The week gone by was an unforgettable culinary voyage for me. It began with lunch with a sommelier from Italy, and culminated in two very special events related to Gôut de France– a culinary extravaganza that unfolded across the world to promote French cuisine.
Gôut de France meaning “Taste of France” was a program launched this January by Laurent Fabius, the French Minister for Foreign affairs and Alain Ducasse, the world renowned 3-Michelin-starred chef, to celebrate French gastronomy worldwide.
The program envisaged over 1300 chefs serving a “French-style dinner” on 19 March 2015, on all five continents. The menu for these dinners incorporated a traditional French aperitif, a cold starter, a hot starter, fish or shellfish, meat or poultry, a French cheese (or cheeseboard) and a chocolate dessert with each course accompanied by French wines and digestifs. In this whole ambit, respective chefs had the flexibility to highlight their own culinary traditions and cultures.
I was privileged to attend two events pertaining to Gôut de France. The first was a curtain raiser dinner on 17 March 15 at the enchantingly beautiful residence of H.E. François Richier, the Ambassador of France in India. The other one was Gôut de France dinner itself, at the resplendent Qube restaurant at Hotel Leela Palace, New Delhi.
My focus understandably being wine, the first thing I noticed from the menu at The Qube, was that it represented wines from literally all corners of France- be it the North East (Champagne), North West (The Loire Valley), South West(Bordeaux) or South East (The Rhone Valley). Christophe Gillino– the Chef de Cuisine at Qube had obviously done his homework well and that was no surprise, knowing of his work-experience with Alain Ducasse himself at the three Michelin starred “Le Louis XV” in Monaco.
Coming to the dinner, eight exotic courses were spread over two hours with well synchronised beverage pairings. Since Christophe comes from Aix-en-Provence, a touch of Provençale cuisine could be noticed in the overall ensemble. The experience went thus:
Assorted gougères pass around with Champagne
Wine: GH MUMM Cordon Rouge Brut
The gougères sandwiched an assortment of goat cheese, tapenade and anchoïade, served with pesto sauce. These offered an excellent repertoire of flavours in small measures. All of them worked well with the refreshing and autolytic Champagne.
Chilled lobster consommé with black truffle, artichoke mousseline with green lemon
Wine: Paul Jaboulet Aîné Côtes du Rhône “Parallèle 45” Blanc 2006
Côtes du Rhône Blanc is one of my favourites when it comes to a white wine with food because it invariably has voluptuous and aromatic traits rendered often by Grenache blanc and Viognier varietals.
I found the “Paralelle 45” Blanc 2006 to be a complex wine with floral and stone fruit characteristics accompanied by a surprisingly good level of acidity- given its vintage. This complexity was essential for the equally complex repas having the subtlety of lobster and an ample body imparted by the artichoke mousse.
Roasted sweetbread with orange and carrot reduction, mustard seeds and parsley
Wine: Henri Bourgeois Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2011
The nomenclature “sweetbread” can be quite confusing for the uninitiated since it is not a bread in the classical sense. However its French equivalent terminology as Ris d’agneau implied thyroid gland of lamb as I confirmed from the chef. The dish was a riot of flavours/ textures with the creamy Ris supplemented the savoury orange and carrot reduction well. The mustard seeds and parsley lent it additional dimensions in terms of sharpness and aromatics. All this worked in sync with the wine that had tropical, citrus fruits, toasty aromas/flavours and a peppery finish.
Steamed sea bass with herb coulis,ginger, compressed tomato, asparagus and coconut milk
Wine: Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet 2013 (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle)
By far the most successful generic Bordeaux brand, the Mouton Cadet range has consistently delivered high value to wine lovers everywhere. The wine was dry and light bodied with a refreshing acidity and aromas/flavours of tropical fruits, noticeably melons and lychees. On the food part, the tender and creamy sea bass worked in contrast with the acidic compressed tomatoes, the pea-puree stuffed morel mushrooms, the coconut milk and asparagus sauce, to offer a multi dimensional taste palette worthy of the wine.
Grilled Charolais or Chicken with liquorices jus, celeriac ravioli with saffron, aragula and dandelion, coffee foam
Wine: Baron Philippe de Rothschild Cadet d’Oc 2013 (Cabernet Sauvignon)
Cadet d’Oc is an easy going delicious wine with intense red fruit aromas and red cherries, oak, spice on the palate. For food, I went for the chicken option (with skin) and it had a wonderful crunch leading to decadence. The celeriac purée stuffed ravioli and the floral, spicy characteristics of the other constituents added to the flavour profile. The wine had plenty of traits to identify with this dish.
Assiette de Fromage (Cheese Course)
Grilled Roquefort toast with banana and salad leaves
Wine: Le St Émilion d’Adet Seward 2011
The banana sliver on the toast beneath the melted Roquefort was very innovative as it lent just the right amount of sweetness to the sharp and salty cheese. The greens brought in the freshness element. This dish proved that the most beautiful things are often the simplest. The wine was very approachable and anticipatedly fruity- being from the right bank of Bordeaux. With rounded tannins, a medium body and good acidity, it blended well with the course.
Chocolate sphere with grilled coffee, vanilla and ginger emulsion
The arrival of this course was a treat to watch as a diligent serving staff poured a stream of hot chocolate over the soft chocolate sphere- which started melting to reveal the ice cream and brownie inside. Complemented with the vanilla and ginger emulsion, it justified the Cointreau pairing not only for the matching sweetness but also for the additional orange flavour dimension.
Mignardises & Chocolats
My dinner concluded with green tea and delectable Mignardises & Chocolats (bite sized dessert served at the end of a meal) around a passionate discussion with Chef Gillino on the making of this memorable menu. I departed with a lingering Gôut de France.
I’m sure many others around the globe would also have.