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.

 

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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Artichoke and Goat Cheese Tarte Tatin Recipe

Artichoke Tarte Tatin

Chef François de Mélogue, the still unnamed restaurant in La Quinta

Ingredients for four servings:

1 each                       Red Bell Pepper

1 each                       Onion

1 each                       Fennel

4 each                       globe Artichokes

¼ cup                        Olive Oil

1 each                       Lemon, washed

2 ounces                   fresh Goat Cheese

1 ounce                    grated Parmesan

4 each                      Puff Pastry Circles (cut same diameter as tart pan)

Directions:

Julienne red pepper, onion and fennel, then sauté till tender.  You will have more than you need for four tarts.  Peel artichokes using a sharp paring knife carefully cutting around the bottom.  Continue trimming artichoke bottom till all the outer leaves are removed and there are no more green spots.  Use a spoon to scoop out the choke.  Cook the four bottoms in salted water mixed with olive oil and sliced lemon.   The lemon helps keep the artichoke from oxidizing.  The artichokes are cooked when a paring knife easily pierces the bottoms.  Remove and chill.

Sprinkle a little olive oil into the bottoms of four small tart pans, about four inches in diameter.  Slice each artichoke thinly and lay in bottom of tart pan.  Top with a tablespoon of julienned vegetable and ½ ounce of goat cheese.  Sprinkle parmesan over.  Then lay puff pastry circle over, pressing the edges firmly around the tart.  Bake at 450 till golden brown, about 12 minutes.  Invert onto warm plate.  Spoon olive emulsion on top, drizzle some basil oil around and enjoy.

Olive Emulsion

1/4 cup                    chopped pitted Niçoise Olives

3 each                     Egg Yolks

1/2 teaspoon          Black Pepper

2 tablespoons         Lemon Juice

1 cup                       Olive Oil

Directions:

Mix chopped olives with egg yolks, black pepper and lemon juice.  Whisk over boiling water in a stainless steel bowl till light and creamy.  Slowly whisk in olive oil.  Adjust seasoning and spoon over cooked tarts.

Basil Oil

1 bunch                   Basil

2 cloves                   Garlic

3 Tablespoons         Olive Oil

Directions:

Puree everything in your food processor.  The basil oil should be thinner than pesto when finished.

Chef Notes:

The artichoke Tarte Tatin is a playful dish based on the classic French Apple Tart.  Artichokes are always a hard vegetable to pair with wine.  Claudia Springs Viognier seamlessly marries with the rich flavors of olive emulsion and basil oil and provided an interesting foil to the goat cheese.

The Story of ‘How We Came to BE’, The Menu Exploded: A Deeper Look at Our Approach

 

“It’s a simple business: Develop good food

and get it into people’s mouths. The rest sort of takes care of itself.”

~ Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You

I once read an article detailing Richard Melman’s approach to designing a new restaurant concept.  The very first step was to create a storyboard that told the story of the new idea, perhaps written by a person who worked there, and was asked to describe life and service in the restaurant.  Everything, from the menu, wine list, art work to even the paint scheme emanated from it.   The idea struck a chord deep inside because I am a visual and small detail oriented person. Since then I have tried to incorporate it into my approach writing menus.

 

a charcuterie market and a spice merchant’s market in Avignon

 

Lately I have been looking for the perfect Sous Chef and Pastry Chef.  I described to a recent Pastry Chef candidate what I was wanting from her, “What I would love is your expression of what should be on the pastry menu of a Mediterranean Restaurant specializing in French, Spanish and Italian with forays into Morocco, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon.  It is our goal to convey the story, the history of the people, through food.  If somehow you can distill this into pastries than you have gotten what I am attempting.”

I am not trying to be too esoteric; my goal is to take people somewhere, on a three hour adventure from their homes in the California Desert to the shores of the Mediterranean.  I want the experience to be so authentic and real that if you closed your eyes, the flavors, smells and sounds may just well make you believe you are really there.

“The Mediterranean cuisine is one of the most colorful and vibrant in the world, providing sensual dishes flavored with wild herbs gathered from the hillsides; lamb and chicken are often roasted whole over coals; vegetables are abundant and used in a wide variety of soups, bakes and salads.”

 

a whole local pig porchetta straight off the rotisserie

the pig comes from Cookpig in California

 

My inspirations have come from spending a portion of my informative years visiting relatives all over the South of France, to comparative dining to reading a lot online, in books and vicarious trips lived through letters and phone calls of close friends. One of my favorite authors is Colman Andrews.  I recently picked up his book “The Country Cooking of Italy” and came across his recipe for Sguazabarbuz, a variation of pasta e fagioli.  The name intrigued me so much I researched it further.  I came across a web site mentioning the history, “The story tells that on May 29, 1503 Lucrezia Borgia came to Ferrara to marry Alfonso I d’Este and a steward of the Palace, taking inspiration from her golden locks, created this special pasta and passed down the recipe from generation to generation. The pasta is cut into irregular strips, in fact they are called “maltagliati” (cut badly) and if it is cooked in a bean and pork fat broth they are called ‘sguazabarbuz’.”

Another dish making its debut will be a Pistachio, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake served with ‘Spice Road Caravan’ cherries and cherry sorbet.  Individual three ounce cakes made from Sicilian green pistachios, polenta and olive oil batter cooked and served at room temperature garnished with fresh spun cherry sorbet and with what I term Silk Road Caravan spiced cherries.  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.

My cake’s origins lay not in a cultural tradition passed generation to generation by any one culture but rather in my head combining bits and pieces of various experiences and references.

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’s name was originally derived from the Roman staple puls, or pulmentum. Pulmentum also was the Roman’s soldier 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.  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.

In America we have the freedom to combine, mix and mutate without the same restraints my French family would face.  They would never dream to mix as freely as I will.  Noted British Chef Marco Pierre White once said the kitchen was his freedom.  The new, still nameless restaurant is my freedom.

Chef François

ps. Vote on the new restaurant name at my FaceBook Chef Page!