Category Archives: French Food

Bastille Day Festival 2014

Entrace to Bastille Day - 60th & LexBastille Day Festival – 60th Street & Lexington Avenue, NYC

Yesterday was the annual Bastille Day Festival in New York City.  The main one, held by the French Institute Alliance Française in Manhattan.  Another very popular celebration that also takes place each year is the one in Brooklyn along Smith Street.  This year, there was even one in Harlem.  All of these festivities help acknowledge and highlight the influence of French culture alongside those of the other nationalities that have shaped American development, food and otherwise.

Dressed for Bastille DayDressed up in French finery

There will be events taking place all around the city this week to celebrate this historic event.  Please check out this link to Bastille Week to find out more.  Here’s some photos of the sights, sounds, and food from yesterday’s street fair, including that of a band that passed through the gathering.  The crowd was really in the spirit of the day, even down to some of the most posh, four-legged participants!

Bon appétit!

Georges Duboeuf Crus Beaujolais Vertical Seminar & 2013 Preview

Entry sign Beaujolais eventWelcoming sign

There’s been a bit of a gap in my posting cycle due to a few things, including a recipe testing project that I was asked to do for a cookbook soon to be published.  For weeks, though, I’d had a fixed time block in my diary for last Thursday where there was an invitation to attend a wine seminar and tasting event on behalf of Georges Duboeuf featuring different years of their Beaujolais along with a preview of the 2013 Crus served alongside small dishes of food.  It gave me a welcome break from the rest of my work schedule and provided me with some insights about this wine, which is much more versatile and flexible in terms of pairing with edibles than I’d previously realized.

Glasses for the tastingWines for vertical tasting

The first part of the program was a vertical tasting of different vintages of Beaujolais. Moderated by Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine, who walked us through tasting wines from 2013 as well as ones from earlier years, with the assistance of representatives from Georges DuboeufBeaujolais as a region was created in 1937 and includes 12 different wine appellations (a protected designation for a product), including 10 Crus (meaning from a specific vineyard or set of vines), with most of the production devoted to the Gamay grape.  As we were told, the area is as long as Napa Valley but “a wee bit narrower.”

Bottles on displayBeaujolais bottles on display

You might recognize the flowery Beaujolais-Village label.  Perhaps you’ve even taking part in a tasting or ventured to a restaurant that highlights the newest release with a special dinner.  I vividly remember the “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” signs displayed all over Georgetown when I was still working in Washington, DC.  It impressed upon me the idea that this wine was meant to be drunk as soon as the most recent vintage arrived on our shores, a point that one of the panelists highlighted.

Beaujolais tasting notesTasting notes

These are “thirst-quenching wines,” he said, which creates the idea that they should be drunk in their early state.  Allowing them to age lets their structure develop, which doesn’t happen all that often, he added.  The vertical tasting was really eye-opening in this regard.  When I looked back at my tasting notes, I can definitely seen that progression.  The 2013s were “softer” and “rounder,” with lighter red berry flavors.  As we tasted the 2010 and 2009 vintages, my scribbles are more along the lines of “fuller,” “spice notes,” “deep purple berries.”  Sampling the wines that are just a few years old, I decipher the words “coffee,” “cocoa,” “amber notes,” “licorice,” “rich,” and “full.”  There’s even a side note on the Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Cuvée Prestige 2005 that says “duck,” which highlights a possible, desired food pairing.

Kitchen getting everything readyKitchen getting ready

Or that could have been that I was ready for the walk-around and food and wine pairing portion of the program featuring the 2013 vintages from this winemaker.  This event was held at the Bouley Test Kitchen in Tribeca, so throughout the seminar, we could hear the sounds of wonderful dishes being put together for us to try later.  Chef David Bouley spoke to us about his own connections to the Georges Duboeuf family and Beaujolais, many of which derive from his time working as a young chef under Chef Paul Bocuse when they would head out and cook for the grape pickers.  “Beaujolais goes with any festive event here in the States,” he opined, citing it as a good Thanksgiving meal beverage.  He also mentioned that his French colleagues would chose the wine to go with their lunch, as it was light and went with whatever they had made for themselves to eat.

AppetizersAppetizers

To start us all off and get us moving up from the tables, the staff greeted us at the entryway to the kitchen with a glass of the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Macon-Villages Domaine Les Chenevières, made with 100% Chardonnay grapes.  After swishing-and-spitting and inhaling the aromas of a selection of red wines for the previous hour, it was a bit of a tastebud shock to switch over a white.  They had laid out for us an assortment of cheeses and meats, including pork rillettes (seen in the foreground in the photo), salami, prosciutto, and a fois gras terrine to wake up our palates and to have us see how fatty, cured meats and aged dairy paired well with the wine.

Plate of BlinisBlinis with Smoked Salmon, Wild Truffle Honey, and Salmon Roe

Following the progression of folks around the tasting tables, I picked up the first nibble of Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Wild Truffle Honey, and Salmon Roe.  From the photo, you can see that these were no ordinary blinis, with their pillowy, lofty heights.  One bite and the delicate casing gave way to a wave of oceanic salinity tempered by an earthiness and mellow sweetness from the honey.  These were paired with the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuissé Domaine Beranger, also made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, which matched up beautifully to the combination of flavors from this small bite, leaving an impression of buttery richness on my tongue.

Lobster DishChatham Day Boat Lobster with Red Wine Sauce

Red wine with fish.  I know, it seems to break those “pairing rules” we were all brought up with, right?  At this tasting, a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Chiroubles (made with 100% Gamay grapes) was teamed up with a lobster dish that featured a red wine sauce and meaty mushrooms as garnish.  This shows that when put together with the proper components, even seafood can play well with red wines.

Gougeres with Comte'Gougères with Comté

Gougères are just the perfect little nibble to offer at a drinks gathering.  They are flexible and can be dressed up or down depending upon the cheese and other ingredients used to make them.  My beverage selection for these is usually something with bubbles (Prosecco, Cava, sparkling wine).  Here, they were accompanied by a 2013 Georges DuBoeuf Brouilly Château de Nervers (made with 100% Gamay grapes), which was a more robust pairing that my usual choice but still went well with these small bites.

Chicken Baked with Alfafa and Clover HoneyChicken Baked with Alfafa and Clover Honey

See that green dollop on the bottom of this bowl?  That is an interesting, piquant component of this dish that went really well with the soft, delicate chicken.  It is also a flavor that could prove challenging in a wine pairing.  There were two different wines to sample with this dish:  a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Fleurie Château des Déduits and a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Fleurie Domaine des Quatre Vents (both made with 100% Gamay grapes).  My preference was for the former vintage over the latter.  I just felt that it handled the sauce better without being overwhelmed by its strong taste while balancing out the other elements of the dish.

Grilled Marinated Duck with Pruneaux d'AgenGrilled Marinated Duck with Pruneaux d’Agen

As I mentioned above, I’d made a food pairing note about one of the wines as something that might go well with a duck dish.  The chef must have read my mind with this plate of grilled marinated duck served on a bed of creamy polenta and dressed with a sauce of Pruneaux d’Agen (a type of French prune).  This was a hearty but not overly heavy offering was presented with three different wine pairings to try.  My favorite match was the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Mont Chavy for the way that it picked up the dried fruit notes in the sauce as well as complementing the delicate flavors of the meat and the caramel notes of the cooked duck skin.  The other wines to sample with this were also of the Morgon label (all made with 100% Gamay grapes): a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Morgon and a 2013 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean-Ernest Descombes.

Kuzu Crisp with Black Truffle Pate' and AligoteKuzu Crisp with Black Truffle Paté and Aligote

This next small bite actually came with an advisory from Chef Bouley.  He and his team had been working on a gluten free cracker that they could use to serve with hors d’oeuvres – something light, yet substantial enough to support (physically and taste-wise) a variety of toppings.  He found it by using kuzu, which proved to be a delicious base for his black truffle paté with Aligote.  The 2013 Georges Duboeuf Juliénas Château des Capitans (made with 100% Gamay grapes) was a great pairing, taking on the creaminess of the sauce as well as the meaty, woodsiness of the truffle.  Those words of warning?  They were that we’d love it so much that we’d want everything to be served on this instead of on regular bread or crackers.  After eating these, we all agreed that he had been entirely correct.

Assorted Bouley Chocolate TrufflesAssorted Bouley Chocolate Truffles

After quite a few savory dishes, it was now time to sample the wines with something sweet.  A tray of assorted truffles, with different fillings, had been put together by the chef.  For me, I couldn’t decide if I enjoyed the chocolates more with the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Domaine des Rosiers or the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Rochegrès (both made with 100% Gamay grapes).  For me, they seemed to pair equally well.

Scrambled Duck Egg with Black TruffleSoft-scrambled Duck Egg with Black Truffles

Mini Gnocchi with Black Truffle SauceMini Gnocchi with Black Truffle Cream Sauce

I didn’t really have a chance to dwell on the chocolate-wine match for long, as the chef had the waiters bring out two additional, specially prepared, dishes from the kitchen. During his introduction, Chef Bouley had mentioned that he’d just received a shipment of truffles from Australia.  With them, he made those two luxurious dishes that you see in the photos above.  I filled my glass with some of the 2013 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-à-Vent Prestige (made with 100% Gamay grapes) to go along with them. It was an ideal combination. The wine held up to the richness and creaminess of both of the dishes as well as to the funkiness of the truffles that can sometimes drown out a lesser beverage.  These were the perfect dishes on which to end the afternoon’s tastings showing the breadth and depth of how wine works to enhance our enjoyment of food.

Buon appetito!

Thank you so much to the team at PadillaCRT for including me in this event.  The opinions on the wines and food and their pairings are mine alone.  For more information on Georges Duboeuf Wines and their company, please visit their website.

Making Cassoulet at Jimmy’s No. 43

Cassoulet displaySome of the cassoulets we made

As I’d mentioned, last week and weekend, I spent some time in the kitchen at Jimmy’s No. 43 working with guest chef Annette Tomei on making large quantities of cassoulet.  Annette and I have worked on several culinary projects together in the past, so when she called me to ask if I’d be up for helping out on this one, I knew that we’d have a great time banging around the kitchen and that I would have a chance to learn a lot about techniques and execution from her.  I also knew that we’d eat very well.

Annette Tomei garnishing cassouletChef Annette Tomei garnishing dishes at the Cassoulet Cook-off

I’ve kind of always wanted to do a series of photos of what takes place to get ready for these kinds of events, as it is about producing food in very large volume.  I managed to capture some of the process for making the cassoulet while we were working and created this slideshow (click on the “show info” link on the top right for the captions).  We made enough of each type of cassoulet for the Cassoulet & Beer Pairing event on Saturday, the Cassoulet Cook-off on Sunday, and the Cassoulet & Wine Pairing dinner on Monday night.  It’s been a big week for cassoulet!

Buon appetito!

“Jimmy and the Bean Trough: 6th Annual Cassoulet Cookoff at Jimmy’s No. 43” from Edible Manhattan
(Article about my culinary events work at Jimmy’s No. 43 with VinEducation founder Chef Annette Tomei.)

Jimmy’s No. 43 Sixth Annual Cassoulet Cook-off

Cassoulet displayDisplay of Cassoulet at Jimmy’s No. 43

This past Sunday was the Sixth Annual Cassoulet Cook-off at Jimmy’s No. 43, an event where amateur and professional chefs go knife-to-knife to create one of France’s iconic and heart-warming dishes.  Jimmy had invited me to be a judge for this feast again this year, which I happily accepted to do, and joined Jackie Gordon from The Diva That Ate New York, Margaret Chen from Savory Sweet Living, Nancy Matsumoto, and Amy Zavatto and Ariel Lauren Wilson of Edible Manhattan in tasting and evaluating the various cassoulets.

Judges making their decisionsWorking out the winners

As in past years, the entrants demonstrated numerous variations on the bean-and-meat-stew format.  Six cooks created cassoulets which the attendees walked around and sampled.  Tickets to the event also included one beverage from the bar with which to wash down all that rich, hearty food.  This gathering raised over $2,000 to go to The Greenmarket‘s regional grains initiative.  Here’s a look at the dishes and their cooks:

Gilbert Clerget - bowl of cassouletCassoulet de Castelnaudary by Gilbert Clerget

Gilbert Clerget and his wife Rebecca made the trip north from Washington, DC to contribute their Cassoulet de Castelnaudary to the tastings.  His version, as he explained, reflected more the southwest of France in the Languedoc region.  The dish featured Stachowski Brand Charcuterie from Georgetown, including their Toulouse Sausage made with tarragon.

Patrick Clark - bowl of cassouletPatricia Clark‘s classic-style cassoulet

Studded with velvety, succulent chunks of duck confit, which she made, as well as duck bacon that she also made, pork, beans, and layers of flavors, returning contributor and caterer Patricia Clark‘s dedication to this dish was evident.  She told us that she’d spent the past year researching cassoulet in its many incarnations before coming up with her version, reviewing over 100 recipes for this dish before developing her own rendition.

Nourish Kitchen cassouletCassoulet with Kale by Nourish Kitchen + Table

The team from Nourish Kitchen + Table created a version of cassoulet that had pork butt, proscuitto, and housemade duck confit along with kale to give it a bit of a healthy kick.  They topped their selection with crunchy toasted breadcrumbs with pork cracklings to contrast the creamy beans.

Mighty Quinn's - Burnt Ends and BeansBeans and Burnt Ends by Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque

Neighborhood barbecue joint, Mighty Quinn’s chipped in some of their Beans and Burnt Ends.  With its smoky, meaty, porkiness, this is a more American take on the French classic.  As the judges noted in their round-up of the cook-off, this dish is available to try all year around at their store, not just in the cold winter months of peak cassoulet season.

David Navarro - Jimmy's No 43 House CassouletSausage & Beans with Chicharrones by David Navarro

Jimmy’s No. 43 house chef David Navarro contributed a batch of cassoulet with a more Latin twist to it.  He made a batch of Sausage and Beans topped with chicharrones, or crispy fried pork skins, creating a contrast between the hearty beans, smoky meat, and crunchiness of the topping.

American-style cassoulet plateAmerican-style Cassoulet by Annette Tomei

Beer-braised pork shoulder cassoulet plateBeer-braised Pork Shoulder and Beans by Annette Tomei

Plate of Vegetarian CassouletVegetarian Cassoulet by Annette Tomei

[By way of full disclosure, I assisted her with the prep for this and several of the dishes that folks sampled on Sunday.]

Annette Tomei, owner of VinEducation and one of my former instructors at the International Culinary Center, was the featured chef for Jimmy’s No. 43‘s Cassoulet & Beer and Cassoulet & Wine events during the past few days.  She whipped up several different styles of cassoulet for guests to nibble on on Sunday, including an American-style version using pinto beans mixed with shredded confit chicken, braised turkey wings, spicy sausage, and bacon ends topped with a panko-sage crumble, a Beans with Beer-braised Pork Shoulder, and even a Vegetarian Cassoulet with beans mixed in with roasted brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and butternut squash.  This latter version was a favorite of several of the attendees.

Jimmy Carbone thanking attendeesJimmy Carbone thanking cooks and guests

After guests had sampled the cassoulets and had taken some time to digest and to decide on their favorites, Jimmy Carbone took to the stage in the back room to thank everyone for coming to this event and to garner a round of applause for all the cooks.  Then, he turned it over to the judges to reveal the results of the cook-off.  Jackie Gordon started off by recognizing the honorable mentions, including Annette Tomei’s “Best Vegetarian Cassoulet for Carnivores” and David Navarro’s “Best Use of Chicharrones in a Cassoulet.”  Then, the prizes were handed out.

Nourish Kitchen - pot of cassouletThird Place Winner: Nourish Kitchen

Patricia Clark - cassoulet displaySecond Place Winner: Patricia Clark

Gilbert & Rebecca ClergetFirst Place Winner: Gilbert Clerget with his wife Patricia

This year’s winner of the Cassoulet Cook-off is Gilbert Clerget with his Cassoulet de Castelnaudary.  It seems fitting that a Frenchman took the crown for 2014.  His cassoulet was also the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the cook-off, so the people and the judges were unanimous in their culinary decisions this year.  Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to everyone who cooked for us this Sunday!

Buon appetito!

“Jimmy and the Bean Trough: 6th Annual Cassoulet Cookoff at Jimmy’s No. 43” from Edible Manhattan
(Article about my culinary events work at Jimmy’s No. 43 with VinEducation founder Chef Annette Tomei.)

Jacques Torres Demo at the International Culinary Center

Hot Chocolate by Jacques Torres

This cup of hot chocolate symbolizes the power of social media.  When Jacques Torres tweeted that he was getting ready for his demo at the International Culinary Center last Thursday, I sent back this message.

The end result was that he did bring his famous and much-loved hot chocolate to the afternoon’s pastry demonstration!  The beverage went perfectly with these samples of plain and chocolate croissants that he showed us how to make.

Plain and chocolate croissants

It was also a nice treat to wash down the last of the sugary, sweet, fried bomboloni filled with pastry cream that he’d made for us earlier.  These were made with a variation on a brioche dough, which Chef Torres also showed us how to make.

Bomboloni with Pastry Cream

During the afternoon’s event, Chef Torres also shared his baking tips and left us with some helpful hints in working with croissant and brioche dough.  He told us that this is one of his favorite demos to do, adding that when he’s in his hometown in France, he likes to cycle around to sample the croissants from each of the local bakeries.  “If you go to a pastry shop in France and the croissants are beautiful, that means something,” he said.

Adding water to the dough

As he made the dough in front of us, he talked about the baking process.  The smell of the dough early on is the fermentation process taking place.  When the dough is baking, the smell is of the process of caramelization taking place (aided by the egg wash).  “Put the starter [for the croissants] in warm water if you want to make them the day of,” he advised, “It activates the starter a lot faster.”

Letting the croissant dough rest

He also said that he uses filtered water to make his croissants, as tap water smells like bleach. When putting together the dough, he added, it is best to write down what you added to the dough and to put all dry ingredients in separate parts of bowl so can see what was added.  That way, you can know if you need to adjust the ingredients and by how much as you work with it.

Adding butter to the dough

With the assistance of a previously-made batch of dough, Chef Torres continued the demo, rolling out the initial form and adding a layer of butter to it.  He took a whole pound of butter and thwacked it with a rolling pin, turning it to each side as he flattened it into the perfect shape to fit the dough.  “The fatter the better,” he said, when asked by an audience member about his preferred kind of butter to use to make croissants.  “Listen, if you want good croissants, you have to butter them,” he counseled.

Folding the layers

Then, Chef Torres folded the layers of dough over the butter,  turned it one-quarter turn, rolled it out and then folded it over again, in classic puff pastry-making technique.  The dough went back in the fridge to rest.

Rolling out the dough

Another previously-prepared dough was pulled from the fridge at the same time.  Chef Torres sprinkled some flour on the countertop and then rolled out the longest sheet of dough I think I’ve ever seen.  Note to future demonstration attendees: if you sit in the front row, be prepared to have flour sprinkled on you (not on purpose, I’ll add).  Then, with a few quick strokes of the knife, Chef Torres divided the dough into triangles and squares to make croissants.

Filling the chocolate croissants

Some of the croissants were set aside to be filled with chocolate.  When making them, leave the seam side down after you shape them, so they won’t open up during the proofing stage, Chef Torres advised.  Also, if you have leftover dough, incorporate that into your new batch of dough as that will give it flavor and aid in the fermentation process.

Croissant

Chocolate croissants

Here’s the results of all the mixing, folding and baking.  I’d like to say that the ones that I make at home will turn out exactly as perfect as these ones, but that might take a minor miracle (or lots of butter and flour and patience).

Cutting the bomboloni

Chef Torres also made a modified brioche dough to use to make the bomboloni.  As with the croissant dough, he had a batch he’d made earlier in the day to fry up for us to sample.  He showed us how to cut the dough, first rolling it out into a log-shape.  Then, he cut the dough into pieces.

Shaping the bomboloni

Chef Torres shaped the dough into small rounds, put them on a baking tray, and set them to the side to proof.  The batch that he’d let rise earlier were ready for frying.  A quick toss of the hot dough into a bowl a sugar and a shot of pastry cream, and they were available for us to sample.

Tray of bomboloni

This demo has to be one of my most favorite ones of all that I’ve attended so far as a student at the International Culinary Center.  It had some of the things I love the best: humor, fried dough, chocolate, sugar, and pastry.  It was very helpful to hear Chef Torres’ guide to making amazing croissants.  Maybe I’ll even get up the courage to fix up a batch of them at home.  Here’s some more photos of how the demo looked from my Flickr photostream (Please remember, these photos are copyright protected and may not be republished anywhere without my express written permission.)

Buon appetito!

Chef Jacques Pepin Culinary Demo on Classic Techniques

Chef Pepin making an omeletteChef Jacques Pepin

As a student at the International Culinary Center, I also have a chance from time-to-time to attend to culinary demonstrations held by the school’s deans, who are preeminent culinary luminaries.  These events are very popular, as much for the techniques being shown to us as for the words of wisdom that these master chefs impart to us during their talks.  Last week on Wednesday,  Jacques Pepin spoke to students and alumni about Classic Techniques and why they are so important to know for chefs or anyone who would like to cook well.

Butter “Flowers” – a decorative technique

As Chef Pepin described it, Techniques are “Something that you repeat so much that it becomes a part of yourself, a part of your DNA.”  With Technique + Talent, “at the end, you can do something marvelous.”  He also spoke about how much work he put into learning techniques and practicing them until carrying out basic culinary tasks were just like breathing, like an extension of himself.  His advice to the group gathered for the demonstration was to keep on learning and practicing these techniques until they becomes the same for us.

Mayonnaise with a Tomato “Rose”

“One of the first things to do in the kitchen is certainly to sharpen your knives,” stated Chef Pepin.  As culinary students are taught almost from the first moment they start (aside from being told to be on time and in proper attire for every class) keeping their knives sharp and mastering basic knife skills are fundamental components for success in their careers.  Chef Pepin showed the audience what he meant by peeling an apple in one long, curling ribbon and also by removing the skin from a tomato and then shaping it into the form of a rose, each time discussing how keeping proper control over the knife and its movement was allowing him to take off just the external part of the fruit while the flesh stayed intact.

The classic French rolled omelette

As Chef Pepin explained, in order to master Techniques, it is about taking the time and working on them.  Peeling vegetables, chopping herbs, segmenting citrus fruits, working with eggs, these are all items that we can do more efficiently once we’ve learned the proper skills and techniques and keep trying to become better at them.  In this culinary program, we spend hours upon hours and many lessons going over and repeating various knife cuts and preparations to try to hone our abilities and to refine our techniques.  We also repeat the same lessons many times over such as the proper cooking of proteins and making sauces.

Chef Pepin making mayonnaise

Taking a few eggs, Chef Pepin made mayonnaise during his presentation.  This is one of the sauces that for me always seemed challenging to get right.  Whisking together the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar, and salt, Chef Pepin emphasized that “temperature is very important.”  All the ingredients should be at the same temperature to assist in making the sauce come together.  He turned out a gorgeous, light yellow mayonnaise, seen in the photo with the tomato rose.  Then, he poured a bunch more oil into the bowl and broke the sauce.  You could hear a gasp of disbelief come from the audience.  The point he was making was that “there’s no secret” as to why things break.  There’s always a reason. This is something that is learned from mastering the technique of making an emulsified sauce like a mayonnaise.  He then proceeded to whisk the sauce again to bring it back to its proper state.

Chicken Ballotine (Chicken stuffed with chicken and herbs)

To further bring home the point about mastering techniques as well as refining one’s knife skills, Chef Pepin also deboned a chicken and then put it back together in this neat little package.  He also demonstrated cutting apart a chicken.  Watching Chef Pepin talk to us while working away at the different techniques he was explaining, really made it clear that learning these fundamental skills to the point that they are second nature is a time-saver, and likely also a money-saver, and that good techniques should have a place in everyone’s kitchen.

Buon appetito!