A Taste of Provence...

Who would have thought that almost 20 years ago, as a young sous chef, just coming into his own, that I would have been doing a dinner with a gentleman that I was contracted to cook for at his stately home on Capitol Hill in the future at the Rainier Club? A few years ago, I became aware of a member named Brendan O'Farrell. He is a business specialist and accomplished cook in his own right, who collectively with a business partner I came to find, is a restaurateur! In the South of France at that! He approached me with an idea that I am quite fond of...a collaborative dinner. He had offered to bring his associate and partner chef; Michel Deville, who by the way, graced us "locals" with his presence as he used to cook in Seattle some years back at his own establishment, as well as others. So, we started to work out the details, by means of various emails and phone messages as to what we would do. And so it was set, a multi-course dinner in which Michel would do a couple of dishes and we, the RC cuisiniers, would do some. It would be dishes out of their new book they were putting together called La Table de Michel, cooking in Saint-Remy de Provence. Ours would be our own interpretation of the ever-so-loved cuisine of that beautiful region. Brendan would be dubbed as the "guest Maitre d'", and what a success it was! The menu started out with a simply superb creation by our Executive Sous Chef; Jim Campbell and A.M. Sous Chef; John Roberts...a bread and condiment composure that represented Saint-Remy and this contemporary haven for food quite well. It was fresh in-house baked herbed Focaccia, a rich and tasty Pain d'Olive, savory and crisp Grissini from Jim's memoirs of A.D.(Alain Ducasse) in the South of France, and a house made specialty from our pastry Sous chef; Tyler Anderson, whom had worked on this at various times in the past with myself, called a "Savory Danish", consisting of fresh made savory danish dough, infused with herbs and seasonings, rolled up with a filling of Apple Smoked Bacon, Herbs de Provence, Aged Sheeps Manchego Cheese, Shallots and Black Pepper. All of these golden leavened artisan "fourees" were accompanied by a "degustation" of condiments that Jim had so graciously and meticulously hovered over for several days. They consisted of a preserved Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, that he let steep for about a week in our salumi cellar; a mixed olive tapenade made of Picholine, Nicoise and Kalamata olives, herbs, olive oil and garlic; an Eggplant Caviar with tomatoes, olive oil, herbs, onions and lot's of slow cooking, and alas; a wonderful Spanish White Anchovy-Lavender Butter "Compose'". And to think, all this even before you get to the first course! I think those in attendance could even smell the salty air blowing up from the Mediterranean Sea...or maybe it was just the Puget Sound, but none-the-less, it was awesome. Then came the first course from our team, which was the Amuse du Soire..."A Wisp of White Chocolate, seasoned ever so gently and embellished with American Sturgeon Caviar brought to us by dale Sherrow from Seattle Caviar, a drizzle of Smoked Sweet Paprika Syrup, infused with a Japanese Citrus nuance called Yuzu, ultra fine crispy house made Prosciutto "filaments" and lastly, a micro pluche of Fennel from the "Chef's Garden" in Huron, Ohio. Then came the first course from Brendan and Michel; a light Mediterranean salad called "Salad Mara", which was a nice and subtle composure of Bay Shrimp, Avocado, Celery, Mushrooms and Tomato Concassee very slightly dressed with a signature French Lemon Vinaigrette. This made the transition into the next course constructed by our culinary team; an Olive Oil Poached Striped Sea Bass a huge hit! It was nestled atop several medallions of heirloom Purple Peruvian Potatoes, savory Finnochio Sausage, which had JUST finished ripening in our cellar, I swear that afternoon! It gave the dish a meaty and succulent mouthfeel and finish. We had also added a hot Saffron Gelatin, comprised of a rich Fumet de Poisson enhanced with Iranian Saffron, Agar Agar and let to set. We then proceeded to scoop "Jelly Beans" from them before adding them in at the last minute. Next was a Lobster-Basil Pistou, a hot Garlic-Potato Foam which actually took the place of the Rouille in a twisted sort of fashion. Lastly a cooling and refreshing micro Celery was strewn over top.
Michel's next course was the entree dish if you will, made up of young Anderson Ranch Lamb Loin from Oregon, topped with a duxelles of Shiitake Mushrooms and wrapped up in golden Pate Feuilletee, then baked to perfection. It was simply adorned by a cluster of Baby Carrots "Fondue", Haricots Verts, EVOO and a rich Rhone infused Jus d'Agneau. Of course, we sprinkled fleur de Sel over the meat just before gracing the table. The dessert was a kind of team effort from us and them...a tribute to Jean Banchet, which the recipe was from a cookbook that he contributed to some time ago. It was a Bittersweet Chocolate-Hazelnut Gateau with a Cara-Cara Orange Salad, Praline Ice Cream, Concord Grape Coulis and a crisp wafer of Cocoa "Paper". Then, to top off the degustatory experience, Tyler had made some very appropriate Pates de Fruits au Vin Rouge et Mures du Bois, or Wild Blackberry and Red Wine Jellies. I know, I could have just said that! The evening was filled with about 90 guests all laughing, complimenting and giving accolades to anyone who would listen. Michel spent most of his time in the kitchen, naturally, although he didn't cook much at all surprisingly, but the wine was definitely flowing in the cuisine! Brendan gave the dining room an ambiance that paralleled the menu superbly. When it was all said and done, we knew we could chalk this one up to yet another wonderful guest chef dinner, and one that will be in our minds for some time to come.


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