A Taste of Provence...

Our second formal visit to Provence via a collaborative dinner at the club with a fellow member/chef/food enthusiast; Brendan O'Farrell, who graciously lent his time and talent to our culinary atelier last week. It was a tasting menu format complete with nuances and tastes of the south of France during this great time of year, as well as flair and "flava" of my own style and persona. I have always said that I do not claim to be, nor want to be "authentic". That is not me. I want to go off in other directions. I want to express who I am and where I come from. I give it my travels, my experiences, my education, practices and research and a twist just because. Why...because I can. Brendan offered his unique experiences of past living in Provence, which is where he co-owned and operated his (now defunct) restaurant...la Table du Michel. So, we were off and running with the menu...a very flavorful pairing of foodstuffs, one which I drew heavily

upon my studying and our executive sous chefs stage experience at Alain Ducasse. This master epitomizes the words cooking in Provence to me. It played out like this...We fancied up the grand entrance to our dining room by decorating with some freshly baked Fougasse(from Bakery Nouveau) and Epis, as well as some of our house made preserves, canned fruits of summer, jams and marinated olives. Throw in one of Brendan's books; "Brothers in the Kitchen" and a bottle of wine, well...you get the gist. We started with an amuse of some basic Provencal staples~ Eggplant Caviar, Fennel Confit, Chanterelle and Goat Cheese "Barbajuans",

which is like a little fried agnolotti and basil oil. Very nice, appropriate and tasty. You could have munched on a handful of these! Next we decided to go straight to the fish course (should have done the salad course next though as we did not have enough time to stage the fish course when we got slammed).

An olive oil poached pair of diver sea scallops, with "brandade" potatoes (mixed with salt cod, salmon candy, garlic and Spanish olive oil), heirloom tomato fondue, sauteed leeks, haricots verts and baby octopus composure, green olive tapenade and olive oil nage. The dish worked well. The flavors were very rich, bold, fresh and Mediterranean in style. Again, the only bummer was we needed some more staging time so that we could eliminate the lag time in between courses. The savory meat course was what followed. Concept and flavor profile were top notch. The dish was designed well. The composition was different from the rest. A nice departure from my normal style of late. However, to be fair to myself and my team, this dish was not executed the best. It boiled down to the cut and the cooking technique. It was not suited for this application. The veal "eye of the round" was the chosen cut... a great moderately used cut that has shown many a great results before. We opted to cut larger pieces and cook them in olive oil, very slow. The shortfall was that one, it was previously frozen and lost it's moisture in a bad way. That also resulted in a tougher piece. It should have been sliced and grilled or sauteed quickly. Tough was the big issue. My hats' off to Matt, who tried his best, but it was a losing battle. The dish was not all lost however. It was a very tasty dish. The accompaniments cooked nicely. It was light and yet very fulfilling in that respect. The myriad of tastes and textures made for a nostalgic gastronomic memory of huge proportion for me and brought me back to Provence when doing some serious R & D in my past.

The dish was paired with artichokes "barigoule", thyme roasted figs, chanterelles, ricotta gnocchi, and fried squash blossoms. A crisp parmesan chip and a fig vinegar essence completed the ensemble. Into our "salade", we served a classic flavor pairing of tomato confit (studded with flavors of garlic and thyme), vibrant zucchini mousse, a savory sablee, nicoise olive dust, micro arugula and shaved sheep's cheese. Creamy chickpea puree, scented with meyer lemon oil, and crispy panisse along with a reduced sherry vinaigrette encapsulated the whole production.

The summery-ness of the salad made for a nice segway into dessert.

A brulee of roasted "Pench Orchard" peach, sitting atop a biscuit of rose geranium, fennel pollen and vanilla, resting on a slab of raspberry pates de fruits (which to my dismay, did not serve well. It overpowered the dish, however tasty). This was flanked by blackberry and peach coulis, white chocolate-lavender mousse, lemon macaroon crumbs and lemon verbena ice cream. The slivery chip was a cocoa croquant thrown in for texture. Nice flavors. Light, incredibly delicious and fun. And of course, in true fashion, we served up a little bite to close the deal...bugnes, which although a staple in Lyon, finds it's way to Provence by many great chef's...so, it works for me as well. I hope you like the read and photos as much as we did cooking them.


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