The End of Culinary Alchemy?

Ferran Adrià of elBulli
Ferran Adrià of elBulli

 

A recent health scare at the world-renowned Fat Duck in England has forced the prestigious restaurant to shut its doors. Owner Heston Blumenthal, referred to as a “culinary alchemist” issued the closure when over 40 customers reported cases of illness after having dined at his establishment. These events have caused quite a stir in the culinary world, as many are now questioning the safety of molecular gastronomy – a cooking technique that relies heavily on chemicals that are intended to “deconstruct” the ingredients and transform the flavor and presentation of dishes. One of the most famous molecular gastronomists, Spanish-born Ferran Adrià (named best chef in the world by British publication Restaurant Magazine), implements similar techniques at his restaurant elBulli and has stood firm ground in support of cooking with chemicals.

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Vive la Chandeleur!

Kids love to flip the crêpe in the pan
Kids love to flip the crêpe in the pan

It’s time to give thanks to Gélasse the First, Pope during the 5th Century, whose gastronomical contribution to Christianity has remained a steadfast part of history. 40 days after the birth of Jesus Christ, Gélasse was responsible for merging the celebration of the child with the pagan celebration of light. The event was in the fashion of a grand banquet, illuminated in the dark days of February by candles (in French: Chandelles). Hence the name of Chandeleur. During Chandeleur, on February 2, it is tradition to feast on “crêpes,” just like in the days of Gélasse. Everywhere in France on this day, crêpes are “de rigueur” whether at home or in “crêperies”. This year, eating in crêperies is a good way to avoid the high prices of restaurants and still get a great meal (particularly during such turbulent economic times.)  

 

Despite the recession, however, not all restaurants in Paris are hurting. Those serving good food at reasonable prices are continually filled to capacity. Diners rely on a Quality:Price ratio to determine at which establishment to dine. Business lunches are on the decline and everywhere diners unanimously complain about the mark-up of wine prices.

 

The recession certainly has not affected fast food chains. Who would have ever believed that McDonald’s would open new outlets left and right?  Those Golden Arches are not the only ones to benefit from this economic climate: a new French chic fast food chain is surfing on the wave of recession. Fresh products and creative recipes are the mainstay of Restaurant Cojean.

Tough Début in the Kitchen for a Food Critic

François Simon
In the kitchen with François Simon

by André Gayot

The “sprinkler gets sprinkled” was the title of one of the first movies ever produced by the Lumière brothers credited for the invention of the cinema. A Parisian food critic has experienced the actuality of this moral and eternal story: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.

 

The Paris foodie establishment is abuzz with the mishap of François Simon, known for his frequent bashing of the top chefs in a Paris newspaper. “These guys,” he contends, “think they are untouchable because of their star status. It’s healthy to debunk them off their pedestal.” However, the critic is also a strong supporter of a movement dubbed “Foodism” which aims to rejuvenate the French cuisine but so far has a hard time getting off the ground, because many say they don’t understand what “Foodism” is about. To abate the general skepticism, Simon announced in his blog that he would demonstrate the merits of “Foodism” by publicly preparing in a restaurant such a “Foodist” based meal. When the verdict was out, the media stated that there were no kudos from the public nor from the critics for Simon’s undertaking. No breakthrough yet for “Foodism” seems to be the consensus and no star for the apprentice chef. Of course, you don’t need to be a screenwriter or a director to write about films, but if you are not, maybe it’s better not to try to be one, especially if you tend to use a sword as a pen. Take it easy, François.

 

For the record, at the start of his career thirty eight years ago, Simon was an intern at the “Nouveau Guide Magazine” founded by Henri Gault, Christian Millau and I. Small world, indeed.

 

 

Inauguration Day!

Inauguration Luncheon Menu
Barack Obama Luncheon Menu

Barack Obama has officially been inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. And what better way to celebrate than with a beautifully prepared and culturally rich meal with la crème of this country’s political figures. The luncheon menu reflects the cuisine of the home states of both the President and Vice President as well as the theme of the Inauguration. A tradition that dates back as far as 1897, the inaugural luncheon is featuring a three course menu including a seafood stew and a brace of American birds (pheasant and duck) served with a sour cherry chutney and accompanied by whipped sweet potatoes with molasses. For dessert, an apple cinnamon sponge cake with sweet cream glace is being served. A selection of wines is being paired with each course. The first course is being served on replicas of the china from the Lincoln Presidency, displaying the American bald eagle standing above the U.S. Coat of Arms.

Legendary Lenôtre Dies at 88

Legendary French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre
Legendary French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre

by André Gayot

In the late 1960s, Yves Bridault, the chief editor of Le Nouveau Guide Gault-Millau that we founded with my friends, used to visit his aging mother on Sundays. Prior to ringing her bell, he would stop nearby at a small pastry shop.

The young pastry chef had just arrived from his native Normandy and was trying to make his way in Paris. Yves liked the gâteaux this chef was creating and wrote about him in the magazine. Rapidly, the chef’s reputation rose beyond the limits of the 16th arrondissement. Soon, his pâtisserie was filled with gourmets rushing to taste his creations and Gaston Lenôtre acquired well deserved renown as one of the best pastry chefs in Paris. Forty years later, that talented young pâtissier was the head of a worldwide empire of pastry shops and restaurants (Le Café Lenôtre) which included the U.S.
His ambassadors to America was Michel Richard (Michel Richard Citronelle, Central Michel Richard, Citrus at Social, Citronelle by Michel Richard), who hoisted himself to the rank of the best chef in the nation.

 

Gaston Lenôtre, who was the arm of “Nouvelle Cuisine” for pastry (which he made lighter and tastier according to the nouvelle philosophy), passed away this Thursday. We mourn a great innovator and, even more, a friend.