Apparently I've got some new people reading and waiting impatiently for updates (hi Uncle Choo Eng), so I'll try and keep it moving.
Today was an interesting day, one that I had been looking forward to. We'd spend the day preparing dinner under the tutelage of Roland Del Monte, a patisseur and Meuilleur Ouvrier of France - in other words he was selected as the best pastry chef in all of France in a particular year.
The menu was: -
1. Pan-fried fresh foie gras with cepes
2. Stuffed chapon (a Mediterranean fish)
3. Roasted Bresse chicken with vegetable tian
4. Fruit soup with ice cream
So here we see the maitre holding up the rather plump Bresse chicken. The blue, white and red collar he wears indicates him as a Meuilleur Ouvrier de France, though as a patisseur, not as a chef, as was soon apparent.
Our raw materials were all in the kitchen when we arrived, including these blocks of absolutely enormous fresh foie gras. I've only ever seen foie gras coming out of tins, so these huge livers were something new to me.
Since we were involved in much of the preparation, there were few pictures taken of us chopping up vegetables and preparing the food for the night's dinner. The knives we were using were very blunt, which surprised me for such a professional kitchen, but I suppose patisseurs don't use knives very often.
The mushrooms were diced, and sweated to rid them of the moisture contained within them. The amount of water that was evaporated was quite astounding. Unfortunately, it did seem that the mushrooms weren't exactly enjoying this treatment, because when we finally ate them, they seemed quite tasteless and indisguishable from any other sort of mushroom.
And here we see Roland showing us just how to hack the legs and neck off a chicken with a large cleaver. It was oddly satisfying work, though his cleaver was very blunt, which made chopping a somewhat arduous affair.
That's me trying my hand at the same. Observe the large grin on my face.
Nothing like freshly sliced foie gras, generously seasoned and ready for the frying pan to get those stomach juices going.
Foie gras, like duck, is amazingly fat. It's pretty much pure fat, so you don't even need oil to cook it. Just place it on a hot pan and watch the oil gush out like some primordial flood.
The finished foie gras. It was pretty good, melt in your mouth delicious and went really well with the cheese cracker you see, even if the mushrooms were a bit flat.
The chapons were stuffed with an inordinate amount of seafood and herbs. Fresh scallops, prawns, mussels and fish liver were blended along with parsley and piped into the chapons' mouths. Their gills even had to be tied down with string in order to prevent the stuffing from leaking out. After which, they were roasted in the oven. All in all, the fish came out rather dry, probably having sat in the oven for too long (we were a bit late for dinner, it must be admitted).
A tian of roasted vegetables, which is basically a tray layered with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, leeks, herbs and oodles of olive oil. This was served together with the roast chicken you'll see in the next picture. The vegetables came out lovingly soft and melt lusciously in your mouth, but I did think it could have done with less olive oil.
Roast chicken with roasted girolles mushrooms and a tian of vegetables. Like the fish, the chicken was a bit dry. Apart from issting in the oven too long, the chicken was also, as far as I know, not basted with the roasting juices nor was it stuffed with anything to prevent excessive loss of juice.
Dessert was a fruit soup with orange blossom ice cream. Two types of peaches were macerated in syrup overnight and flavoured with vanilla beans, then arranged on a plate with assorted red fruits. The orange blossom ice cream was made by Roland, and it was just heavenly. He makes a really mean ice cream, and that brought an otherwise pedestrian dessert to life. I think he should probably stick to being a patisseur and dessert chef.
To finish off the meal, Uncle Choo Eng very kindly brought a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem (carefully bubblewrapped) all the way from Singapore. The idea was to find some ripe musk melon and hollow out the halves to serve the Yquem in, like the Japanese do [Edit: According to my father, drinking Yquem in this manner is actually a Singaporean invention. Go local culinary habits!]. Unfortunately, because the melons weren't ripe and sweet enough, they didn't do justice to the wine. Properly done, there is a spectacular efflorescence of the wine as the sweetness of both melon and grape burst in your mouth and slip down your throat. Regrettably, we didn't experience this that night, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless.
My father commented that Roland had probably never had the chance to try an Yquem, and probably thought us all stark raving mad for wanting to drink it out of some cheap fruit. This is probably true.
In any case, dinner was passable; not what I would have expected from a meuilleur ouvrier, but I suppose one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, even if it does have a tricolour collar on it.