Asparagus Salad │ Chilled Asparagus, 63 degree Egg, Parmesan Fonduta, Crispy Speck, Baby Frisée

Sometimes copying is the sincerest form of flattery.  This dish originated in my repertoire after a cook book written by the folks of Boulevard.  Who doesn’t love a cook book with an obvious slant towards adding bacon to everything.  I never ate there but I love them!   Here is my version:

Asparagus with 63 degree egg

Asparagus Salad │ Chilled Asparagus, 63 degree Egg, Parmesan Fonduta, Crispy Speck, Baby Frisée

Chef François de Mélogue

Ingredients for four servings:

20                    Asparagus Spears, cooked, cooled

4                      63 degree Eggs, peeled

½ c                 Parmesan Fondutta

4                      sliced crispy Speck

4 oz                baby Frisee

 

 

Mise en Place:

 

1                       63 degree egg: cook eggs in circulator at 62.5 for one hour.

2                       Lay speck in a single layer on silsheet.  Cook in 200 degree oven for three hours.

 

To Order:

 

  1. 1.              Lay five asparagus spears on rectangle plate.
  2. 2.              Spoon fondutta over stalks.
  3. 3.              Top with speck then egg.
  4. 4.              Cover asparagus base with frisée tossed in olive oil.

 

Parmesan Fondutta

Ingredients for four servings:

 

1 c                  Cream

1/2  c             Parmesan

2                      Egg Yolks

pinch             Nutmeg

Mise en Place:

 

Boil cream, add cheese and nutmeg.  Whisk in egg yolks.

Figue Mediterranean’s Italian Cooking Class

Figue Mediterranean

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It is said, the Mediterranean Ends

Where the Greeks stopped planting Olive Trees.

Figue, Where the Olive Trees End

and the Tradition lives on!

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The menu of Figue is the story of the Mediterranean. It is the shared history of conquest, immigration and exploration, each wave bringing far off ingredients, cooking techniques and a cultural melding of the peoples. Savor sensations inspired by the ancient Romans who shared the art of salting and curing meats and fish, to the Moors who spread the habit of sharing many small dishes to the modern cuisines of France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Greece and the Middle East. Each culture shared their knowledge, wisdom and cultural preferences to create the world’s first fusion cuisine.

Today’s class is focusing on Italy and Italian inspired cuisine.  The traditions of antipasti, which translates to “before the meal’, and primi piatti have their origins in Italy’s long and colorful history.  Waves of invasion spanned over 3,000 years with the Greeks, Etruscans and Arabs all leaving their indelible mark on Italy. The Greeks brought wheat and olive trees.  They showed Italians how to make wine and honey and introduced spit roasting.  The Etruscans brought early forms of polenta and the Arab Moors brought rice, nuts, saffron, flaky pastries, couscous and citrus.

The first pasta makers in southern Europe were the Greeks.  The Greek word itria is the oldest recorded word for pasta in the Mediterranean and was quickly adopted by Arabs (as itriyah) and then appeared in Spain in the 8th or 9th century known as alatria.  It appeared in the very first known Catalan cookbook written in 1324.

Pizzas originated in ancient Greece and spread throughout the Mediterranean, in particular Italy.  Prior to the discovery of the New World, almost everything we associate with a pizza today did not exist.  Pizzas were made with dough, vegetable and rarely cheese.  Tomatoes had not been discovered until the 16th century along with coffee, peppers, squashes and beans.

Northern Italy is well irrigated, lush and fairly prosperous.  Creams, eggs, butter, prosciutto, Parmesan, pancetta, balsamic, gorgonzola, basil, Umbrian olive oil, beef, truffles and other ingredients abound.  Southern Italy is more rugged and poor.  Crushed red pepper appears in the food because in former times the price of black pepper skyrocketed and the industrious Southerners substituted red pepper flakes.  Pasta, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes reign.

A very, very short history of some ingredients we are using today:

Anchovies:

Anchovies have been an important part of cooking since the days of the Greeks and Romans.  Anchovies were the key ingredient in Garum, an early forerunner to Anchoiade.  Anchoiade, Bagna Cauda, Pissaladière, and Pissalat (an anchovy seasoning) are among the more popular uses.

Cherries:

Cherries originated in Asia and became well loved by the ancient Greeks first appearing in print in 300 BC in the writings of Theophrastus.  By the first century AD, Pliny the Elder had listed eight different varieties under cultivation, some grown in the far off parts of the Roman Empire like Britain.

Fennel:

Fennel has been a common ingredient in Gaul long before the Romans came.  Every bit of fennel is used, the seeds as a seasoning, leaves are added to a salad, the bulb cooked in a variety of vegetable preparations and the stalks are dried and used as a fuel to cook whole fish over.

Garlic:

Garlic figures prominently into the palates of Provence and Southern Italy because of both their early influences from the Greeks. As one of the more popular uses for garlic in Provence, Aioli (Ail means garlic; Oli means oil) has to stand out as the favorite.  It is sometimes referred to as the butter of Provence.  Other popular dishes include: Aigo Boulido (garlic soup), Rouille (the rust colored sauce for Bouillabaisse) and roasted Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic.

Olives and Olive Oil:                   

The Greeks spread olive all over the Mediterranean.  Highly flavorful oils are saved for raw dishes and as a last minute seasoning while second and third pressings are used for cooking.

Peppers:                  

Christopher Columbus’s journal gives us the first mentions of chilies.  The Spanish and Portuguese brought it back to the old world. Europeans didn’t care for it as much as the Asians, Africans and Arabians. The Abbé J. F. Rozier’s “Cours complet d’agriculture”, published in the late 1700’s, says that it was the usual breakfast of people in Provence.

Pistachio:

Pistachios are native to Western Asia and the Levant between Turkey and Afghanistan.  The earliest traces of pistachios being eaten is 7,000 BC in Turkey, and cultivated and introduced into Europe by the Romans in 1st century AD. 

Polenta:

Polenta’s name was originally derived from the Roman staple puls, or pulmentum. Pulmentum also was the Roman’s soldiers’ primary food.  The soldiers were issued grain which they toasted on hot stones and either made into a porridge or baked into crude breads.

Polenta was originally made from millet, spelt or chickpeas, only when corn came from the New World in the 1600’s did polenta’s turn into a cornmeal porridge we know and love.

Saffron:

Saffron has been an important spice in cooking since the days of the Romans.  Saffron growing came to Europe from the Moors occupying Spain in the 8th thru 10th centuries. The French began growing saffron in the 14th century in the Comtat Venaisson.  It contributed greatly to the increase in wealth in that region.  Saffron was believed to lengthen your life. At the Papal Court in Avignon, saffron was added to many of their dishes. Tripe simmered in saffron was very popular in Aix and Marseilles.  Saffron remains an important ingredient in Provencal cooking, mainly appearing in Bouillabaisse, Rouille and other regional dishes.  Other typical uses in the Mediterranean include Paella (Spain), Tagine (Morocco), Shish-Kebobs (Oriental), and many other dishes. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. It is the dried stigma of crocus flowers. Each flower produces just three strands of saffron.

Silk Road:

The Silk Road was a series of paths and trade routes connecting the Mediterranean to Eastern Asia.  The famous camel routes brought cinnamon, nutmeg and other fantastic flavors into the Mediterranean melting pot. 

Tomatoes:

Tomatoes, while originally from Mexico and Central America, have figured very prominently in the cuisine of the Mediterranean since the 16th  century.  It was by the way of Naples, a Spanish possession, that the tomato entered Italian cuisine.  Tomatoes reached Provence via Genoa and Nice.  It came just in time, for the traditional produce of the South of France were going through a crisis.  Tomatoes are so associated with Provencal cooking that it is hard to imagine what they ate prior to the tomatoes arrival in France.  They are stuffed, air cured (an old Provençal method of preservation), used in Ratatouille, made into sauces, roasted with sweetmeats and served as desserts.

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Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Piquillo Sorbet, Parmesan Tuile

Chef François de Mélogue

Figue Mediterranean Restaurant

 

Ingredients for Four Servings

1 small                         Watermelon, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

1 each                         Yellow Tomatoes, peeled, sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

1 each                         Red Tomatoes, peeled, sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

1 each                         Green or Black Tomatoes, sliced ½ inch thick, cut into circles

2 T.                               fruity Olive Oil

1 T.                               Balsamic Vinegar

1 c.                              Reggiano Parmesan, finely grated

Piquillo Sorbet

1 T.                               Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 each                         Shallots, rough sliced

28 oz. can                  Piquillo Peppers

1 cup                           Simple Syrup

1 t.                               Fleur de Sel

1 T.                               Aleppo Pepper, or Espelette Pepper

1 each                         Lemon, juiced and zested

1 T.                               fresh Thyme, chopped

 

Mise en Place (before your party)

 

  1. Sauté shallots in olive oil.
  2. Mix shallots, Piquillo peppers, simple syrup, fleur de sel, Aleppo pepper, lemon juice and fresh thyme and puree in a blender.
  3. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Reserve.
  4. Put small mounds of parmesan on a sil baking sheet and bake till melted, bubbly and lightly brown.  Let cool for a few seconds, then pick up and lay over a wine bottle.  Allow to cool fully retaining a rounded tile shape.
  5. Cut watermelon and tomatoes.
  6. Arrange tomato and watermelon circles on chilled plates.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill till you are ready to eat.

 

Fire (when your guests are seated)

Drizzle with fruity olive oil, balsamic vinegar and season with fleur de sel and black pepper.  Put a scoop of pipérade sorbet in the center and top with a parmesan tuile.

Chef Notes

Nature is the perfect Chef. Things that grow in the same region, in the same season tend to go well together, especially fruits.  The watermelon and tomato combo may sound odd but it will be an epicurean epiphany once you try it.  It is so refreshing and easy to make and perfect for your next Desert dinner party.

Try adding fresh mozzarella and basil or creamy Feta cheese.  They go amazingly well with watermelon and tomato.  Next time you make gazpacho add watermelon!

Wine Notes

Dry rosés pair unusually well with summer produce. Rosés usually have wonderful watermelon flavors that do nothing but complement the flavors in the salad.  I would suggest a more robust rosé or perhaps a chilled light bodied red wine, such as a Gamay Noir.

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Gauzzetto of Wild Salmon, Mussels and Shrimp

Light Tuscan Seafood Stew

Chef François de Mélogue

Figue Mediterranean Restaurant

 

Ingredients for Four Servings

2 oz.                             Olive Oil

2 medium                    Carrots, peeled, sliced

1 each                         Leek, cleaned, diced

1 rib                             Celery, peeled, diced

2 cloves                       Garlic, mashed

Pinch                           Saffron

2 t.                               fresh Thyme Leaves

1 T.                               Flour

1 c.                              White Wine

4 cups                          Fish Stock

1 each                         Tomato, diced

½ c.                             Tomato Sauce

Four – 4 oz. pieces        Wild Salmon

24 each                       Mussels

12 each                       Shrimp

4 sliced                        Crostini

1 T.                               chopped Parsley

Mise en Place (before your party)

 

  1. Sauté carrots, leeks and celery in olive oil for about five minutes, or until tender.
  2. Add garlic and saffron and continue cooking till the aroma permeates the air and causes you to drool.
  3. Sprinkle flour and thyme and stir into vegetables.
  4. Deglaze with white wine and fish stock.  Bring to a boil and let simmer.
  5. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Check seasoning.  Chill.  Reserve.

Fire (when your guests are seated)

Bring Gauzzetto to a boil.  Add seafood.  Cook about five minutes, or until seafood is cooked.  Spoon into four warmed bowls, garnish with chopped parsley and a crostini then enjoy!

Chef Notes

Leave the flour out if you are gluten intolerant.  The flour simply adds a bit of body.  Try adding a touch of chopped anchovy instead of salt.  The anchovies give it a more authentic flavor.  Try finishing with a splash of brandy.  Most importantly, use whatever seafood is absolutely freshest.  Remember recipes are simply guidelines rather than firm unbendable laws.  Cooking for family and friends is one of the best ways to express love and friendship.

‘Whoever receives friends and does not participate

in the preparation of their meal does not deserve to have friends.’

 

– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Wine Notes

 

Ah, the age old question, white or red with fish?  Old wisdom would dictate a white but I think a light bodied red would work as well.  For white wines I would suggest a Viognier, Gewurztraminer or any other white varietal that has a touch of residual sugar to counterbalance the acidity in tomatoes and spice in the broth.  For reds, try a light Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sangiovese or Grenache.  Salmon and Pinot is always a fantastic combination.  If you can’t decide then default to Champagne.  Champagne goes with everything!

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Pistachio, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake

Vanilla Ice Cream, Silk Road Cherries

Chef François de Mélogue

Figue Mediterranean Restaurant

 

 

 

Ingredients for Four Servings

50 grams                      fine Polenta

200 grams                    ground Pistachios

50 grams                      Flour

1 t.                               Baking Powder

125 ml.                         Extra Virgin Olive Oil

100 grams                    Butter, melted and cooled

3 each                         Eggs

200 grams                    Sugar

1 each                         Lemon, zested

1 each                         Orange, juiced

Silk Road Cherries

 

250 grams                    Cherries, pitted

25 grams                      Butter

75 grams                      Sugar

25 grams                      Pistachios, ground

1 stick                           Cinnamon

Pinch                           Nutmeg

1each                          Vanilla Bean, split and scraped

 

Mise en Place (before your party)

 

  1. Mix polenta, pistachio flour, flour and baking powder together.
  2. Mix extra virgin olive oil and melted butter.
  3. Beat eggs and sugar till pale.
  4. Mix eggs into olive oil.
  5. Add wet to dry.
  6. Add lemon zest and orange juice.
  7. Butter and paper four – 4 ounce ramekins.
  8. Pour batter in and bake at 300 degrees till done, about ten minutes.  Reserve.
  9. Melt sugar and butter together.  Cook to light caramel.
  10. Add spices, vanilla, pistachio and cherries.  Cook till liquid again. Reserve.

 

Fire (when your guests are seated)

Unmold a pistachio cake unto a ten inch plate.  Top with cherries, drizzle sauce around and garnish with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chef Notes

 

You will have extra everything in this recipe.  It is so good you probably won’t mind that fact.  The batter for the pistachio cakes is better made one or two days ahead.

Storming the Bastille, Just NOT during MY Dinner!

“I have lived all my life in the name of good taste.

Now I am to die by the hands of people with bad taste.”

 –          Madame du Barry

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On 14 July, as they do every year, millions of French men and women will celebrate the fall of the Bastille in 1789. The passing years have shown, however, that the guillotine might have better served as a better symbol of the momentous events now recalled as the French Revolution. The truth is that life in the Bastille was simply not all that difficult. In fact, for many of those residing there, the Bastille may have been one of the best pre-revolutionary restaurants of Paris. During his own stay there, the Marquis de Sade passed his time washing down truffled sausages with fine Bordeaux wines. On the day the Bastille was actually liberated, there were only six “prisoners” in attendance. One, imprisoned for failure to pay his debts, insisted on staying in his three room suite long enough to finish his roast pheasant dinner. Another demanded that the crowd help him carry away the more than 50 bottles of wine that he had set aside for his use.

In fact, when the crowd tore down the Bastille, they were unknowingly carrying out a plan for which Louis XVI had already set aside funds. In what may be another interesting footnote to history, of the six liberated prisoners, three were eventually executed by the same people who freed them, two emigrated to America and one, Andre Dubois, harmless but quite insane, went on to become a member of the French senate.

French gastronomes of all classes were concerned with the influence of the revolution on their dining habits. Grimod de la Reyniere, a well known banker and gastronome of the ancien regime considered the Revolution little more than “an unpleasant interlude when austerity had to be simulated and chefs given their notice. If it had lasted”, he wrote, “France might have actually lost the recipe for fricasseed chicken.” One of his chefs, Antoine Broissard took it a bit more seriously. When Broissard discovered that he could not locate any Nantes ducklings to serve for dinner one evening, he hung himself in his kitchen. One of the problems that Reyniere did not dwell upon was that many of France’s most devoted gourmets ended both their revolutionary zeal and their gastronomic endeavors by a meeting with the falling blade of the guillotine.

It may be of some historic interest to know just what many of these people ate just before keeping their appointment with the Widow, as the guillotine was known. Danton, surely the most charming of the revolutionaries and a great gourmet dined on stuffed squab, fresh asparagus and raspberry sorbet before his execution. Robespierre, Danton’s rival but not a man who specially appreciated good food, supped on a thick lentil soup just before his own moment of truth. The Duke of Burgundy dined elegantly on salmon mousse and apple pie and Armond, the Prince of Conde had a light snack of salmon in mousseline sauce. As to the women, the only form of equality between the sexes that the legislators of the revolution believed in was the guillotine which decapitated members of either sex with equal dispatch. Marie Antoinette, Madame Roland and Charlotte Corday, the three most eminent women of the revolution were among its victims.
Marie Antoinette, executed as much for her rudeness to her jailers as for her royal position, sipped Champagne and ate truffled pate de foie gras before she was taken off for her final humiliation. The twenty five year old Charlotte Corday, who had slain the revolutionary leader Marat, declined a final dinner but nibbled on a chocolate éclair while standing on the platform of the guillotine, annoying the executioner somewhat because of what he considered an unnecessary delay in carrying out his duty. Madame Roland, the feminist of the group, dined simply on poached eggs, a small wedge of Brie cheese and an apple. Madame du Barry, the last great courtesan of the royal days, and a woman of elevated taste in food as well as in lovers, is said to have dined on raspberries with fresh cream before being carted off to the guillotine. Du Barry’s final words were: “I have lived all my life in the name of good taste. Now I am to die by the hands of people with bad taste.”

At Figue Mediterranean, http://www.EatFigue.com, we are celebrating Bastille Day by serving our interpretations of famous last meals from the Bastille.  Among the dishes being served tonight and tomorrow are the Marquis de Sade’s Truffled sausages.  We are serving them with potato puree and sauteed apples.

The Marquis de Sade’s Truffled Sausages

26 ounces

lean Veal

9 ounces

pork fatback

18 grams

fine salt

2 grams

ground white pepper

1 gram

ground nutmeg

about 5 feet

medium hog casing

1.

Cut the meat and fat into pieces small enough to pass through grinder. Partially freeze.

2.

Grind the veal using a disk with 3/8″ (10 mm) diameter holes. Grind the fat using a disk with 3/16″ (5 mm) diameter holes.

3.

Combine the meat and fat with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Chill thoroughly.  Add as much chopped truffles as your budget will allow.

4.

Soak the casings in cold water until soft. Thoroughly rinse the casing inside and out.

5.

Set up a sausage stuffer. Fill the bowl of the stuffer with the forcemeat. Be careful not to leave any air pockets in the mixture.

6.

Slide the casing on the fill tube. Tie a knot at the end of the casing after it is fully on the fill tube.

7.

Fill the casing with the forcemeat. Do not overfill the casings. Guide the casing along the work surface as it fills.

8.

Tie a knot at the other end of the filled casing that comes off the stuffing tube. “Massage” the sausage to ensure that it is filled evenly. Twist the filled casing to make 5″ long sausages.

9.

Place the sausages on a rack and dry for a couple of hours in a refrigerator. Using a fine skewer or needle, puncture the skin over any visible air bubbles and puncture evenly along the length of the sausages.

10.

Use within a couple of days or wrap tightly and freeze.

 

Note: To cook the sausage, poach in 180 °F (82 °C) water until the interior temperature reaches 160 °F (71 °C). Drain and fry briefly in a hot pan to crisp the skin.

 

Preservation Kitchen: One of the Best Cook Books I Read This Year!

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Paul Virant’s book explores in depth different pickling techniques and recipes that are so easy to add to your repertoire.  I had done small amounts of pickling prior to picking this book up, now I am pickling everything.  At Figue we have made Sake Pickled Summer Tomatoes, Pickled Okra, Charred Spring Onion Pickles, Moroccan Pickled Baby Carrots and more…  Preserving goes hand and hand with the concept of our charcuterie bar.

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Moroccan Pickled Carrots

Moroccan Pickled Carrots│ Basic Prep
Chef François de Mélogue
Quantity Unit Ingredient
3 Quart 24 Quarts
4 32 cups Water
2.25 18 cups White Wine Vinegar
0.50 4 cups Sugar
28 224 grams Sea Salt
3 24 teaspoon Coriander Seeds
3 24 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
3 24 teaspoon Black Peppercorns
3 24 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
51 408 ounces Baby Carrots, peel, blanched
Mise en Place:
1. Boil all ingredients, except carrots.
2.  Stuff carrots in jars2(a). Add 2 teaspoons Harissa Powder to each jar
3.  Seal jars, boil 20 minutes
4.  Let sit for a few weeks.

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Viva La France at Figue Mediterranean

Lisa and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by dining at Figue.  All summer long Figue has been visiting various countries as part of a staycation program.  July is all about France.  Our bar is featuring various hors d’oeuvres typically found in Parisian wine bars that our bartenders have created French inspired cocktails to pair with; Celeste our Sommelier has picked a wide range of great French wines, we have a special Bastille Day celebration planned and all month long we are featuring a Brasserie styled menu loaded with all the classics of French cooking.  That’s what brought me in.  Good old fashioned French food.  Comfort food.

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We started with two flutes of Champagne and a plate of Beausoleil Oysters from Eastern Canada.

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We ordered a bottle of La Fleur Gazin and moved onto to Duck Galantine with Housemade Pickles followed by grilled Onglet (hangar steak) frites with Bearnaise and Short Rib Bourguignonne.

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The steak frites were unbelievable.  I never have understood why people like filets so much.  They have a terrible consistency and almost no flavor in comparison to a rib eye or hangar.  The short rib Bourguinonne melted in my mouth and sang with the wine.

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Next we had the Chocolate Pots de Creme.  Rich, deep chocolate yumminess!

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Next was a trio of mignardises to nibble on with my cappuccino.  All together it was a great meal.  I hate saying that about my own food because I am really not egotistical.  I love French comfort food as it is what I grew up eating.  Please come and visit us this month at http://www.EatFigue.com

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Tagliatelle al Pancetta e Fichi│ Hand Rolled Tagliatelle, Pancetta, Conserved Figs, EVOO

Thank God fig season is back!  French author George Blond once quipped the fig was “the manna of the Mediterranean countries.”  Especially if we take the dictionary definition literally, ‘Spiritual nourishment of divine origin.’ Figs have been cultivated since the dawn of time.  Assyria used figs as a natural sweetener; figs were grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon; they were important to the Phoenician economy; baskets of figs were buried with Egyptian rulers in the great tombs; they were the favorite fruit of the Greeks.  Figs first appeared in America in the 1600’s brought over by the Spaniards.  They were planted in California and known as Mission Figs.  90 % of USA production is in California.  Figs appear with great frequency on our menu at Figue Mediterranean (www.EatFigue.com).  One of our more popular fig dishes is our tagliatelli of figs and pancetta.

Tagliatelle al Pancetta e Fichi│ Hand Rolled Tagliatelle, Pancetta, Conserved Figs, EVOO

Chef François de Mélogue

 

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Ingredients for four orders:

400 g                          Semi Dried Figs, sliced

160 ml                        Olive Oil

80 ml                          Balsamic Vinegar

to taste                      Sea Salt and Black Pepper

5 sprigs                      Marjoram

3 cloves                     Garlic, crushed

3 thick slices             Pancetta, diced

2 small                       Leeks, diced

30 ml                          White Wine

2 T                               grated Reggiano Parmesan

 

Mise en Place:

 

  1. Marinate figs in balsamic, olive oil, s/p, marjoram and garlic for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat olive oil and sauté pancetta and leeks for eight minutes, or until leeks are soft and pancetta is crunchy.
  3. Add figs and marinade and white wine.

 

To Order:

 

  1. Cook tagliatelli.
  2. Heat sauce.
  3. Toss together, top with grated parmesan and olive oil.

 

Unleash the Bestia in Me!

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My wife Lisa and I decided to celebrate our 10 year anniversary by dining out in Los Angeles sans Beaumont, our 2.5 year old son.  Sure, he loves great food too and I love being with him, but sometimes you just need adult time. I told Cathleen Newmann, Figue’s Vivreau water rep, about our plans and she suggested Bestia, also one of her accounts.  The wait list to get a reservation for Bestia is so long that Beaumont would probably have a better chance getting a reservation in his lifetime than me in mine.  Cathleen said she might have incriminating photos of the Chef/Owner Ori Menashe, formerly Chef of Angelini Osteria and a certain inflatable goat from a recent trip to Las Vegas and perhaps they might be helpful in getting a ressie.  I eagerly asked her to pursue the coveted reservations by all means necessary.  The day we wanted to go was only five days away so we started forming backup plans just in case.  I hadn’t heard anything from Cathleen till Tuesday when she sent a coded message telling me my reservation at Bestia was secured.  In retrospect, the message could of said forget about it, Ori is proud of those pictures, go ahead post away. Hey what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas or something like that.

We arrived ten minutes early for our reservation and were told that no such reservations existed.  Devastation.  I had already figured out what 18 dishes I had to try on Ori’s kick ass menu.  I almost started crying, throwing a Beau like tantrum spewing different names and phone numbers that the reservation might be under.  It was a little like a scene from the movie Date Night when Steve Carell and Tina Fey are trying to eat at a trendy city restaurant.  Apparently some combination worked and we were seated outside in an atrium-esque industrial setting.  It gave the dining experience a wonderful ambiance.

Our waiter quickly arrived at our table and dropped off the cocktail menu and dinner menu and gave a brief history of the restaurant from it’s opening the day after Thanksgiving in 2012.  We were so amused by the Bespoke option on the drink list that we asked to learn more.  Our waiter told us of their mixologist Julian Cox who apparently is a genius and loves challenges.  Tell him an alcohol and at least one characteristic and the guy will blend the most amazing cocktail you ever tried.  I went mainstream and said Rum and Sweet.  Lisa tried to stump him with Campari and delectable.

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I could hear Julian chuckle at our novice attempt to confound him as he sent over two of the best cocktails we ever had in our lives.  Mine was called something like a beesting and Lisa’s was appropriately called ‘refreshing’.  Her cocktail had this super cool metal stirrer/straw.  The evening was starting so perfectly, setting the pace for the culinary onslaught waiting to be unleashed from the Bestia within.

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WE sipped wonderful cocktails and looked at the fig tree and cactus’s next to us.  I ordered four small plates and asked the waiter t space them out in the proper sequence.  We wanted to enjoy each one separately and deliberately.  Chef Ori is known for several things.  The thing that attracted me to him was the home made pickles and charcuterie, with the pizzas and pasta not far behind.  The first dish out was a amazing Kanpachi crudo with Squid Ink bottarga, breadcrumbs, chili oil, lemon and scallions.

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The honey flavors in my rum cocktail actually worked well with the dish.  My only complaint or comment was it could have used a touch of salt.  The crudo did what it was suppose too, it whet the appetite for the next round.  We ordered a bottle of 2007 Kabaj Cuvee Morel, a Slovenian Cabernet/Merlot, Cab Franc blend while waiting for the next dish.  The waiter could exactly take our desire for an earthy old world wine and translate it into liquid love.  I wish I had gotten the name of the waiter as he was extremely knowledgeable, enjoyable to talk with and exactly what a waiter should be.

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Chef Ori’s selection of house made charcuterie came next.  The Coppa di Testa with house made mustard was delightful.  I loved the fact that no one mentioned what part of the pig this came from.  You just ate it.  Us Americans are needlessly so squeamish about eating certain body parts.  The earthy wine sang songs with the various salumi on the wooden board.

Next up was the pan seared Octopus and Calamari with fennal, mixed mushrooms, arugula and aged balsamic.  The mushrooms worked so well with the octopus and calamari.  Yummy!

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Next up was Grilled Lamb Tongue Crostino with Garbanzo Bean Puree, Salsa Verde, heirloom Carrot and Lemon Cucumber pickles.  An explosion of yummy flavors and textures.  Lisa loved the lamb but kept thinking of Mick Jagger’s tongue.  I made a few ill timed imitations of our son’s lamb doll asking where his tongue went.  By this time we were getting full.  WE debated purging ourselves and continuing…  the food is that good!  We  were up between Pistachio pasta with a goat ragu, a sea urchin pasta or the Agnolotti alla Vaccinara, Cacao parcels with braised Ox Tails, Burro Fuso, Grana Padano, Pine nuts and Currants.  We decided on the last one and were completely blown away by the depth and range of flavors.

Bestia 25Sufficiently replenished and satiated we passed up more pasta, pizza and possibly an orata for two desserts.  I normally rarely eat dessert.  In America desserts are just to one dimensional and sugary for me.  However, Ori’s wife Pastry Chef Genevieve Gergis makes unbelievable desserts that could forever change my mind.  I won’t repeat what I said to the waiter about the desserts…  but it was all good.

 

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The desserts we choose were the valrhona fair trade bittersweet chocolate tart with salted caramel and the ricotta fritters with fresh strawberry jam, brown sugar gelato and whipped cream.   The crust on the chocolate tart was everything a perfect crust should be, crisp, flaky, sugary, yummy.  The ricotta fritters were my kind of dessert.  I may have to try to make them at Figue when I go to work this weekend.

 

All in all, we had a fabulous time.  The food and service were unbelievable,  I do not know Ori so I apologize about my bad humor.  You rock!  Dining here has revitalized me in my quest for culinary perfection.  It is so nice to go out and be stimulated and blown away!

I highly recommend eating there.  Location: 2121 7th Place Los Angeles CA, 90021; Telephone: 213.514.5724; http://www.bestiala.com/index.php

Chef Francois…

 

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Eating at your own restaurant is bit like witnessing a slow death…

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Let me clarify that.  I think when we die we get front row seats to a review of our entire lives…  we firsthand relive the proud moments of achievements completed and we watch, eyes fixated to the screen, the disasters of our lives feeling every bit of emotions we did the first time.  We cannot hide from ourselves.  You never can.

In 30 years of cooking I have never eaten where I worked.  It is near impossible to separate myself from being so intimately connected to simply being a guest.  It was voyeuristic to watch firsthand how people react to your soul being laid out on a plate naked for the world to gawk at, criticize, compliment.  It is one thing to get a good/bad review on the internet where people hide behind computer screens and critic your efforts anonymously and it is completely another thing sitting next to them, hearing their comments live, unfiltered.  I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to do so.

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Last night my wife and I went on a date to Figue in La Quinta, California where I am Executive Chef.  We walked in the massive front door and were promptly greeted by one of our hostesses.  We settled on a few drinks and a charcuterie plate at the bar before going to our table.  We ordered two different bubbly cocktails.  I had the Poinsettia and Lisa tried the Fraises Embrouille.  I really enjoyed mine, it had the perfect balance of flavors, sweetness and tartness.  Lisa fraises embrouille lacked flavor and needed some amping up.  Celeste, our sommelier, had our drinks remade and it was much better the second time.

Char Bar

Our Italian American charcuterie plate was amazing.  On the plate was slices of charcuterie from various salumi producers in America who make Italian charcuterie, olive and mostarda.  The absolute best was the lardo made from Spanish Bellota pigs by la Quercia in Iowa.  Lardo is completely decadent and rich and amazing. We enjoyed the perfect bit with the richness playing off the saltiness of our house made focaccia.  The varzi salumi with it’s distinct cloves and nutmeg flavors from Creminelli in Utah was the perfect foil for the sweet, mustardy mostarda.  Javier, our waiter, brought the complimentary bread service which tonight was Turkish flatbread served with Labne, a house made yogurt cheese dusted with Aleppo pepper.  Mistakenly he called the bread Syrian mountain bread but I wasn’t here to correct while eating.  The bread was doughy and undercooked and felt like a dagger being stuck into my heart.  I live and breathe my food and it hurts to see it served incorrectly.  I pushed it aside and continued with the amazing focaccia.

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The hostess returned and took us to our table.  On the table are beautiful, hand made pottery diamond shaped plates made by the Wheel in San Diego that we use as share plates.  They are incredible plates.

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Normally when I eat out I scan the menu for dishes I really am excited to try.  Any belly, pork belly, hamachi belly, usually gets my vote.  Tonight I picked dishes I normally would never pick. I love scallops but I never order them.  Part of the problem is they usually suck.  It is more normal to get water added, or wet scallops, than it is to get diver picked dry scallops.  We also ordered the charred tuna crudo with Moroccan Charmoula.  The whole tuna served raw thing is so over played now that it is easy for me to look past that on any menu.  Tonight I ordered both and was reminded of how gorgeous and delicious they can be.

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The thin slices of charred tuna marinated in Moroccan spices served with orange segments and deep fried garlic chips sang in my mouth.  Every bite was an explosion of exotic flavors.  The scallops were perfectly seared by my sous chef Alejandro Hernandez and served with a pile of zucchini spaghetti and a carrot juice and saffron emulsion.  Like a bad infection, the underdone flatbread reappeared at our table.  I returned it, hoping never to see it again.  Celeste our unbelievable sommelier picked a Pic Poul that went spot on with both dishes.

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We moved onto two newer dishes, a Piquillo Pepper roasted and stuffed with Cypress Grove Sgt. Pepper’s Goat Cheese served over a Mache Salad dressed in a shallot vinaigrette that to me was jaw dropping in it’s flavors, richness and creaminess.  We also had the Spring Sweet Pea and Mascarpone Ravioli in a Lemon Vegetable Brodo with Truffled Pesto.  It was outstanding.  I had eaten my fair share of these raviolis in the kitchen but to get them table-side was orgasmic.  We decided to let Celeste go and surprise us with wine choices.  She knows my palate well enough.  She picked a Cinsault Rose that sang to the gods.

We moved onto probably my favorite dish on the current menu, a whole Daurade Royale served with Artichoke and Fennel Barigoule with Olive Tapenado.  Celeste served two wines, a Domaine Coulerette Chablis that sang and an effervescent Getariako.  Both were great in their own way.  One thing I always wonder is why more guests coming to a restaurant do not leave the experience in the hands of the Chef and sommelier.  It is a far more interesting way to eat and you will probably try things you are unfamiliar with.  Part of the problem is we fear letting go of control.  We think we are open minded and ready for spontaneous things.  When in reality we want to be firmly in control fearing the unexplored and the new and different.

While eating the Daurade the table next to us returned the Porchetta, a spit roasted acorn fed pig slow cooked over a wood fire on our custom made Italian rotisserie.  I ordered some to try it myself.  Another dish I love in the kitchen but would never order.  The customer felt it was too fatty.  I felt it was perfectly cooked and would not change a thing.  Sometimes dear friends the customer is NOT right.  The Pigue Newton, a fig and bacon compote we serve with it went extremely well.  Celeste had picked a Burgundy to match the pork.  Another great choice.

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While eating I noticed a gentleman I had spoken with a few days before sitting at the table next to me.  The attempt of dining incognito ended.  I bought two desserts for the porchetta table and introduced myself when they received it.  I said hello and talked with the gentlemen I met before and started a great conversation with the folks next to me who happened to be from my hometown of Chicago.  I also met the owner of a few area restaurants and discussed our concept with him.  Celeste is pictured above with the doctor who owns three area restaurants.

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We finished the night off with a dessert me and former pastry Chef Sarah Smith had come up with while working at Copper Beech Inn in Connecticut a few years back.  It has been re purposed and modified with current pastry chef Carla Rojas.  It is a Strawberry Soup with a Vacherin of Mara de Bois Strawberries and Frozen Lavender Yogurt.

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All in all it was a great night and everyone made me proud.  I am so happy with my sous chef Alex and my entire kitchen staff.  Javier and the front of the house did really really well minus a few mistakes on menu knowledge.  Micheal my charcuterie bar Chef did an amazing job with the cold food.  I forgot to mention he served us a delectable parmesan shortbread with tomato confit and Bulgarian feta…  I slept very easily knowing we are on the straight and narrow road.  I may eat here again before thirty years pass…  If you come to visit ask for me!

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The Land of Exceptional Pinot Noir

beaune 01Hallelujah! Hallelujah! What an incredible start to the day!  Despite staying up later than I wanted sorting through over 300 pictures taken yesterday I feel great.  Beau still hasn’t fully adjusted to the time change but is doing better.  He is a little crabby and needy when he wakes up but after a double espresso he seems to be able to cope. Just like his Daddy.

After checking out of the Chateau, we stopped at a small Boulangerie along the highway for two croissant and two pain au chocolat. PURE HEAVEN!  I often wonder why American pastries are overly sugary, especially breakfast ones.  I suppose that leads me to my second gripe about American food norms – why the hell are children’s menus so god awful for children or even adults for that matter.  Who  really wants to feed their children deep fried chicken, grilled cheeses or mac and cheese as an industry norm?  Nothing wrong with very occasional delves into unhealthy food but could someone explain why kids cannot eat the exact same food in smaller portions as the adults eat?  Beaumont has been the shining star of that example.  In his short five months of eating he started with duck confit went to truffles and now has progressed to sweetbreads and kidneys.  Never once has he looked me in the eye and bitch that there weren’t French fries, fried chicken or ketchup included in his repas.

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On the three hour drive south to Beaune (Burgundy) we stopped twice at a gas station, once  for coffee and once for gas.  It is really amazing to note the  cultural difference between France and America.  At the first gas station, I stopped in their version of a quickie mart for bottled water and was amazed they sold, among other things, real Madrange ham.  Unbelievable, something you actually would want to eat if you didn’t have time for a proper meal.  The coffee I got actually was good, full bodied and rich, not watered down brown water served burnt in a variety of big gulp sizes.  The diner equivalent had a variety of great salads, cheeses, hot dishes that actually looked good and wine.  No unhealthy prefabricated industrial food.

 

The second round of comparing cultures came when we went to the supermarket for bottled water and to do laundry.  On the surface the supermarket looked similar to any in America but upon further investigation I found blaring differences.  The first and largest difference was found in the seafood aisle.  They offered everything from the briny delectable crevettes gris (grey shrimp), langoustines (sweet, succulent deep sea lobsters), daurade royale, rouget, monkfish, etc. etc.  The variety of fish was amazing.  When I lived in Mendocino,I always found it astounding that along America’s longest coastline the grocery stores would have you believe that only salmon, halibut, and two other fish are can be found.    Walking further into the store I found lobes of foie gras, beautiful guinea fowl from a small farm and elk.

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For lunch today we went to a restaurant a friend has been raving about for at least ten years called Ma Cuisine.  I clearily understand exactly why he raved and will say GO THERE NOW!

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The sign leading to gastronomic paradise…  Ma Cuisine in Beaune

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My cousin Andre met us there for one of the best, simple and regional meals I have had in decades.  Lisa and I started with Ham Persillade, a Burgundian classic that also will find its way onto Figue’s charcuterie menu charcuterie plate.

Last night Beaumont was l’enfant impossible… today both Lisa and I were absolutely jittery about which Beau we would dine with.  Today we were blessed with little angel Beaumont, the petit gourmand.

Beau started with tasty little black olives

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Segued into daddy’s veal kidneys in a mustard sauce and maman’s ris de veau (damn, I swear that boy cannot eat enough sweetbreads!) and finished on the cheese plate complete with probably the most perfect Epoisses I have ever eaten.  To paraphrase Brillat Savarin, ‘a meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with one eye’ – she may satisfy you in the short term but damn what happened to that eye!

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For Beaumont’s last two acts at Ma Cuisine he took a short stroll with Papa exploring the various puddles that filled the cobblestone walkway in front and slept – YES SLEPT!  Hallelujah!

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This is what heaven looks like to me

Anyone who truly loves wine will appreciate the following picture.  I took it shortly after Ma Cuisine and before descending into a cave for wine tasting…

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I honestly am not even sure of the winery’s name we visited.  There was door it said come in drink some wine and we scurried in.  They gave you tastlevin, little cork dorky wine tasting silver cups and told you have at it, take the tour on your own at your own pace… and only drink one glass of each of the 14 wines, please.  Wines were strategically placed down in the cave at various points.

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We ended up buying several bottles including a moderately priced ancient wine to share with friends joining us in Provence in a few days.  The rest of the afternoon was spent stopping in cheese shops, charcuteries, chocolate shops, knife shops and walking all over the picturesque town of Beaune.  I could live here very easily if I just could hit the lottery.

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Hardly hungry and closely hitting the proverbial food wall we returned to the town center for dinner where Beau gave his best dining performance of the trip.  He actually slept through all three courses including Lisa’s kir royale!  Hallelujah!

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I actually prodded him after I took this shot as I wasn’t sure if he was dead or alive.  Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah!!!

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On the way out of the brasserie he was awake long enough to get some cute little 15 month old French girl’s phone number before blissfully returning to sleep!

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The quiet streets of Beaune just minutes ago… bon soir!