Showing posts with label chefs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chefs. Show all posts

12 January 2008

Chef Jean-Claude Voisin of Le Vinois, Caillac

It is 11 p.m. on a Saturday night and I am never going to eat again.

I have found culinary nirvana.

Jean-Claude Voisin is in town. But not for long, sadly, only two more weeks. Voisin is chef and owner with his wife of Le Vinois in Caillac, just north of Douelle in the Lot Valley. He is guest chef at my neighborhood restaurant, which - happily - is a place of warm welcomes, fine wine and exquisite food.

J-C is also a wizard. He knows how to marry tastes and textures in a way that preserves the taste of the food, sometimes finding a foil or a balance, other times playing matchmaker with flavor.

A few days ago, I tasted duck a l'orange in a sauce that was a dream of orange, of course, but of something more, something rich and sweet and deep. It was paired with thin slices of potatoes baked in cream, not cheese, that allowed the true flavors of earthy potato and mild, sweet cream to merge, then separate - a sort of pas des deux of flavors.

The dessert was two swirls of mousse, chocolate and vanilla, topped with a spiral of hard, dark chocolate set at a rakish angle and neighbored with a paper-thin fan of pineapple and a sweet pineapple-y sauce.

Alas, I have no photos. You will have to take my word that this dessert was good, and surprising, as desserts should be, and that it lured me back for more.

I was prepared on Saturday, and in the candlelit restaurant, I captured Jean Claude's artistry on my little Nikon CoolPix camera.

Last night, a snowy Saturday night with the Packers on their way to the NFC championship game, dinner was later than usual in my part of the world. We sipped a crisp and happy Viognier, while my husband ordered chicken encrusted with gingerbread and served with a medley of root vegetable strips. I chose salmon with potatoes topped with pistachios and paired with thin strips of carrot and zucchini swirled around one perfectly tart and scarlet cherry tomato.

Did I mention the first course? A thick, soupy "coffee" of butternut squash and chestnut topped with a stick of bacon surrounded by delicate pastry. Comfort food, my favorite!

Dessert this time was a trio of apple confections: A moist and spicy terrine, a crisp smoky French toast slice and green apple sorbét with a fan of fresh apple slices.

The food of Jean-Claude Voisin is presented with imagination and verve. It offers me a dream of the possibilities that exist in my own kitchen, and that recalls the seemingly careless but always artful way my father dropped a slice of this and a fluff of that on a plate to create a canvas of color and texture.

Such grace! Such flavor!

01 February 2007

Chef James Haller: Cooking From the Heart

Welcome to February!

I like this month because it means we are closer to spring and up here on the Wisconsin tundra, we usually get a few warmer days. February is the month that my husband and I mark the anniversary of our first date and our engagement, which came just before Valentine's Day — by sheer coincidence, not planning.

So I thought I would concentrate on matters of the heart this month. What is cooking, if not a matter of the heart?

I asked Chef James Haller (see Jan. 5 post) to write a guest post to kick off the month. He kindly did so, in his usual graceful style. I have added a link to his site at the left, someting I should have done weeks ago. He is, as you can see, in a class by himself.


Cooking from the Heart
By James Haller

I've always thought that cooking for someone is one of the most loving
things you can do. The nourishment of the food, and the nourishment of
someone knowing they are "being cared for" make it truly a gesture of love.

A few years ago a friend was celebrating a birthday and wanted to have his family for dinner including seven children: the eldest aged six, the youngest age two.

For the birthday cake I made a chocolate Genoise cut into three layers and filled with a lavender mousse. I made a plain white, powdered sugar frosting for the cake. When dinner was over we cleared the table and I filled seven little pastry bags with different colored icing, handed them to the kids and said, "Okay, why don't you all decorate Uncle Jack's cake?" I showed them how to hold and squeeze the bags and with-in minutes the artful decoration was underway. The youngest, the two year old, had to stand on top of the table over the cake to have room. The event lasted for almost a half hour, a very long time to keep kids interested, and when they finished, the cake was truly lovely though I must admit it was a little abstract, a sort of multi-colored, very sweet Jackson Pollack.

But the enjoyment and the effort and the involvement of the kids to make Uncle Jack's cake beautiful was a gesture of love they still talk about.

Cooking has always been a passion for me, even before I ever thought I would become a chef. Part of that passion was a desire to see people enjoy what I had cooked for them. To hear the oohs and ahhs as they smelled the aromas of a wonderful chowder made from wild mushrooms and prosciutto, or a chicken breast stuffed with pears and duck breast in an orange and fig dressing, is the reason cooking continues to make me happy almost forty years since I first walked up to a stove professionally.

My whole approach to cooking has always been instinct, almost what you might think of as design. The dinner is designed with tastes rather than presentation, and although presentation is commendable, I feel the dinner is going into your stomach and not the Louvre. Never repeat an herb during a dinner, use cream only once, either in a soup or an entrée or maybe an
appetizer, don't repeat foodstuffs. Designing each taste so that it compliments the last and sets you up for the next is a constant effort to create a new taste. In the sixteen years I owned Blue Strawbery I never repeated a menu.

So it doesn't matter if you only make hamburgers, creamed chipped beef on
toast or a chateaubriand, this Valentines day set the table, light a couple
of candles, open a bottle of wine that you like, and as you're dishing out
the food lean over and whisper to that wonderful person, "I love cooking for
you."