Friday, February 27, 2009

OFF4 - Ominivore Festival 2009 Deauville

This week I attended something called OFF4 2009 - Omnivore Food Festival that was held in the Normandy coastal town of Deauville. It's a relatively young event - it just had its 4th year. Deauville is an easy two hours by train from Paris and is better known for its annual American Film festival in September. However, I suspect that OFF will put Deauville on the map for another reason!

I love the Omnivore Food Festival. I think it's a great event. It's attended by professionals in the industry - chefs, cooks, vineyard owners, restaurant owners and the like - but it's also open to the public. The two-day schedule was filled with highly talented and creative chefs (young and old) who shared their savoir-faire (know how) and philosophies. The music was modern, the vibe was good and the stage was well-equipped with a mega-projection screen suspended in the air, allowing everyone to have a good view, even back row seats.

In each 35 minute segment (approximately), these guys (yes, all were guys...) either gave an actual demo (anywhere from 1 - 7 dishes) while being interviewed (not easy!) -- or -- they participated in a "one-on-one" talk, seated at the couch area over a cup of coffee (called Café Confidences by the festival).

Demo with Chef Laurent Chareau

Café Confidences, with Pierre Hermé

I appreciated the caliber of the demos. The chefs assume you already know the basics. My head got a little overloaded, however, just a couple of times, and not because it was mostly in French. The logic occasionally slipped into lapses of complexity when the more avant-guarde chefs explained their subject. I should say tried to explain. It actually became amusing in all its complexity, where, at some point, the explanations went around in circles, out there and back again, still not fully understood....finally, the interviewer, equally perplexed at times, reached out to the audience for help to understand some of the more obscure ingredients or ideas being used!

And I was at a momentary loss when occasional terms were used very casually, such as "yuba", "umami" and "methyl cell" (that's New York speak for "methyl cellulose", you know, because...well, it just is). These moments were rare however, and the caliber of what was shared was consistently high and extremely professional. I enjoyed the Café Confidences for different reasons. They were simple and straightforward: questions were asked; responses were given. The dialogue was all highly personal, anecdotal and refreshingly honesty. No recipes given here, but better than that, we gained an understanding of someone's philosophy and integrity.

I attended the festival one day last year with Ecole Ferrandi (as part of the Sup 2nd year class). Everyone was impressed. In fact, throughout the rest of the school year, we tried to recreate some of the ideas we had seen that day. This year we also came home equally inspired to try to recreate and reinterpret. I'd say this is definitely a sign of a good event.

The first guest was Pierre Hermé (of my macaron addiction), and it continued with others such as Alexandre Bourdas, Laurent Chareau, Bertrand Grebaut, Emmanuel Renaut, Jacques et Laurent Pourcel, Mads Reflund, Franck Cerutti, Peter Nilsson, Jaques Marcon (son of Regis), several Italians, one chef from New York (David Chang), and chefs from Denmark and Spain - including Adrian Ferra, last but not least. Here are a few highlights:

Asparagus, egg, parmesan - Bertrand Grebaut

Chef Bertrand Grebaut - Agapè, Paris 75017

Salad Caprèse - Stephano Baiocco (Italy)

Brandade de Morue, PDT Vitelotte (Cod and Purple Potato)- Riccardo Camanini (Italy)

Eel, seared foie gras & mango - Katsumi Ishida (Lyon)

Explanation of how dish was created - Jordi Butron (Spain)

Ferran Adria - el Bulli (Spain)

The MC - who did an oustanding job! (Don't know his name though)

The take-aways for me were:
  1. Figure out what inspires you - it's where you can draw creativity. The Scandanavian chefs highlighted this point with the greatest flare and enthusiasm. They are absolutely crazy about nature - the changing of the seasons, the first fish eggs of spring, the first onion greens pushing their way through the spring snow, feeling the water on your face at the beach, walking in the forest....these are things that have inspired their plates.
  2. Stay open-minded. Always. Even if the idea sounds strange initially, or avant-guarde (examples: eel and foie gras with mango, or "dirt dessert"'s not really dirt, it just looks like dirt since it represents the forest! Refer to #1 above...well, maybe you "had to be there" for that one, and unfortunately,no photos to help explain!).
  3. Food artistry = a combination of perfectly executed technique + elevated artistic presentations.
  4. Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Strange ideas or concepts can lead to "creativity". We saw some pretty amazing creations.
  5. You won't suit everyone's taste, so don't even try. Do your own thing. I saw several chefs who seemed to embody this notion. They have launched new horizons by doing their own thing. And they have done it quite successfully, too, according to their own definition of success (ie, not necessarily financial).
  6. Simplicity on the plate - people want to see & understand what they're eating (even in the molecular food world). Modern. Clean. Simple.
  7. Push the limits of comfort zone, but bring us back to something familiar.
  8. New ideas come from questioning everything without prejudice. No assumptions; no presumptions; no thoughts about why something can't work...a child's approach to seeing the world can perhaps lead to more creativity than a rational-minded approach!
Donc, voilà. These are my interpretations of the event. None are necessarily revolutionary, per se. Haven't we heard some of these thoughts before? (ie, "think outside the box"....stay "young at heart"....etc, etc). It still serves a purpose to me, however, and that is to refresh my memory - something I need from time to time. Looking forward to OFF5 2010, announced to be held again in Deauville. Bravo.

P.S. Wondering what Omnivore means? Click here to see if you were right!
P.P.S. There's also a wine expo at OFF, but I didn't have time to check it out...too bad.
For more information about OFF, see their website (in french): Omnivore

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pâte de Fruit Pomme au Calvados

Les Confiseries (confectionaries) have been around for some 500 years, according to The National Syndicate of Confiseries. Confectionaries today in France include all of the usual suspects: suckers, caramels, marshmallows, chewing gum, marzipan, nougat, etc. There's also something called a pâte de fruit. The literal translation is "dough from fruit", yet another example where the literal translation gets you nowhere. So what is it? The closest thing I can relate it to is a gum drop, but it's not at all like a gum drop! Gum drops are cone-shaped, although I'm not very concerned about its shape. More importantly, gum drops tend to be very sugary, and to my knowledge are made with artificial fruit....and sometimes spices. At least this is what I remember from all my trick-or-treating days as a child.

A better translation for pâte de fruit is simply fruit jelly squares. They are firm but soft in texture, and have a very rich, intensely fruity taste. They are satisfyingly sweet without being overly sugary, if you know what I mean. And yet, they are rolled in sugar. Go figure. (Another french paradox.)

It's good to understand that they have their own appellation (codification). The name "pâte de" followed by the name of the fruit, is reserved for those pâte de fruits in which 100% of the fruit pulp used comes from the fruit cited in its name. And just to add a tiny bit of confusion, this equals at least 50% of fruit in the finished product (you'll see why later in the recipe). As an example, "pâte de pomme" (apple jelly square) is made with 100% apple pulp. A pâte de coing is made with 100% coing (quince), etc, etc. The second classification is identified by "pâte de fruit" followed by the name of the fruit. This indicates it is a pâte de fruit in which at least 25% of the fruit pulp used comes from the name of the fruit (which then becomes at least 12.5% in the finished product). Examples of this category include pâte de fruit au pomme, or pâte de fruit à coing. Or simply pâte de fruit pomme. The 3rd classification is called "pâte de fruit aromatisée à" followed by the name of fruit (a pâte de fruit with the flavor of...). The label can also use such words as pâte de fruit goût à or saveur à - all of these things are indicating that there's very little real fruit in the candy. Maybe this category is more like the gum drop afterall...

All of this might sound a little too complicated and maybe it's easier reading if you understand the language, but please bear with me. Such things are quite important in France. The confectionary professionals voluntarily codified it in 1965 to maintain standards of quality and tradition. I'm all for that, given the variation in how these confections can be made - something I hadn't realized until I started doing it myself.

But, what about making a pâte de fruit? I've only tried two times now. The first time was with fresh rasberries & they failed. I ended up with a really nice rasberry jam, but not a pâte de fruit. Yesterday they turned out perfectly, using apples this time. I used two different recipes - maybe this is why. Or maybe I just got lucky. Who knows. Regardless, from now own, I'll stick to yesterday's recipe:

Pate de fruit à Pomme
(Recipe thanks to Les Vergers Boiron)

500 g apple purée
50 g sugar + 13 g pectin jaune in powder form
508 g sugar
9 g tartaric acid solution
110 g glucose
10 g Calvados (optional)
extra sugar for coating


  1. Make a tartaric acid solution (50:50 tartaric acid to water) and heat until dissolved. Set aside. You can also use fresh lemon juice instead of tartaric acid (a natural acid found in certain plants such as grape, banana or tamarind and acts as an antioxidant while also adding a slightly sour taste).
  2. Mix pectin jaune (13g) with sugar (50g). Set aside.
  3. Finish the rest of your mis-en-place: weigh ingredients (all except glucose); place a metal frame on a cookie sheet with parchment paper underneath (for pouring finished product into at the end); Find heat resistant spatula and wisk, and place next to stove in a bowl of water; Have thermometer ready to go.
  4. Heat fruit purée on stove top until hot. Sprinkle in the pectin/sugar mixture. Bring to boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring.
  5. Add sugar in 3-4 steps, making sure it's well dissolved before adding the next addition.
  6. Add glucose. I removed the pan from the heat & placed it on a scale & weighed the glucose directly in. It's too thick otherwise..a consistency like corn syrup.
  7. Cook until the temperature reaches 107°C. This takes a good 10 minutes or so, so don't worry about measuring the temperature in the beginning. Do be worried about stirring or whisking constantly because this is the stage it can burn. It's going to get all hot & bubbly & reduce very slightly. Careful with this're working with molten hot sugar.... Keep whisking. Remove from heat once you reach 107°C.
  8. Add the tartaric acid solution & wisk.
  9. Add the Calvados & wisk. Watch out - it can briefly bubble violently.
  10. Immediately pour into metal frame. You don't have a whole lot of time here; it starts to thicken immediately. Let rest 2-3 hours uncovered.
  11. Cut into squares, or whatever shape you want. Fill bowl with sugar. Toss in a bunch of fruit gels. Coat all sides. Sugar coating: optional but definitely traditional.

Can be stored a very long time. I read it's OK for 6 - 9 months. All that sugar helps preserve them. In fact, pâte de fruits were originally created as a way to preserve harvested fruit.

One question you might have is where to get the fruit purée. I made my own with apples. You can also buy fruit purées by the jar at nearby store, G. Detou. Or, you can buy them frozen. At Ecole Ferrandi, we used the brand Les Vergers Boiron - that's what most professionals use and what I would use if I could buy it without a professional's license. (Hopefully soon...)

You might also wonder if you need to use pectin if you make a purée with a pectin-rich fruit (such as apple or pear). I would say yes, if you want to get the right texture of a pâte de fruit. Otherwise, you might end up with a form of jelly or something that doesn't solidify like it should. Back in the middle ages when they couldn't buy pectin off the shelf, they surely figured out the right proportions to get it right...but still...I say use it!

On the subject of pectin, there are different types of pectins. Here in France, "pectin jaune" is the one specifically used to make pâte de fruits and other confiseries. In the US, I think it's called apple pectin. But, be sure to use the right kind!

Pâte de fruit pomme au Calvados de Normandie....a perfect mignardise. Another french treat worth understanding and trying.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pierre Hermé Macaron - Caramel au Beurre Salé

Today was an odd day. Both good and bad. Ever have one of those days? I won't dwell on the bad...instead, I prefer to savor only the good: a macaron. I, like most people, just love these little almond-meringue biscuit treats. I'm partial to the small, little ones that are oh-so-easy to eat. On top of that, the small size doesn't make you feel like you are over-indulging, even if you have more than one, or two. Or three.

I followed a recipe today from the Pierre Hermé Macaron book (left). For me, he is the king of macarons. I really like what he does. I tried a favorite flavor, caramel au beurre salé (caramel made with salted butter). I'm thrilled to say that they turned out tasting pretty Hermé-authentic, if I do say so myself. He's got a great book, if this recipe is anything to go by.

I was in a bit of a rush making them this morning, when my day started out all nice & I don't have a single photo to share with you on the process. But, I can show you the end result. It might bring back a few memories to those who have visited Paris, or who have previously lived here... Hopefully, it will entice you to come back for another visit! Can a macaron really do that? Well, maybe. These little treasures really are that good. If squeezing a trip to Paris isn't in the budget or on the calendar, then having a macaron at home may be the next best thing. I'll post the recipe the next time I try making a different Hermé flavor. I think pistachio is calling my name. Until then, happy macaron-day to everyone.