Bourride… Bouillabaisse’s Troubled Cousin

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Ah, I am going to piss off family members and bouillabaisse purists with this one.  Bourride is bouillabaisse’s troubled cousin.  Try referencing food dictionaries and you’ll see as many different versions as there are books.  Some claim the only true Bourride is made solely with monkfish in a white creamy sauce, possibly flavored with crushed fish liver and others add saffron and orange.  I once had a prominent French Chef taste my bourride and tell me it was good, but not a true bourride.  I started making Bourride at the behest of a lawyer/book dealer friend of mine at ‘le Margaux’ way back in 1993.  He told me it was one of his favorite dishes and asked if I ever made it.  I don’t know why I lied, but I did.  I said with utmost confidence that it was a specialty of mine and of course, I would be delighted to make it for him whenever he could get in, hoping that day would be far off enough for me to make it a few times.  He made a reservation for the next night and was bringing twelve of his closest friends to indulge.  Panic snuck in as I combed through various cook books trying to find at least two books corroborating the recipe.  When I failed in that I figured the oldest book I had probably was the closest to a true Bourride.  I settled on the version written in 1938 in the first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique.  I followed the three paragraph recipe with my mother’s indifference to measurement and impressed the twelve top.  Over the years I have continued to make Bourride and think of my friend every time.  If you want to try my saffron and orange version come on out to Figue Mediterranean in La Quinta, California and I’ll be happy to make it for you!

Bourride 1995

 

Bourride│ Provencal Seafood Stew, St. Pierre, Scallops, Mussels, Clams, Saffron Orange Brodo, Rouille

Chef François de Mélogue

 

Ingredients for four servings:

12                                Cockles

12                                Mussels

4                                  Scallops

1 #                              St. Pierre

½  head                    Fennel

1 large                       Onion

1 large                       Carrot

1 large                       Tomatoes

2 T.                              Pernod

loads of                     Garlic

2 c.                             White Wine

1 quart                      Shellfish Stock

1 c.                             Orange Juice

2 t.                               Saffron threads

1 c.                             Olive Oil

1                                  fresh Bay Leaf

2 T.                              fresh Thyme

1/4 c.                         fresh Basil

2                                  Egg Yolks

to taste                      Sea Salt

to taste                      White Pepper

4 large                       Potatoes

8                                  Garlic Croutons

1 c.                             Rouille

 

Mise en Place

  1. Carefully wash the cockles and mussels to remove any sand or grit. De – beard mussels.  Place all your seafood into a non-reactive pan.  Chop fennel tops and spread over seafood.  Add 3/4 c. olive oil, 1 T. Pernod, pinch of saffron, and lots of chopped garlic.  Marinate for six hours.
  2. Julienne fennel bulb, onion, carrots, and tomato, then sauté in olive oil.
  3. Add remaining Pernod and white wine.
  4. When it starts to simmer, add shellfish stock, more garlic, orange oil, saffron, bay leaf, basil, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil.

 

To Order

  1. Add seafood; cook till they are just done.
  2. Put seafood into a serving terrine.  Whisk yolks and one cup of Rouille into cooking liquid, and then pour over fish.
  3. Serve with boiled potatoes, garlic crouton, and Rouille.

Bourride from Chicago Magazine 2004

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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Café Liégeois

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This classic French dessert always tugs on my heart strings.  My maman used to make it all the time during the summer months when I was growing up.  Café Liégeois originally was called Café Viennois but during World War I when the Germans attacked Liège, Parisian restaurants changed the name to Café Liégeois.

Café Liégeois is a very simple recipe that allows lots of variants to be created.  Classically it is made from iced and sweetened espresso, coffee ice cream & sweetened whipped cream.  This last weekend I made a variant called Barcelona Liégeois made with iced espresso, chocolate sorbet , salted caramel, whipped cream, chopped Marcona almonds and a Pirouette cookie from Pepperidge Farms.

No recipe is needed other than for salted Caramel sauce and even that is so easy and flexible.  I start by caramelizing ½ c. organic sugar and about ¼ c. water in a heavy gauged pot over medium heat.  As you start heating the pan notice the small size of the bubbles.  As the sugar cooks and the moisture cooks off the bubbles will get considerably larger.  Pour in ¼ c. of Heavy Cream when the caramel turns an amber color.  Finish the sauce with two pinches of really good sea salt and a tablespoon of butter.

Construct your Café Liégeois with chilled sweetened espresso, a few scoops of chocolate sorbet, a tablespoon or more of salted caramel sauce, a few tablespoons of sweetened whipped cream, a few large pinches of chopped Marcona almonds and a Pirouette cookie.

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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.

gas station

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!

Day Two: 3:56 AM

Paris 040712 08Day two began altogether too early.  Little Beau woke up at 3:56 completely awake and full of life.  Apparently he did not get the memo about the time change and proceeded to flick on and off light switches till we all surrendered to being awake.  Lisa went as far as showering and applying makeup while I dug in the trenches and tried to fight infant Satan with all my snoring powers.  Even Lisa joined Beau on the dark side insisting I shower at 4:23 and start the day.  Luckily by 5:34 Beau, Lisa and myself and fallen back into heavy slumber till 10 am.

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Day two re-began now at a more sensible hour with café crème, croissant and pain au chocolat.  We strolled along the Seine snapping shots and generally wandering kind of in search of a converter to restore electric power to our dying laptop.  Low and behold we ended up running into Jean Paul Hevin, a famous chocolate shop, for late morning Chocolate cigars and mille Feuille then into Pierre Herme’s simpler pastry shop for macaroons and drinking cocoa.  Yes Bacchus, gluttony has begun.  Somewhere past the Louvre we hopped in a motorized rickshaw for a thrilling ride thru gay Paris to our lunch reservation at La Fermette Marbeuf, an unbelievable beautiful restaurant dating back to the late 1800’s that almost was destroyed in the 1970’s being saved by workmen who discovered the famous art nouveau stained glass below coats of paint and plaster.

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Lunch was amazing, edible trip back to my favorite period of cuisine (1870’s to 1930’s).  We started with a puree of mushrooms with crispy parmesan while deciding on our order.  I opted for a torchon of foie gras with fig compote while Lisa chose the season’s first white asparagus of the season from Nantes served with a poached egg and an amazing Hollandaise.  My foie gras slathered on pain grilles melted in my mouth.  Beaumont had a mini meltdown which allowed me to steal two plump spears of asparagus while Lisa took Beau outside the restaurant.   I admit I felt tinges of guilt during the episode.  Beau and Lisa returned and we continued with our lunch.  We drank a delicious Bordeaux, Le Clementine du Chateau Pape Clement 2004, that married well with my foie gras and both our main courses.

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Lisa continued with Magret de Canard, the steak like breast from a duck who gave it’s life in the service of foie gras production, served atop a pile of roasted fingerlings, carrots and haricots verts while I opted for the most tender and amazing milk fed veal dish I have ever eaten: escalopes de veau panée Viennoise.  Who knew how tender a baby veal could be snatched from it’s mother?  I had a cheese plate and Lisa had Crepes Suzette for dessert.

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After espresso’s we continued our pilgrimage for chocolate shops and all things designed to stretch our stomachs.  Walking thru Paris with a wine buzz is great.  We ended up at chocolat shop number three and Pierre Herme shop number two.  I am surprised they didn’t remember Lisa from our last trip through Paris as she bought 188 Euros worth of desserts in three minutes.  This time we escaped with only a 66 Euro bill.  I played with Beau by a famous fountain while she shopped for pastries.

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Fatigued and tired of walking miles and, excusez moi, kilometers and kilometers thru Paris’s ancient streets we hopped a cab and ended up back at the Hotel Agora.  Still saturated from lunch’s excesses we headed out for a Fruits de Mer platter in the Les Halles section of town…  one more bottle of wine and a big platter later we were in seafood comatose…

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The saga continues…

I got a Beaune-ner

Day 16 and 17 (even though it hasn’t happened yet) A Beaune Idea

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The original plan was to check out of our Provencal vacation rental, drive at light speed to Paris over six hours away, race to the hotel, babysitter than La Tour d’Argent for singularly the best foie gras dish I have ever eaten in my 48 years.  With the liver taxed and severe bloating setting in the idea of fast or running like OJ through Paris just seemed impossible.  I started thinking that Beaune was half way in between and maybe we needed to revisit either Ma Cuisine or La Ciboulette again.

Andre, or Pastis as we began calling him, called Ma Cuisine for us and DAMN it they were closed for lunch on Saturday.  Luckily la Ciboulette was open and Beaumont had not had a melt down there.

We arrived in Beaune in time for our lunch reservation and somewhere during the three hour drive there we decided gluttony was the theme for the last day.  I will guarantee I am paying for it this morning with sloth like movements and the reflexes of a 200 year old.  We decided on the 29 E prix fixe as it had both a Magret and beef with Epoisses for Walter.

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We started with a glass of Champagne and nibbled on rillettes of pork with garden radishes.  Champagne always whets the appetite no matter how full or overly saturated with wine you are.  It is always the right and civilized thing to start with.  Even as I am writing on the plane ride home even more saturated, dehydrated, bloated and gastronomically beat (gluttons will be gluttons, we did stop for a quick bite at Gordon Ramsey’s resto during our three hour layover in London) the stewardess just handed me a glass of sparkling sunlight and the cycle of Bacchus restarts.

We started with a 2009 Puligny Montrachet from Etienne Sauzet.  Maybe not the perfect match for a dozen of the best escargots in garlic butter I have had in years but delightful.  I started with Jambon Persille.  When in Beaune do as the Beauneans!  We switched gears to a Domaine Pierre Damoy 2001 Chambertin Grand Cru for our main course of Magret de Canard and Walter’s Pave of Beef aux Epoisses.  The wine was wonderful and matched the Magret high note for high note.  Ordering the cheese course was easy since we all had Epoisses on the brain.  We ordered a half bottle of Michel Gros 2009 Chambolle Musigny as the Damoy was kicked.  We had a nice dessert before heading over to Walter’s favorite wine shop in Beaune.  Due to copious quantities of alcohol, I kept making comments like: ‘I got a Beaune-ner’ and ‘coming here was a Beaune-ness’.  Perhaps you too should be feeling no pain as I was.

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The owner of the wine shop cracked a huge smile when Walter walked in.  Walter had spent many an hour drinking killer bottles of Burgundian juice in that shop and probably shipped as much Burgundy home to his house in Sacramento as some bigger distributors in the USA have.  Just to get motivated to look at the bottles Walter bought a serious bottle of Burgundy from his favorite producer to drink while shopping.  Walter was overly kind and bought us two jewels to take home as souvenirs from an incredible trip.  We also bought a 2003 Domaine Dujac Clos de le Roche to nurse with yet another wheel of Epoisses later that night in Paris.  I was so dehydrated by this point.  We stopped at a café for a double espresso to help me see single again so we could push on forward and drive the remaining 3 hours to Paris.

Day 17: on board British Airways

So I am in my seat drinking yet more Champagne and thinking of the future.  We did have a nice meal at Gordon Ramsey’s resto at Heathrow.  We started with Champagne (go ahead, say ‘but of course’ in your best French accent) to drink with our Szechuan pepper and salt calamari and my Queenie Scallops with Garlic and herb breadcrumbs; a half bottle of 2005 Rioja Reserve with my aged English Rib Eye sauce Béarnaise with Chips and Lisa’s Whiskey cured Salmon with soft boiled duck egg and asparagus.  My liver and belly are hoping this will be the last overindulgence’s till the next trip to France.  Beau is fast asleep being feed an increasingly wine-saturated breast milk for the last 16 days.  Lisa is watching a DVD and enjoying a glass of Rioja enjoying the quietness of the snoring Beau.  Whoops, he just woke up.

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I look to the future of my new position as Chef of Figue and hope the kitchen staff is ready to kick some ass and take no prisoners.  I hope my dreams of what this can be, will be and that the future brings forth everything both Lee the owner and myself hoped it would and even perhaps, brings all of us to new plateaus we never even knew existed.

Chef Francois de Melogue

Gimme Head

Get your heads out of the gutter!  I just had the most incredible dinner ever.  My first day off in a few weeks.  Body feels like Mike Tyson just kicked my ass.  Figue is doing great! All I wanted to do was spend time with my lovely wife and son and perhaps an incredible bottle of wine.  We enjoyed a hangar steak, some great mustard from Dijon, France, a bottle of Guigal 1995 Cote Rotie and a fantastic head of cauliflower.

Cauliflower has to be the most underrated of all vegetables.  Try taking a beautiful Farmer’s Market head and slow cooking in as large saute pan with olive oil.  I usually cut the raw head in quarter inch slices and lay flat in a large pan.  Cook on low heat till lightly brown.  Add red pepper flakes, chopped anchovies, loads of garlic and basil.  Cook till the garlic makes you salivate so bad you can’t handle it!

Living the good life, always!

Day 15 of the Occupation: Moustiers Sainte Marie and Ducasse

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Today we headed out to Moustiers Sainte Marie for sightseeing and dining at Alain Ducasse’s low key Provencal concept Bastides de Moustiers.  Moustiers is a small village clinging to the cliffs in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. It lies at the western entrance of the Gorges du Verdon, France’s version of the Grand Canyon. The village has been a center for beautiful hand painted faïence pottery for centuries.

Above the town, a gold star hangs on a 670 foot long chain suspended between two cliffs. According to the legend, during the Crusades the knight Bozon de Blacas was held prisoner by the Saracens and vowed to hang a star over the village on his return.  The legend was popularized by Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral.

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The town is another one of those amazingly beautiful Provencal towns you wish you could just take home with you.  The steep narrow streets are home to several artisans and restaurants.  We were lucky to come on a market day which added even more character to an already colorful town.  Beaumont, as usual, ran to every single fountain in town and to all the amazing views of 50 foot waterfalls that run thru the town center.

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The town is surrounded by super fertile farmland where every single amazing lavender shot you see of Provence is taken.  Since it was early for lavender I took the obligatory beautiful sheep picture instead.  Beau was in heaven as his favorite toy is a stuffed sheep named bah bah.  Poor Beau sounded like he had Tourette syndrome with the repeated bah bahs.

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The absolute highlight of the day and by far the best dining experience of the trip was at Michelin superstar Alain Ducasse’s Bastide du Moustiers.  I have eaten at two other Ducasse restaurants, Louis XV in Monte Carlo and Alain Ducasse in Paris and been wowed.  I expected no less here.

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Dining in a proper French restaurant is a quasi-religious experience.  It really starts before you eat, even long before you sit down at your table.  The experience starts as you pull into the property.  I think the single thing we miss the most in most of our restaurants that appreciation of the food/wine experience has as much to do with the mood you are in as it does the actual food/wine.  If you are in a terrible mood no food on Earth will taste good to you.  If you are incredibly happy even a mediocre meal can bring ecstatic joy.  Part of upscale dining is creating that mood early and reinforcing it throughout.  The drive onto your property, the landscaping, the genuine reception you receive as you encounter employees along the way, the décor of the restaurant, the restaurant setting, a pleasing menu, a few simple bites of food to nosh over while drinking a glass of champagne to the actual food.  I might even argue the experience begins at home when we read about the restaurants and drool over pictures and menus.

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The meal started with glasses of Alain Ducasse’s signature Champagne, a selection of crunchy flat breads and just picked French radishes with herbed Fromages Blanc.  It may not sound so exquisite but it set the tone for what the concept is.  While nibbling and drinking Champagne we chose the menu and ordered a bottle of 1999 Chateau Rayas Blanc, a straw colored wine that was poetry in a glass.  It absolutely sang with our first and second courses.

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The first course was a super flavorful puree of Asparagus with Goat Cheese Raviolis and shaved Asparagus.  They set the perfectly heated bowl down with three raviolis and three thin slices of asparagus and poured the puree over.

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The second course was Salted Codfish with Fennel and Olives.  There was pureed fennel, roasted fennel and raw fennel slices.  The Chateau Rayas sang with both courses amazingly well, for different reasons.  For the main course and cheese we switched to the best wine of the trip which was a Domaine de Trévallon from 2001.  The nose was ungodly good and the flavor was sublime.

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The roasted Veal Chop was presented whole on a silver platter then carved into thick slices and served on Swiss Chard stems with veal stock.  Swiss Chard leaves were blanched and tossed with a fruity olive oil.  Simple, uncomplicated flavors showcasing quality ingredients.  Simple appearing food is much harder to pull off than plates with 20 ingredients on.  The real art is not how much you can put on BUT how much you can take off.  The veal was so tender and flavorful.

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Astute followers of my diatribes probably guessed that cheese was coming next.  The cheeses were all local and served with two condiments, a sweet pepper jam and a caramelized onion and black pepper jam.  The onion jam was crazy.

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Dessert was just picked sweet as candy strawberries with a fromage blanc sorbet served with a 50 cl bottle of Domaine Allemand ~ Goutte de Soleil from 2010 that absolutely married the dessert.  Not on the menu was the first of a series of surprises starting with a rhubarb tart, also just picked from the garden.

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Next was an unexpected plate of handmade white chocolate flavored lightly with lemon; hazelnut biscotti and strawberry gelee.  The meal finished with homemade limoncello poured from a gigantic bottle.  We were reminded by the Monty Python routine where the waiter tries to get a guest to eat just one more thin wafers.  Just one more thin wafer.  It was spectacular.  We ended with a tour of the kitchen, pastry kitchen and purchases on a Ducasse book.

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Wow and Goodnight!

A French Family Reunion

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A fantastique day!  The sky was blue as the azure hues of the Mediterranean dotted with big puffy meringue clouds and temperatures holding in the 70’s.  The promised rain had not come and the Mistral took a day off.

Walter, Lisa and I ran off to the Cavaillon intermarche for party supplies only to once again fill our cart with way too much cheese, saucisson, wine, fish and dairy products.  I simply cannot help myself.  There must be some 12 step program for gluttons.  Hello, my name is Francois and I have a foie gras addiction.  The menu for today’s madness is grilled fat white asparagus, tomato salad, roasted potatoes, various cured meats, my cousin Andre’s favorite Cioppino, Emincer de Boeuf Smitane and an assortment of grillable sausages.

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We had Francois, Marc and Muriel from the Alps (Lolo’s family); Anne, Luciano et Annie (cousin, cousin’s son and aunt) from Marseilles and Aix en Provence; Andre, Lolo, Genevieve and Arlette (cousin, cousin’s wife, cousin and aunt) from Marseille; Catherine, Roland and Auguste (cousin, cousin’s husband and son) from Toulouse; Dan, Stephanie and Simone from California; Walter and Kathy from Sacramento and Lisa, Beaumont and Myself.

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Today made me feel as though I wish I had spent more time with my family in life.  I really do not regret much in life.  It’s just I love my family a lot and want to be closer to them.  A large ocean should not separate us.  Another thing I realized is my mother’s paw print, if you will, on me.  Every child has a more dominate parent who they are most like.  I am definitely my mother’s child.  And by virtue of that fact, the France I know existed 50 years ago.  SACRE BLEU!  The music I adore, Georges Brassens, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, etc.  The non-compromising attitude towards food and wine, I love my maman.  I wish she had come with us to France…

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It was wonderful spending time with everyone in my family.  Lisa and I both wished the day would last forever.  So many times in my youth I sat at tables like the small children seated today.  This meal has been played out 100’s of times throughout life.  It is the family gathering anywhere.  I look back in pictures and see my uncles and aunts in the vitality of their youth.  Now it is time for us to stand in the pictures that form the child’s imagination and memories.  It is our part in the wheel of life.  The moments of Beaumont’s life he will cherish and remember to his dying days.

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When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose.

Good Night!  La Vie en Rose…