Paris in the Spring is wonderful, not difficult to write songs/books/plays with the city framed in blossom — sit atop an open bus, cruise down the Seine, scoot along the bike lanes. Walk to the Rodin Museum, stroll around the gardens, drool at the sculptures. Bliss. And, just across the road, double bliss: Poor old Rodin, he probably just had to make do with the chilly corner brasserie, never knew the delights of “Pleine terre, pleine mer”, the brilliant new Spring menu by Alain Passard. His squeeze, the talented Camille Claudel, would have appreciated the light dishes, she probably never wore one but she could have chucked out the whalebone corset. And old Rozza would have been très jealous as Passard smiled his smile, wiggled his tight little buttocks, just visible as he disappeared into the kitchen to create another culinary miracle. Oh but I digress! Get the bread, it’s hot out of his oven, dip it into the organic egg, sip a glass of Chateau Roubine or a Charles Heidseick “Blanc des Millenaires”. Ahhh Paris.
Now we all know Passard went vegetarian in 2000, no longer finding culinary inspiration in meat. Saying, “we must return to the essences of the earth”, he bought a parcel of land in the Sarthe region to cultivate organic products. But he never really gave up poultry and fish “I like cooking too much to forget them”, he insisted.
Last week, I popped into L’Arpège for lunch and ate the best chicken in Paris/the world. Volaille “Mieral” au sesame and soja, drizzled with 25- year old balsamic vinegar; the free-range lovely was roasted with TLC, served with a sweet onion gratin. Ay ay ay. And hang on, before that new dishes — in reverse order — just like Miss World; Passard you are the Mr. World of French cuisine! A tiny “miroir” of raw vegetables, marinated in olive oil, served simply, mopped up with that bread. Then a little osciètre caviar “nouvelle peche” with baby Jerusalem artichokes (a delicious homage to Easter). Tender homard from the iles de Chausey with Xérès vinegar and acacia honey, sprinkled with petals of turnips and rosemary. Imagine a few jewel-like coquillages from the bay of Granville, topped with nasturtium flowers and with a light curry flavoured saboyan sauce. Then a Loire salmon with mustard d’Orleans, which Passard makes in collaboration with Jean Francois Martin, and which we’ll be able to buy soon. One perfect baby leek, grilled slowly, drizzled with caramelised balsamic vinegar is the prelude to the chicken.
Desserts are an equal inspiration, the lad’s revised and corrected the classic Ile flottante, Rozza and Camille would freak. Version Passard is light with a moka-melisse sculptured “egg” and caramel lacté sauce replacing the Crème Anglaise. He makes a square Vanilla Millefeuille Arpège, big as the table; molten dark chocolate soufflés; and wicked chocolate soufflé cakes.
Passard lights a cigar, pours himself a green tea, “fantastic for the digestion”, and admits. “L’Arpège has evolved in the two years since I changed my ideas, I feel like an artist of the cuisine”. He says that there’s no end to the combination of preparing vegetables, and he’s just tapping into the domaine of raw vegetables (see above). It’s a return to delicate herb seasonings and he’s fascinated by growing things from seed. “It’s the earth, vegetables are like wine, they come from the earth, depend on the terroir”. By September all the vegetables and some of the fruits will not only be cooked by Passard and his team, they’ll be grown by him. Here’s a chef who’s happy in his legumes creating a new healthy nouvelle cuisine.
Menu “Pleine terre, Pleine mer” – 300€
Collection Légumière Printemps – Eté 2003 – 60€
+ A la carte.
“Maison de Cuisine”.
84 rue de Varenne, 7th
T: 01 47 05 09 06
77 rue de Varenne 7th
T: 01 44 18 61 10.
The haute couturiers of “Parisian Patisserie” and chocolate unveil their Easter collections. Grab the Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, and head to Hermé, Hévin and Peltier.
Pierre Hermé, uses Africa, the origins of chocolate, and African ethnic arts as his theme. It’s going to be an intellectual Easter; he’s created magnificent chocolate sculpted masks with exotic names: “Senoufo”, “Divinité des Sources” and “Masque de Borneo”, inspired by the Jacques Lebrat collection at Galerie Punchinello, Paris. There’s also superb rabbits, chickens, clocks and delicate “lace” eggs. “This year I made the bunnies using my great grandfather’s moulds, he was a pâtissier in Colmar”, explains Hermé. Hurry along, the “masques” are limited edition and collector’s items, cost 115€ a kilo. If you can’t face the line outside Hermé’s boutique, call ahead and order. They’ll bring it to your car, or deliver chez vous.
Recently Hermé headed the jury to elect the Championnat de France du Dessert held at the lycée hotelier Jean-Drouant, Paris. In the category “professionals” the “Sucre d’Or” trophy went to Hugues Pouget of restaurant Guy Savoy for “Palet chocolat à la fève Tonka”.
72 rue Bonaparte, 6th
Métro: Saint Sulpice
T: 01 43 54 47 77
Jean-Paul Hevin’s “MULTI-OEUF” changes its’ theme each year. For 2003, Hevin packs the chocolate shell (45cm high) with miniature filled eggs and tops them with a golden chocolate bicycle. Why the bike? “They remind me of my childhood in the country”, he says. And also, as a keen sportsman (he’s as thin as a friture) Hevin’s homage to the 100th anniversary of La Tour de France Bicycle Race is edible. Someone tell Lance!
231, rue Saint Honoré, 1st
T: 01 55 35 35 96
For his first Easter chez Peltier, Philippe Conticini creates “a flat egg with a tender heart that flows”. Sitting on its’ own chocolate stand, like a work of art, or in a coffret of three is: “L’oeuf noir”, with marzipan and grilled pistachio. “L’Oeuf au lait”, milk chocolate with undertones of astringent orange. “L’Oeuf Blanc”, low sugar, very fruity white chocolate with gianduja and coconut. And a special “pour les enfants”. Discover Conticini’s new collection at:
66 rue de Sevres 7th
T: 01 47 34 06 62.
All these and more can be seen in a spectacular display at the Hotel Meurice (through 21st April). Lunch in the Jardin d’Hiver on light, healthy dishes from the menu created by Les Sources de Caudalie, Bordeaux. Under 400 calories, so that leaves lots of leeway for the chocolate. Make a rendezvous at the Espace Bien-Etre Caudalie, for the Soin Imperial while you’re there. Takes away the guilt and the cellulite!
Espace Bien-Etre Caudalie
223 rue de Rivoli 1st
T: 01 44 58 10 10
Happy Easter and Passover.