The 9th International Alsatian Wine and Food Festival 2014

Wow!  It is that time of year again! Time to don our festive Alsatian outfits and drink our way through a legion of unpronounceable white wine varietals while eating delicious pork and Asian inspired dishes.

Alsace 2012

Bob and Claudia Klindt,
Claudia Springs Winery

For me it is something far more, something more akin to a spiritual homecoming to a place where my heart and soul still resides.  My family lived in Mendocino for seven years and I still think about those beautiful experiences often.  I had the good fortune to work with Bob and Claudia Klindt at their amazing micro winery, Claudia Springs Winery for three years. I was their cellar rat performing whatever task that needed to be done on that date.  One hat I wore remarkably well was marketing, basically a license to torture them electronically with imagery and pictures only a twisted kitchen mind could conceive.  In their good nature they actual let me run with a few of them and never fired me, though the picture of Bob in Alsatian attire came awfully close.  I had a lot of fun working there and learned a lot from Bob and Claudia.

Every year, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association host two great festivals, Pinot Fest and the other celebrating the wine varietals commonly found  in the Alsace region of France.  My great grandparents are from Alsace so the thought of eating steamy bowls of choucroute while downing glasses of Gewurztraminer almost sounds sexy.

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Chef Francois with Shirley Londer, Londer Vineyards

The International Alsatian Wine Festival was one of the highlights of the year  I looked forward to.  Dozens of winemakers and restaurants from all over the world converged on our sleepy little valley and uncorked some of the world’s most amazing white wines.  I eventually got involved with some of the inner workings of the festival culminating with me coordinating the food side of the event in 2011.

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I got bitten by the Chef bug and returned to man the ranges at Figue Mediterranean in the Palm Springs area of Southern California.  For a year and half I have been deeply immersed in all things Mediterranean from beautifully poetic seafood stews like Bourride, Bouillabaisses less elaborate cousin to Moroccan Chicken Tajines to perfecting the art of spit roasting and everything in between.

Like the prodigal son I am returning to the Anderson Valley this Friday to do a demo of my Moroccan Seared Sea Scallops that I formulated especially for this event.  It is a quirky fusion of Moroccan and Italian tastes that simply work well together with off-dry Gewurztraminers.  My thought process was to create something that not the typical foods paired but would fit the bill.  I consulted Evan Goldstein’s book ‘Perfect Pairings’ and took his wonderful pairing advice.

Gewurtraminer goes well with aromatically spicy dishes.  You need to be aware of the level of heat, but exotic cuisines that stress curry, ginger, clove, cinnamon, allspice and cardamom are very happy tablemates.

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Claudia Springs Winery on a misty May morning

I thought about the cuisine we are doing at Figue (www.EatFigue.com) which really is a fusion between classic, traditional flavors and bold and experimental interpretations fusing different cultures.  The Mediterranean is the first true fusion cooking the world has known.  The menu of Figue is the story of the Mediterranean.  It is the story of conquests, invasions, immigrations and discovery.  Each wave of change brought new foods, cooking techniques and dishes to the table.  I look at the range of typical recipes, ingredients and techniques and see an artist’s palette full of beautiful colors and sensuous flavors waiting to be reimagined on a canvas.

my Seared Moroccan Sea Scallop with Preserved Lemon Farrotto, Green Charmoula and Gewurztraminer recipe

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Panigacci: Ligurian layered Pasta with Pesto

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In my researching interesting dishes for the menu at Figue Mediterranean I came across this dish in Carol Field’s excellent book “In Nonna’s Kitchen”.  I was taken by the rustic simplicity that I had to try it right away.  I made it first for my sous chef Keith Schneider and former manager Frederic Watson.  All of us were consumed by the simple flavors of basil married with tomato married with the soft pasta layers.  I tried finding references in other Italian books and couldn’t really find much.  The only other reference to it was a form of ancient flat bread baked directly in the hot coals of a fire.

Making Panigacci is more like making crepes than rolling pasta.  The first step is making the batter.

9 ounces Flour ( I used all purpose)

pinch Sea Salt

2-1/3 c. filtered Water

Mix the ingredients and strain into a four cup glass measuring cup.  Heat a small amount of oil in a Teflon pan and pour just enough batter to make a “crepe’.  If you have never made crepes google it.  The technique is the same.  The recipe should yield enough crepes for one panigacci.

Next make a simple pesto with basil and pine nuts.  I never measure ingredients and go more on feel and flavor but I will offer these helpful tips.  Do not buy store bought pesto because it sucks.  I start with a small boiled fingerling potato, garlic, Parmesan and olive oil pureed in a food processor.  The addition of a small potato came from an Italian chef.  The potato keeps your basil from turning brown and adds a level of creaminess that is amazing.  If I had to guess quantities I would say one fingerling peeled, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, 1 cup Parmesan (I used Reggiano) and one cup of extra virgin olive oil.  With the motor running I add about one pound of basil leaves that were blanched and shocked and I puree till smooth.  To me pesto should taste creamy, basilly with a hint of garlic.

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Spoon one tablespoon of pesto over each panigacci till you are done.  Roast the whole panigacci in your oven, or wood burning oven as we do.  Cut into wedges and serve on a San Marzano tomato sauce.  Try this immediately.  You will absolutely fall in love with it.  Thank You Carol Field for publishing such a great recipe!  I strongly suggest finding her books and buying them all!

The Importance of Sunday with Your Family

Que up Louis Armstrong’s version of La Vie en RoseIf I were a better storyteller I would seduce you solely with my words, but since that’s not the case, pour yourself a great flute of Champagne and feel the love.  I currently am drinking a bottle of Agrapart et Fils 2004 bubbly and life is just fine and dandy.  Spending time with your family and loved ones is vital to the health of your soul, PERIOD.  It is what gives the rest of your week meaning and clarity.  I love cooking professionally, but I also love to see my wife and son.  My son Beaumont is at that perfect age where he is trying his best to copy me cooking imaginary works of edible art.  He sits on the counter, next to my heavy butcher block with his wooden knife and vegetables mimicking my every move. Priceless.

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This Sunday was the best day ever.  It started bright and early with Beaumont giggling as he poked first maman than daddis, his current name for me.  6:30 came quick on my day off considering I went to sleep well past 1:15 am.  A single short shot of Espresso would have been my preferred wake up method but the giggle of a precious little boy did well in a pinch.  The sun shined into my morning and life.  Today was just going to be a special day.

We breakfasted on strawberry buttermilk pancakes, Millionaire’s bacon and farm fresh eggs.  While eating we had the brilliant idea to drive to Idyllwild, California to play in the snow.  Yes my East Coast friend’s probably would laugh at our paltry 10 inches of fresh snow considering they just just three feet.  I laughed that it is 70 degrees and sunny in my driveway and 32 degrees and snowy a mere hour’s drive away.

Millionaire’s Bacon

Buy the best applewood smoked bacon you can find, rub it with brown sugar and red chili flakes and cook on a silpat at 350 degrees till it is brown and crispy.  The bacon gets a crunchy texture by allowing the caramelized sugar to cool.  I suggest refraining from drinking cold ice water and eating the bacon simultaneously, coagulation of fat in your arteries could occur.

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We arrived to a winter wonder in Idyllwild an hour and a half later  Snowflakes decorated the bushes, trees and streets giving us the feeling that we were nearer to Christmas than Spring.  We took Beau for his first sled ride at the Nature Park.  I think he was a bit confused by the snow and perhaps Lisa and I enjoyed the sledding part a bit more.  For lunch we stopped into a rustic little restaurant and dined on roasted garlic soup (Beau absolutely adored this), Roasted Polenta Cake and a bodacious meatball sub.  Delightful.  Sometimes, especially given that I cook for others in my career, it is utterly fantastic to go out and eat.

We drove through Winter and back into Spring with Beaumont happily snoring in the backseat.  Little babies have the cutest snore.  I try to instill in our family the custom of having at least one day a week where we gather together around the table, drink and eat something special.  I bought a beautiful chicken from De La Ranch, an organic farm in this region, some asparagus from another small farm (I still cannot believe that asparagus season has started and that heirloom tomatoes are still in the market). I made a rotolo di patate e spinaci to accompany the chicken.

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Little Beau sat contentedly on the counter next to my butcher block playing with old baby milk bottles as I seasoned up the chicken.  I stuffed the cavity with a fresh Eureka lemon, thyme from the garden and Espelette sea salt I bought in Provence last year.  While the chicken roasted I cooked a tomato confite and olive focaccia with a new dough I had been experimenting with.  Lisa and I drank our first glass of Agrapart et Fils 2004 and let the bubbles work their magic.  While the chicken roasted I got the rotolo di patate ready.  Sunday Funday Snow in Idylwild 28

This is not my recipe and I cannot remember exactly where I poached it…

Rotolo di Patate

1 pound of Russet Potatoes – boil till soft, peel then run through your food mill, season with sea salt and reserve to further in the recipe.

1 sweet onion, chopped – saute in olive oil till golden brown.

2 pounds of spinach – add cleaned spinach to your onions and cook till the spinach releases it’s water and wilts, about five minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and cool slightly.

1/2 cup ricotta

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

pinch of nutmeg and black pepper

1 egg yolk – add the ricotta, Parmesan, nutmeg and black pepper and egg yolk to the spinach mixture and reserve.

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup 00 flour – Mix the whole egg, baking powder and 00 flour into the reserved potato mixture, turn out onto a floured surface and roll to roughly a 14 by 10 inch rectangle.

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8 ounces of Speck (smoked Prosciutto) – lay thin slices of speck across the potato then spoon the spinach mixture evenly across the top.  Roll into a giant tube shape, wrap in cheesecloth, tie with string and poach in simmering water for 30 minutes.  This is almost like a giant deconstructed gnocchi.

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After poaching, remove string and cheesecloth and cut into eight thick slices.  Lay in a buttered ovenproof dish, dot with butter, cover with a copious quantity of grated Parmesan and bake with your chicken for 30 minutes.  Sit down, enjoy more Champagne.  Have a fantastic day with your family, this is why we work hard and it is well deserved!

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The Origins of Oysters Rockefeller

by François de Mélogue

Recently I had the great pleasure of working with father and son restaurateurs Kaiser and Lee Morcus in reinventing their steakhouse menu at ‘Chop House’, located on Highway 111 in Palm Desert. If you are a bar habitué you may have noticed a lot of mixologists have sections for retro and classic cocktails alongside modern and sometimes very innovative creations. I have sampled forgotten classics like Corpse Reviver (late 19th century) and Police Gazette Cocktail (1901) next to modern takes on Bellini’s and Mai Tai’s to inspired combinations like the Snap Pea Southside. I always thought the same approach would be well suited for restaurants, particularly steakhouses where food expectations are more classically rooted.

One of the dishes I added is Baked Oysters Rockefeller modeled after the original recipe developed in 1899 by Jules Alciatore, son of Antoine’s founder Antoine Alciatore. The story goes that at the time there was a shortage of escargots coming from France and Jules, being a resourceful lad, substituted abundantly available oysters for the hard to get escargot in the classic dish Escargots Bourguignonne. New Orleans recipes always varied from their French cousins through additions of local flavor and culture.

In Roy F. Guste, Jr. book ‘Antoine’s Restaurant’ he offers a recipe for Escargots Bourguignonne made with a sauce of minced parsley, minced green onions, minced garlic and a copious quantity of butter upon which Oysters Rockefeller is thought to be based. Conversely in Delmonico’s Executive Chef Charles Ranhofer’s (chef from 1862 to 1896) recipe for ‘Edible Snails a la Bourguignonne’ printed in his massive tome, The Epicurean circa 1894, we see a more classic approach to the snail dish. He cites butter, parsley, chives, lemon juice and breadcrumbs as the key ingredients.

While sifting through my collection of cook books, I found ‘A Book of Famous Old New Orleans Recipes Used in the South for More Than 200 Years” written in 1900 that gives a very early recorded recipe of the oyster dish. Though the ingredients of the original Oyster Rockefeller recipe have been a closely guarded family secret since its inception, several laboratory analyses have been conducted and concluded a mirroring of ingredients between the two recipes. It is interesting to note how time has changed the original pureed herb combination to creamed spinach and Hollandaise or even Parmesan cream. Recently testing the original version I feel it has more character and bears closer resemblance to its escargot root.

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Mrs. Ella Bentley Arthur writes in ‘Mme. Bégue’s Recipes of Old New Orleans Creole Cookery’, 1937 “this is a dish for which New Orleans is noted and proves an epicurean delight to those who are introduced to it for the first time. Its richness gives it its commonly-used title, but the old-time Creole bon vivant knows it as Huîtres a la Montpelier. The secret of preparing oysters in this fashion has been jealously guarded by the noted restaurateurs of New Orleans, and this recipe was the first ever printed of this unusual and delicious oyster dish.

The sauce for Oysters Rockefeller is made by previously preparing parsley, spinach, celery and onion tops and other greens, in a meat grinder; the greens must be ground very fine; to this add the juice of lemon and melted butter. One tablespoonful of this sauce is poured over each oyster when being taken from the shells, and just before serving.”

The ‘Picayune Creole Cook Book’ from 1902 adds bacon as an important ingredient. ‘Long Island Seafood Cook Book’ written in 1939 gives a variation entitled Oysters, Gourmet Society in which oysters are baked with minced parsley, spinach, spring onions, breadcrumbs, tobacco sauce and butter. The author claims it to be a deviation of the original Rockefeller recipe leaving out the essential absinthe, which was banned in the United States since 1915. Herbsaint replaced absinthe after prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. Herbsaint, an anise based liquor was created in 1934 by J. Marion Legendre and Reginald Parker who learned how to make Absinthe during World War I.

The Final Word:

“The original recipe is still a secret that I will not divulge. As many times as I have seen recipes printed in books and articles, I can honestly say that I have never found the original outside of Antoine’s. If you care to concoct your version, I would tell you only that the sauce is basically a puree of a number of green vegetables other than spinach.”

Bonne Chance!

Roy F. Guste Jr., great grandson of Jules Alciatore.

To sample this classic oyster dish please come join us for dinner at Chop House, 760.779.9888, located at 74040 Hwy 111, Palm Desert.

Here is our recipe:

Chop House Oysters Rockefeller

ingredients for four servings:

1/2 # Butter

¼ c. Celery, finely chopped

1 bunch Scallions, finely chopped

1/4 c. Parsley, finely chopped

1 T. Worcestershire Sauce

dash of Tabasco Sauce

1/4 cup Pernod

1/2 cup Panko

16 each Oysters

Directions:

Melt butter; add celery, scallions and parsley. Sauté five minutes, or until greens are tender and soft. Add Worcestershire and Tabasco, reduce heat and cook ten minutes. Add Pernod and Panko, cook 5 minutes. Cool. Beat mixture in mixer till light and fluffy. Spoon onto shucked oysters, put shells on rock salt to steady them, bake at 500 degrees till bubbly hot, about five minutes.

FIDEUÀ Recipe│ Rustic Catalan Pasta Paella, Monkfish, Clams, Shrimp, Aioli

Fideuà │ Rustic Catalan Pasta Paella, Monkfish, Clams, Shrimp, Aioli

Chef François de Mélogue

 

Ingredients for four servings:

¼ c.                            Olive Oil

1 T.                              Garlic slivers

pinch                         Saffron

16 pieces                 Shrimp

12 ounces                Monkfish, cut into four pieces

12                                Manila Clams

1 pound                    Fideuas Noodles, toasted

1 c.                             Tomatoes, Diced

1 T.                              Paprika

2 c.                             Chicken Stock

1 c.                             Tomato Sauce

¼ c.                            chopped Parsley

1 T.                              Butter

 

To Order:

 

  1. Heat olive oil, add garlic and cook till they start to turn brown.
  2. Add saffron, paprika, seafood, and toasted Fideo noodles.
  3. Add diced tomatoes, chicken stock and tomato sauce.
  4. Cook till pasta is done, about five to ten minutes.
  5. Finish with a little butter, chopped parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Stir a big spoonful of Aioli into cooked pasta and garnish with yet another heaping spoonful!

 

Chefs Notes:

 

Fideuà: Valencian Pasta ‘Paella’; the main two differences from Paella is that Fideuà is made with Fideus noodles (toasted noodles resembling one inch segments of vermicelli) and that it is made almost exclusively with seafood.