Saving the Planet at Dinner

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The team who prepared the inaugural lunch at the COP21

From left to right: Guillaume Gomez, Yannick Alléno, Frédéric Anton, Nicolas Masse, Alexandre Gauthier, Marc Veyrat, Christelle Brua – Photo courtesy of Guillaume Gomez, chef at the Élysée Palace.

  by André Gayot   For the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21), some 150 heads of state came to Paris to save the planet and, by the same token, enjoy food. It is compatible. Why would we save the planet if it’s only to survive on boiled potatoes? Yannick Alléno (Ledoyen, Paris), part of the team of France’s top chefs that fed our world moguls during a lunch on the inaugural day, supports the Locavorists.   Don’t mistake them for a radical new sect. They just recommend not eating food that is produced more than 200 kilometers away from your kitchen. Indeed, do we really need to cart around strawberries in December from Santiago to Oslo, endives from Brussels to Houston, string beans from Nairobi to Paris? Sure enough, it’s a part of international exchanges and trade, even if it’s not the largest one. It creates jobs all along the chain and it is the essence of globalization. But at what cost for the planet? So, Yannick Alléno and the locavorists propose to explore all the local resources and ask our chefs to invent new recipes, like those of chef Marc Veyrat (La Maison des Bois), who hails from Savoie in the Alps. For the elite of the COP21, Veyrat prepared, for “le fromage,” a dish dubbed “Organique du Mont-Blanc,” concocted with local products such as trout eggs, vegetable jelly, Reblochon (a cow’s milk cheese from Savoie) in a juice of myrrh, caraway, wild salad from the forest and pine nuts. It was his response to the requirements imposed upon the caterers of the prestigious world banquet, which were: to serve only products of the season, respectful of the environment and of a durable development.   Alléno, in charge of the appetizer, presented a “Soupe moderne freneuse et Saint-Jacques à la vapeur florale,” named after the city of Freneuse, the turnip capital of France 50 kilometers from Paris, where the scallops were caught in Brittany. The poultry, “Volaille de Licques au blé vert, confit de céleri farci crème d’épinard,” prepared by Alexandre Gauthier, (La Grenouillère) and Nicolas Masse (La Grand’Vigne, Les Sources de Caudalie), was stuffed with celeriac and originated from a Northern France farm; the green wheat — cooked as a risotto — was grown in Beauce or Brie, the fertile plains west and east of Paris. To end the feast, which was timed to last no longer than one hour and fifteen minutes, pastry chef Christelle Brua (Le Pré Catelan, Paris) was put to the task. She served a very French dessert, Paris-Brest, accompanied by a citrus compote. The happy few read it described on the menu as “Paris-Brest à la compotée d’agrumes et sa crème légère au praliné.” On the same day, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and French President François Hollande enjoyed a more intimate supper at L’Ambroisie on the historic Place des Vosges (closed for the occasion). To prepare the dinner, chef Bernard Pacaud utilized regional and in-season ingredients: an île flottante in an emulsion of cépes mushrooms (from Central France), artisanally caught fish (from Brittany), and small potatoes confit (from the isle of Noirmoutier off the coast of the mainland) in a crustacean sauce. The minor exception from the locally sourced menu was the final highlight: L’Ambroisie’s fine tart crusted with cocoa — no cacao trees in France. The meal passed the bio/ecological/sustainable/local test and, on top of that, won kudos for its quality. Alleluia! For once, all the world’s leaders were unanimous. That doesn’t happen so often, but they all agreed to like the food. A good omen, let’s hope.