Monday, 29 October 2007

Michelin star salad?

I visited the tiny village of Eze, perched on a little hill on the French Riviera.

Having climbed up the narrow streets, I discovered (no doubt like many visitors before me) that the only places to get a really lovely view of the sea and countryside were either the "exotic garden" (5 euros to see a lot of cactii? i don't think so!) or if you eat in the Chateau Eza Hotel restaurant. I took a quick glance at the menu outside and winced at the price, but then when I saw that the restaurant has a michelin star, decided that as a birthday present to myself, I would buy myself lunch.

At first the slightly supercilious waiter placed me a low cushiony seat, where the sun poured straight into my eyes and then gave me only the drinks menu. I explained that I wanted to eat, and got the menu, and later moved myself to an actual table. Sadly the menu I was given wasn't nearly as interesting looking as the menu shown outside; I guess it was after lunch and before dinner so the kitchens weren't fully open. Anyway I ordered the salad of serrano ham with melon, served with a minted creme fraiche at a mere 17 euros. For my international readership, that'd be $26.50 aud, 28.50chf, or 24.50usd. Not a cheap eat eh?

So I had high expections for this salad. Maybe that was the problem because, frankly, the reality was disappointing.

What was the problem with it? The ham was ok; not exactly a work of art in plating, but otherwise fine (not much you can do to make a pile of ham look sexy I guess).

The bread was dry, and was really only rendered properly edible by dipping it in the juice from the melon.

The sliced melon was bruised but ok.

With the glass of melon balls, it was clear that they had not been freshly cut - when you first cut melon balls, they are quite smooth, and it is only with sitting for a while that the surface texture kind of 'furs' up so they are no longer smooth. Neither were they all balls. Ok, so you can call me fussy, but we are talking michelin star here and we are talking a darned expensive melon ball, so I do actually expect that they will be at least mostly round! You can see at the bottom of the glass a sort of scraggy bit of melon at the bottom. It was at least a very nice sweet and tasty melon.

And finally... its surprising that this sad little blob of creme fraiche actually managed to make it onto the menu's description of this dish.
To be truthful I think that this would be the level of presentation I would expect from a pretty new apprentice chef, and the head chef of a high quality restaurant would have made whoever plated this do it over again. I guess it would be a perfectly acceptable dish from an average restaurant.

The service was not particularly good or bad... but the view was good.
Would I go there again? I guess I might give them a second chance if I were having a romantic weekend away, but frankly foodwise even a cheap restaurant in a village in Italy would outstrip this place and since Italy is only about 40 minutes away....

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Student life re-lived

So what does an impoverished Australian in the French Riviera live on, on a day to day basis? Surely it isn't possible to afford to buy lunch or dinner every day?

Indeed it isn't possible. While I have found a few asian 'restaurants' that have dishes for around 5 euro, I can't quite manage to stretch my finances that far on a daily basis. So my plat du jour is home made ham and pineapple pizzas!

So here is the breakdown

  • 2 packets of mini pita breads (that will make 12 meals): 2 euro 80
  • 1 tin of pineapple chunks 1 euro 10
  • 1 brie 98centimes
  • 1 small packet of grated cheese 1 euro 30
  • 1 packet lardons fume (bacon bits by any other name) 2 euro 30
  • 1 tiny tin of tomato paste 30 centimes

et voila, two weeks worth of simple hot lunches for 73 centimes a day.

In case you are a complete cooking newbie and really need to know how to make them, here are instructions for construction:

  • Open the tin of tomato paste, and put into a small dish with about twice as much warm water (eg. for 20g paste, add 40 ml water) to make a thinnish paste. If you have some dried herbs, perhaps oregano, soak them in the warm water before mixing the tomato paste in.
  • Spread on to pita bread
  • Open the tin of pineapple chunks, drain off the liquid (mix it into whatever fruit juice you have in the fridge to add a bit of sparkle to it) and scatter on over the pita (slice them in half if you are feeling poor, or use whole chunks if you are feeling a bit more lavish).
  • Thinly slice some brie and place on top
  • Scatter a little of the grated cheese to fill in any corners not covered by the brie. You can just use brie, or just use the grated cheese if you like, but I rather like the different flavours from the different cheeses
  • Scatter lardons on top
  • Cook in an oven prewarmed to 200 degrees for about 10 minutes, until the cheese goes a lovely golden colour.
  • Rest for 4 minutes to allow the cheese to set a little before slicing in half
  • EAT! Of course you can add whatever other ingredients you prefer; sliced mushrooms for example.

Before cooking

Hot and golden fresh from the oven

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Musee de les arts culinaire

While driving around on the weekend, I stumbled across a sign pointing to the Musee de les arts culinaire in a village called Villeneuve Loubet. Now that was something guaranteed to grab my attention and I just had to return the next day to take a look.

Unfortunately the museum was not all I had hoped - no items older than 200 years, but there were still some interesting odds and ends to be seen. Villeneuve Loubet was the home of Escoffier, and this museum was put together to honour his life and achievements in the culinary arts. Escoffier, by the way, was a superstar chef in the late 19th and early 20th century. Inventor of the Peach Melba, he pretty much transformed cookery in Europe - in fact he is credited with being responsible for food being served in courses, rather than all simultaneously - a pretty big change for the world of food. Escoffier published the book 'Le Guide Culinaire' which is still a bit of a bible for cooks.

Items of interest to me in the museum were a 19th C noodle-machine, some rather spekky skewers, and various of the menus from places like Maxims in Paris.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Eggcentric dish explained

For a while now I have had on the left hand side of my blog, a photo of a dish I made for one of our foodie dinners, but I have never posted up exactly what it is or how I made it. Finally I have done it.

The theme of the dinner was 'hidden secrets', and among other dishes, I decided (inspired by a dish a friend made for a dinner a long time ago) to produce these; yep, they look like half a dozen eggs, but what you cannot see until they were broken open is that they were filled with a white chocolate mousse and then had a yolk in the middle made of an orange marmalade & cognac mixture.

The white chocolate mousse was made like this:
Measure 1 tblspn crème de cassis liqueur into heavy small saucepan; sprinkle unflavoured gelatin over & let stand 5 minutes to soften. Add 3/4 cup cream & stir over low heat till gelatin dissolves. Add white chocolate & stir until melted & smooth. Transfer to medium bowl. Refrigerate until cool but not set, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Whip 1/2 cup whipping cream in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Add remaining 2 tblpns crème de cassis & whip until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into white chocolate mixture.

Simple food, simply pleasure.. lunch

I may not have had enough money for a crepey-thing, but I did have enough money at the markets to buy myself the ingredients for a simple lunch. Bread, some crisp baby tomatoes, a rather elegant pear and a teeny sliver of cheese. Mind you, by the time I got to the cheese part, I was penniless enough that when the cheeseman asked me how big a 'tranche' I wanted, I had to say "une euro deux centimes" as my reply. I had 'wasted' a few euro buying some mushrooms... more about those in another post.

The bread was just a small loaf; to illustrate its small size, I photographed it with one of the baby tomatoes. The perfect size for a single gal really. Actually the perfect size for about 4 meals for me at my current wheat eating levels.

The loaf was impressively heavy and the crust extremely solid; it took a good amount of sawing to get a slice off it. But topped with a sliced baby tomato and slice of cheese, it made for a solid, perfectly simple, perfectly pleasurable lunch.

Antibes and a cool cooking toy

I am off in the south of France, in Antibes, studying French. The photo above is of the "fort carre" in Antibes, and it was my destination after my visit to the markets on Sunday. The markets were not much different from the average French market (except perhaps for inflated prices compared to the inland ones), but there was an interesting stall there:
This oven on a trailer was making a sort of chickpea crepe. Sadly my finances didn't stretch to buying one. Maybe later on in the week (awaiting the repayment of some medical bills)

But I just loved the oven and rather want one for my super sized camping trips.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

A visit to a medieval kitchen

On the weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Hampton court and getting to meet and chat to the authors of the foodblog "Cooking the Books". The kitchen was in full swing as the people chopped, sliced, diced and baked their lunch; happily taking the time to chat to everyone about what they were doing.

My friend Steve and I chatted with one of the cooks (Robert) and discussed our respective favourite renaissance cooking resources. I didn't get a chance to talk about the crustade with Richard (a recipe that he was working on and that I had some different perspectives on).

I am so jealous that these guys get paid to do what they do... spend their days experimenting and researching renaissance recipes. What colour is green?
We also talked cooking pots and cauldrons, and Robert proved to be very knowledgeable indeed about them. Steve has a serious case of lust after these ones:

So if you see anything like them for sale in a second hand shop, snaffle me one eh?