried or candied fruits, oranges, apricots, dates simmered in tea awakened by a touch of lemon gelee, followed by the final spicy note of creme brulee to prolong the pleasure of the taste experience."
LC: The top cover looks like foam but it's actually a thin, crispy wafer. Nice trick of the eye.. Spoon down deep and come up with tart, clean wobbly gelee - beautiful contrast to the warm tones and textures beneath. I loved that Leah loved this - because she adamantly said she's "not a pastry person"! Another convert...;)

Emotion_mahogany_ph_fw_05

Emotion Mahogany: stewed litchis, stewed mangoes, coconut dacquoise biscuit, marscapone cream with caramel
PH: "Exotic yet reassuring, this dessert composed of very distinctive flavors features caramel as a minor theme while giving free rein to fruit notes dominated by mango and litchi."
LC: Very reassuring with deep caramel flavour in soft marscapone. But sorry - I beg to differ - caramel is the major not minor player here. Enjoyable but the dacquoise and even fruit flavours not distinguishable, And those marshmallows - perfect consistency and coated in coconut powder for even more textural interest - fun but not cohesive - they keep tumbling off. How are you supposed to get your spoon through those roadblocks? Nice but is it the dessert that was intended?

Dune_ph_fw_05

Dune: pistachio dacquoise biscuit, light pistachio cream, praline with roasted corn kernels
PH: "A great cake with the powerful aromas of dried fruit and roasted, torrified corn. The spotlight is on bitter almond, pistachio, praline and corn. A cake that generates sensations, at once moist, tender and crisp."
LC: The one I wanted to try the most. Corn might sound off-putting but from its taste it could be one of the most successful for Americans. The corn comes in the form of crispy bits of puffed caramelised corn - Corn Pops crossed with Sugar Smacks! With its stark appearance and minimalist meringue shards, it's like a sophisticated adult with a secret inner child. I want this one again soon.

Tarte_mogador_ph_fw_05

Tarte Mogador: shortcrust pastry, milk chocolate and passionfruit ganache, roasted pineapple, flourless chocolate biscuit
PH: "An elegant, sophisticated tart with complex, acidulated fruit tastes. While chocolate predominates, a concentrated pineapple note is heightened by a veil of spices, while the passion fruit is softened by the smooth fullness of the caramel."

Instant_ph_fw_05

Instant:  Earl Grey tea gelee, ganache flavoured with tea, chocolate mousse and tender chocolate biscuit
PH: "The powerful dark chocolate ganache is 'refreshed' with Earl Grey tea (steeped when cold to prevent tannins from forming) and its gelee an acidulated note. The intense, fleeting notes of a pleasure that is all lightness."
LC: Second most desired Desire item. Looks so aggressively modern but the flavours are so mild and texture too familiar. The gelee's on the top interior layer and just gets lost under the chocolate shell. I told Clotilde that it was like getting into a Ferrari and discovering that it drives like a Volvo - sedan. Good, reliable but tricked me with that flashy look. I do really want to know how it's constructed though...

Macaron_plenitude_ph_fw_05_1

Macaron Plenitude: chocolate macaron biscuit, chocolate ganache, caramel and chocolate chips with fleur de sel
PH: "Heads or tails...Is it chocolate with caramel or caramel with chocolate? A macaron for contrast and simplicity."
LC: I'm so utterly disappointed. The Plenitude - which debuted with 2003's Kawaii line - is my very favourite PH item. It's dense, rich, chocolatey, creamy, and crispy - with those beautiful dark chocolate shards - offset by the single piece of white chocolate. This had none of that restrained complex elegance. It's again, quite good as it is but if you're calling it a Plenitude, I don't get it. Perhaps if the ganache were thicker and more elastic?

Also released but unavailable opening day:

Mr. H Mogador: lemon biscuit, passionfruit gelee, milk chocolate ganache and passionfruit
PH: "This taste experience starts when you bite into the milk chocolate shell, with its sweet flavors and brittle texture. Next comes the soft texture and fruity acidity of the passionfruit gelee inside the cake. The contrast between flavors and textures makes this Mr. H not only delicious but fun to eat."

Cake Sarah: green tea biscuit, candied chestnuts, passionfruit gelee
PH: "The biscuit flavoured with green tea contributes a dominant bitter note balanced by the sweetness of the candied chestnut. The powerful acidity of the passion fruit gelee is projected on to a background of chlorophyll notes."

Truffes Nature (Plain Truffles): bitter chocolate ganache coated with cocoa
PH: "A powerful dark chocolate aroma enhanced by the bitterness of cacoa powder. A truffle made for true connoisseurs."

Truffes au Praline (Pralineed Truffles): praline ganache coated with cocoa
PH: "A dark chocolate full of character with, inside, tender praline ganache."

Garance: candied fig paste, chocolate raspberry ganache with cinnamon, coated with dark chocolate
PH: "When the fig's tenderness and texture blend with the snap of acidity contributed by the raspberry, the intensity of the dark chocolate reaches its peak."

Glace Plenitude (Plenitide Ice Cream): chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips with pure unrefined salt, caramel ice cream made with lightly salted butter and caramel bits.
PH: "An ice cream with the powerful flavors of chocolate with caramel...or perhaps we should say caramel with chocolate?"

For release early October: Truffes au Chocolat au Lait et The Vert Matcha (Milk Chocolate and Matcha Green Tea Truffles)

For release December 10th: Wild Rose & Chestnut Macaron, Buche Dune, Buche Azur, Buche Sarah, Buche Ispahan, Buche Plenitude, Buche Envie. PH is already accepting orders for all of the buches.

Pro PCs, you can learn how to make your own through Pierre Herme's professional classes at the Ferrandi school in Paris. There are still places available for the this year's "Noel et Fetes de fin d'Annee" (October 3-5) "Macarons, Fours Secs et Gateaux de Voyage" (October 6-7), and November's "Best Of" (November 16-18).

Even more new items are coming for the New Year - but for those you'll have to wait. What's desire without a tease?

Pierre Herme
72 rue Bonaparte
Paris 6th
01 43 54 47 77

185 rue Vaugirard
Paris 15th
01 47 83 89 96
(Both Paris locations open Tuesday to Sunday 10AM to 7PM, Saturday to 7:30PM)

The New Otani
4-1 Kioi-Cho, Chitoda-Ku
Tokyo
03-3221-7252

319 Ikspiari 1-4 Maihama
Uraysu-shi, Chiba-Ken

La Porte Aoyama
1F-2F
5-51-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku
Tokyo
03-5485-7766

Atelier de Formation a la Haute Patisserie Pierre Herme
Ecole Ferrandi
28 rue de l'Abbe Gregoire
Paris 6th
Contact: Karine Rousseau
01 49 54 28 96
krousseau@ccip.fr

Previous Pierre Herme posts:
Pierre Herme & Hot Live Girls
Pierre Herme Classics
Pierre Herme Buches de Noel 2004 - the Photos
Pierre Herme Buches de Noel 2004 - and East Does Not Meet West

Why the French Don't Suck

Chez_denise_cdb

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Paris premiere (with me!) re-airs tonight at 10PM ET/PT - 9PM CT/MT on the Travel Channel.

I revisited Chez Denise - one of our locations - last week. My friend Andrea - one of my great friends who took me in while I was apartment-less earlier this year - had just returned from her summer vacation at home in Mexico and this was to celebrate her rentree (return).

By the time she unpacked and was ready for dinner, it was pretty late. There aren't a lot of great places for a late-night dinner in Paris but Chez Denise makes up for them all. They're open 24 hours a day on weekdays - which goes back to their history as a true Les Halles bistro - when the heart of the neighborhood was the wholesale food market for the city.

They still host local butchers for breakfast around 7AM - and have packed houses lunch and dinner - but my favourite time to go is late at the night - when the Metro's closed and decent people sleep.

The kitchen's open around the clock but overnight most of the dishes will be gone - only faint traces left where the waiter's slid his finger across the blackboard menu. Most of the nocturnal crowd opts for bottles of Brouilly - filled from the barrel at the front bar - and plates of charcuterie - assorted salty red slices flecked with bright white fat.

Me - I like the cote de boeuf for two. Cote de boeuf literally translates as side of beef - but it's not quite that - it's a bone-in rib-eye steak for two. It does look like a Fred Flintsone chop on the grill - they start it whole but then finish it halved - the smaller portion getting the meaty bone. They're plated with marrow bones and served with a platter of fries - and a small pot of mustard and wooden bowl of coarse grey sea salt.

A la Tour de Montlhery (Chez Denise)
5 rue Prouvaires
75001 Paris
01 42 36 21 82

Amorino - Cold War

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On a small quiet island in the middle of Paris, a cold war rages. It's French loyalists versus Italian insurgents - Berthillon ice cream versus Amorino gelato.

Amorino first invaded Paris in the sweltering summer of 2002. Two Italians living in France dared to open a gelateria on the home turf of ice cream aristocracy Berthillon on the tiny Ile St. Louis. Their voluptuously undulating gelatos displayed brazenly in an expansive glass case might be a common sight elsewhere in the world but are a striking contrast to the user-unfriendly cone counter at Berthillon. There, wondrous ice cream and sorbets are plainly held in deep, dark metal containers - almost purposely disguising the treasures within.

And the Amorino cones themselves are stunning. I could easily believe culinary anthropologists if they told me that ice cream was essential to earliest human survival - based on my own hard-wired desire tripped at the mere sight of one of these creamy confections.

But how do they taste? I recently tried five chocolate-based gelato flavours on a single cone - at Amorino you're welcome to have as many flavours as you want. I had Ciccolatto/Dark Chocolate, Stracciatella/Chocolate Chip, Bacio/Chocolate Hazelnut, Nutella, and a seasonal flavour of chocolate ice cream with crumbled orange cake. Initially they were notably creamy with a dense, full mouth-feel - with distinct, intense flavours. The chocolate with orange cake was my favourite - with a rich cocoa aroma and taste - offset by pleasantly bitter zest in the cake - which itself provided interest to the texture. And as I've admitted previously, I do like stuff in my ice cream. But as much as I enjoyed the experience, I found that the gelatos overall lacked depth to their flavours to sustain them beyond the initial excitement.

On a Foccacina - a sweet egg bread creation that redefines the ice cream sandwich - I tasted Frutti di Bosco/"Fruit of the Woods"/wild berries sorbet, Yogurt gelato, and Frutto della Passione/passion-fruit sorbet. The sorbets were vibrant at first taste, but again lost interest soon after. However, the surprise came with the yogurt gelato - an interesting and delicious balance of sweet, acid, and a barest trace of salt - an element you find makes the best caramel and chocolate that much better. The yogurt gelato is actually the favourite flavour of all the gelato and sorbetto sculptors at the St. Germain location that I visited.

Amorino_ic_sammy

Amorino cones and cups come in three sizes - mine was the mere mortal medium. They suggest no more than six flavours at once to best appreciate their tastes. Their tip is to request all of your flavours together - different gelatos have different consistencies - and those can vary each day and even more throughout the day - only your sculptor knows from working them - from the feel through the paddle. If you request all your flavours from the start, they can construct your cone with consistencies in mind for optimal structural integrity - with the densest gelatos at the center.

Their gelato is made throughout the day at each location except Ile St. Louis and the Marais which are too small for production facilities. The kitchen in St. Germain supplies those two - and is the largest and busiest of all the boutiques.

By the way, Amorino stays open all summer - no traditional French vacation closure.

Amorino
six locations in Paris

This is the second in a summer series on ice cream in Paris.

Each post is dedicated to a charity that works in the fight against worldwide hunger. Please donate at least the price of a single cone now to UNICEF. Thank you.

Le Potager du Roi - Kitchen Garden of the King

Pdr_peche_blanche

When my friend Clotilde invited me to her birthday party, I asked what I could bring. She sweetly insisted that I was invited to come with my "hands in pockets, with just a smile, and a reserve of big American hugs".

"Big American hugs" is my running refrain here in France - the French customarily greet and part with a delicate kiss on each cheek.

When I first started working in professional kitchens in this country, it was at the Plaza Athenee Hotel in Paris - home of the Michelin three-star restaurant of superchef Alain Ducasse. The first part of my post-Cordon Bleu stage was in central pastry - the kitchen that supplies the sweets for most of the hotel. I was surprised to learn there that we started each workday by going around and greeting every one of our co-workers with handshakes and kisses on the cheeks. Most of the guys - and they are mostly guys in French kitchens - were content with the typical two, a few said three, and there was one who claimed four. When one of the boulangers said "Oh no, in my region we do six!" - I knew he was kidding even before his cohorts broke out in laughter. Bakers are the boisterous troublemakers of the French pastry, bakery, and chocolate fraternities.

Curiously - with all this kissing going on around here - they find "big American hugs" far too intimate. So they're a custom I reserve for only very good friends in France.

But I'm Chinese-American - a hyphenated personal proclamation that's mysterious outside of the States. "Are you Chinese or American?" my international cook friends constantly ask me. They find themselves simple enough - French, Japanese, or even very specifically Catalonian - not Spanish.

"Both," I say - a statement we further debate over whatever it is we're peeling, shelling, or deboning.

So for Clotilde's birthday I knew I wanted to give her not only my signature "big American hugs" but something Chinese too. A little thought with consideration to food and the season produced one obvious answer - peaches.

In Chinese culture peaches symbolise long life - some even say immortality - so they're often present at birthday banquets. But ironically they're usually as steamed sweet buns filled with red bean or date paste - their white cheeks blushed to imitate the ephemeral fruit. In this way the perfect appearance of peaches can be enjoyed no matter the season.

I'd considered going to the fine organic market at Batignolles to find some friend-worthy fruit - but then I remembered another more meaningful and magical place - Le Potager du Roi - the Kitchen Garden of the King - at Versailles.

Pdr_potiron

As the crowd poured out of the train station and flooded the streets, I resigned myself to the strong likelihood that any peaches would long be gone - or whatever would be left would be bruised and battered. But after I paused to get my bearings - I realised that while the mob went one way, I went the other. When I arrived at Le Potager, I was the only visitor there.

There's a modest entry fee, but you're allowed to wander the grounds at will - or take a free hour-long tour in French. According to my personal student-gardener-guide, the garden was commisioned by Louis XIV - that's 14th for those of you a little rusty on your Roman numerology - back in 1678 to supply his royal self and his court of over 1,000 people with fresh produce. His favourites included figs, strawberries, peas, and asparagus. Le Potager thrives to this day as a living school with truly heirloom fruits and vegetables.

On this past Saturday afternoon, the innermost patches overflowed with summer bounty - radiant red berries, fields of fragrant herbs, and riotous bouquets of zucchini with blossoms still attached. Meticulously pruned trees provide protection all around - their branches heavy with apples and pears - even from their earliest days the gardeners successfully produced early fruit.

Along the sun-soaked south walls grow some trees "a la diable" - wildly "of the devil" - including nectarines - and yes - peaches. My guide and I each tasted one. Warm from the sun, brushed of dirt - they were flavourful and juicy - running over our hands - but we agreed a bit too soon be sweet. Sadly there were none of the garden's legendary Teton de Venus peaches - er - Tit of Venus.

Pdr_confitures

What's not sold fresh in the small market at the garden is preserved as various edibles - juices, soups, or as the apple-pear and apple-rhubarb jams you see above.

The peaches and zucchini barely made it back to Paris intact - even with my precious handling. While they were meant as a symbolic birthday wish for a long and fortunate future, the journey itself was a rich reward to the past and a very fragile present.

Le Potager du Roi
10 rue du Maréchal Joffre
78000 Versailles
01 39 24 62 62

The Bad Boys - and Girls - of Brunch

With all due respect to Tony Bourdain, I love working brunch. Tony's hollandaise horror story is legendary now and he generally condemns the very idea of brunch - the scorn of all cooks is what he essentially says. And that's how I felt too. I hated working brunch when I was a kid at my family's restaurant - even though it was a fairly easy Chinese-American buffet. Fried rice, egg rolls, egg foo young, chop suey - that kind of thing. It was actually really good - with the old-school peanut butter and chicken skin egg rolls - but I just hated working Sundays. But I really love working our brunch at Les Ambassadeurs. Not only do I like the food - and get to discretely eat a fair amount of it as we work - but it's just such a joy after doing gastronomic food all week. With our regular menu, just the first table of two can mean an extraordinary amount of intensely detailed, heart-stopping, head-pounding work. But brunch - even though we have almost twice as many covers - serving up to 80 - is so much fun. It's like having a corner cafe with a few of your best friends in the kitchen - who happen to be some of the best cooks in the world. Our brunch is billed as a World Brunch - with a choice of mains inspired by various countries - done with a French haute cuisine accent. You start brunch with an amuse bouche of an ouef cocotte - or a soft-cooked egg, steam baked in a heavy glass terrine jar - with a bit of spinach, tomato and garlic confit - and a trompette de la mort/black chantrelle cream sauce. It's plated with a tiny halved baguette toasted then rubbed with garlic and a teeny mesclun salad dressed with truffle vinaigrette. The current choice of mains are an Americaine - kind of a cross between a Caesar salad and a classic dish called a lobster Americaine; the Parisienne - chicken that's grilled then dipped in Dijon mustard and then in a mixed herb/breadcrumb mixture and finally finished to a golden crust under the salamander; the Italienne - a seasonally changing risotto - currently a morel risotto finished with more morels and a julienne of wild garlic leaves; and a Norvigienne - a rich, buttery potato pancake topped with thick slices of mi-cuit salmon and dressed with a quenelle of dill cream. There's also all you can eat thinly sliced Spanish jamon and smoked salmon. I haven't seen all there is on the sweet side, but I have had some of the fluffy citrus pancakes. And then there are the Christine Ferber jams. She's the Coco Chanel of the jam world. And at our brunch we have dozens of her flavours and you get your pick. And at the end of service today I packed up 18 empty jars. I plan on making some of my own Parisian small-batch preserves - so my family can taste some of the beautiful fruit I have here. Starting with the Gariguette spring strawberries, and then the summer yellow mirabells plums, and figs in the fall. But first I have to unpack my pots. And as I walked out with those 18 jars, Andrea said, "Uh - girl - I think I know why you have 10 boxes marked 'Kitchen' too."

The Not So Standard Parisian Home Kitchen

When you move into an unfurnished apartment in Paris you can expect to find power and water hook-ups, walls, a floor, and a ceiling. That's it. No cabinets, countertops, certainly no appliances, and maybe not even a sink - just a bare room. Gas is highly uncommom - and considered very dangerous by the French - understandably given the ancient nature of most of the buildings.

Furnished apartments can vary wildly of course. But the average size of a Paris studio is about 30 square meters and the standard furnished studio kitchen will have a small countertop, a cabinet and/or shelves, sink, mini-fridge, and an electric burner or two. If you're lucky there's a microwave and maybe an electric water kettle. Forget about an oven - unless it's a tiny, toaster oven.

My current apartment was just completely and beautifully re-done - from the wiring and plumbing to the floors and walls - all the way up to the recessed halogen lighting. It was partially furnished so I have two electric burners, a mini-fridge, a microwave, and an electric water kettle - but not even the Easy-Bake oven.

But my movers finally came today, so I do finally have again all of my stainless-steel All-Clad - and of course I've never been without my Wusthof Culinars. But now there's dishware and stemware and serviceware to contend with - things you forget about when you're itinerant.

Plus, Andrea inherited an item that she's totally unfamiliar with - from a Cordon Bleu/Crillon friend who's gone home to Canada - a George Foreman Grill. I've never used one either - I've been away from the States during the time that it's become an American home staple.

But I do know enough about it to know one thing - the first thing I must fire up to christen that baby - cheeseburgers. Freshly ground beef from my new local butcher, coarse grey sea salt, freshly ground pepper from my newly reclaimed pepper mill, buns - er, I mean petits pains - from Maison Kayser. But the cheese - that I haven't decided yet. Maybe Comte or Roquefort or maybe I might be in a chevre mood. And I haven't decided from whom yet. Marie-Anne Cantin or Philippe Alleosse or Phillipe Langlet?

It won't be White Castle but it will have to do.

Je m'appelle Brigitte and I'll be Your Asparagus Tonight

Our asparagus have names. No, I'm not going crazy - the produce is not talking back to me - but yes, I admit I sometimes talk to them. Andrea made this discovery today as she was processing our hugely fat bunches. Each bunch has a red and gold foil name tag tucked in that might read "Je m'appelle Brigitte et je suis nee a Villelaure" - or "My name is Brigitte and I was born in Villelaure." So far she's only found Brigitte and Danielle bunches. And for you provenance groupies out there, you've got to know that if our asparagus is from Villelaure - a town in Provence - that they can only be from Robert Blanc - the Hermes of the asparagus world. The Brigittes and Danielles come to us tightly bundled - a big upright package of stalks about 10 inches in diameter. And each stalk - green - is not just fat - they're asparagus as sculpted by Botero. Cartoonishly fat - each stalk is about as thick as a jumbo Magic Marker. But after careful peeling, trimming, and cooking - in just plain old boiling salted water like you might do at home - they're unbelievably fine, delicate, and smooth. No wonder M. Blanc is proud enough to give them names.

Foie Gras Sammy

As I was munching on my nearly-midnight snack tonight right after service, I was thinking about the crazy Charlie Trotter/Rick Tramanto foie gras debate that's raging in Chicago and the food world general right now. You can read all about it here on eGullet. But first, here's what else I ate today.

Breakfast - a cocoa cafe au lait, croissant, brioche au sucre - which is an eggy bun with sugar on top.

Lunch - couscous with golden raisins; a cordon bleu - the breaded and baked chicken/ham/cheese classic; sauteed sliced carrots; plain Mamie Nova yogurt; and my favourite dark and dense chocolate tartelette from central pastry.

Le Gouter - or the post-lunch-service snack - half a piece of kugelhopf and half a brownie shared with Andrea and an iced coffee.

Dinner - spaghetti, green beans, camembert, a lemon tart, and cherry yogurt.

And for the Midnight Snack - a thick toasty slice of pain de campagne - or country bread - from Boulanger de Monge - wrapped around cold chunks of foie gras - cooked sous-vide - with ruby red beet gelee.

One of the good things about working like this is that I can eat whatever I want and still not gain weight.

Speaking of which, I will weigh in on the foie gras debate later.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider Crab

As of today I have my own Internet connection and I can't tell you how good it feels. Service ran especially late tonight so just a few notes before I pass out. Black truffle season is over. We've got the very last of it as a finely chopped garnish here and there. Now it's the season of morels, asparagus, crayfish, and araignee - which literally means spider in French but in this case it's araignee de mer - spider of the sea or spider crab. The bodies are about the size of a softball - but oblong so like a small football - and the legs fairly spindly - with not very big claws. The shell is surprisingly thick - given how delicate the meat is - and it's the delicacy of texture and flavour which makes them so prized. But it also makes it a nightmare to process. We cook them by removing the legs from the bodies - cooking them separately in a court bouillon - then chilling them directly on ice. I break down the legs in segments - and the bodies I crack open like a clamshell with a sharpening steel as a lever. And here's the fun part - which would actually be fun if it were around a newspaper-covered kitchen table with family and friends and cold beers - I take a wooden mallet and try to crack the shell without crushing the piece completely. It's like cracking walnuts - you want to crack the shell but not pulverize the meat. And then we painstakingly extract the meat - and then later even more painstakingly remove any bits of shell or cartilage - the latter which can especially be a bitch to detect. We serve it two ways - hot and cold. The cold is done as a kind of sushi - with a wrapper of romaine lettuce leaf and a filling of the crab seasoned with crab mayo, fresh horseradish, and garnished with a few sprinkles of dried yuzu and a drop of the miraculous Manni olive oil. The hot with a small round of warm foie gras mousse surrounded by a brunoise of jewel-like vegetables. More tomorrow. I really need my 5 hours of sleep now.

Salon Saveurs - Foie Gras d'Oie

Saveurs_foie_gras

This is a whole goose foie gras - fattened liver made by force-feeding fowl - duck or goose - a goose in this case. Good goose foie gras is getting harder to find - the favour's more towards duck these days - it's cheaper and more flavourful - the one-two food punch. This particular one is made by the French gold medal winner this year - La Ferme de Mounet - aka Monique and Bernard Molas. It was truly the best of the foie gras bunch this year at the Salon. I tried them all - oh what I do for you. Some of them were surprisingly flavourless - and those were even duck foie gras. Monsieur and Madame Molas' had an excellent flavour and texture - comparable even to the whole foie gras terrine we made last year at Ducasse - as staff Christmas presents to everyone at the Plaza hotel. Good foie gras has that hint of funk that reminds you you're savouring something a little illicit - or in the case of California - soon to be definitively illegal.

La Ferme de Mounet does actually have a website - and even a gites/country inn. A night's stay for two people including breakfast is a ridiculously low 45 to 53 euros. Add dinner for two and it's only 83 to 93 euros per night. And remember - that's total - for two people. The Molas were very cool - and have got to be great hosts - as they were extraordinarily generous with their samples - actually inviting you to taste their award-winning foie gras - unlike many foie gras vendors - who squirrel away their wares.

Their products - and they do have duck products too - include everything from simple pure goose fat to a goose neck stuffed with foie gras of goose. And they are not available in Paris.

La Ferme de Mounet
Avenue de Parleboscq
32800 Eauze
05 62 09 82 85
www.ferme-de-mounet.com

Salon Saveurs - Bordier Butter

Saveurs_bordier_1 

Monsieur Jean-Yves Bordier makes a butter that you will only understand if you really, really love butter. His butter - le Beurre Bordier - is a beurre de baratte - which is butter that's taken at a certain temperature/texture - then beaten/worked/relaxed with two small wooden paddles. It's shaped into either a small rectangular-ish block - as was sold at the Salon - or into unique forms that vary for each of the gastronomic restaurants that he supplies - no two restaurants have the same shape. It is not at all the same as just molding butter - so put away your little Easter lamb butter molds - what he does is work the butter to its optimum texture - which means it's then at its peak flavour. And the flavour of his butter alone - even if it were just wrapped in waxed paper and suffocatingly boxed in the supermarket - blows away any idea of butter you've ever had. You would eat loaves of bread just to better taste this amazing butter. It's smooth, rich, flavourful - and lightly salted - not just fat on your tongue.

The shapes you see above are the forms he does for my chef at Les Ambassadeurs at the Crillon. He showed me his restaurant list - and I mentioned that I was going to start working there - so he whipped up a couple of Crillon butters. I asked him how he decides the shapes for each restaurant - and he said that he doesn't - it's the chefs - but he does make suggestions.

That so much thought is put into butter? This is one of the reasons I love France so much - sometimes.

Le Beurre Border is available in Paris at La Grande Epicerie au Bon Marche, Fauchon at Madeleine, Dalloyau on Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore, Da Rosa, and the traiteur/gourmet takeout shop Maison Baillon.

Jean-Yves Bordier
9, rue de l'Orme
35400 Saint-Malo
02 99 40 88 79

Salon Saveurs - Old School Cheese

Saveurs_cheeseboard

These are the sample cheeseboards of Monsieur Hugues Lataste. He makes his own raw milk cheeses - from his own animals - cows, goats, sheep - they same way they made them back in the day - that day being back in the 14th century. My two favourites were a plain, fresh sheep's milk cheese - aged only 3 weeks - and a hard, gnarled goat's milk - aged two years. He ages his own cheeses too - all in the style of the Gascogne and Guyenne regions. M. Lataste only sells direct. No website - no email - not even a brochure. If you come to France, go visit his farm - but phone first.

Marayn de Bartassac Fromages de Gascogne et de Guyenne
Route de Saint Michel de Rieufret
33720 Landiras
06 71 81 98 81

If It's Wednesday It Must be Paris

Where the fuck am I? Sunday was the wedding. The day after, yesterday and this morning were Barcelona. And I've just arrived in Paris tonight. The wedding was an alcohol and Cuban cigar and Oriol Balaguer chocolate induced blur. I vaguely remember at one point serving up a gin fizz espuma cocktail to Ferran - and then later in the night doing some dirty Spanish dancing with him. Not only is he one of the greatest chefs of our time but the man has got some serious moves. And this morning I had tapas at the infamous Bar Pinotxo at La Boqueria market just off La Rambla in Barcelona - and I just had a late dinner at L'As du Falafel in the Marais in Paris. Sometimes I'm jealous of myself. Will post more after I decompress - a bientot.