By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

Jean-Louis PalladinAs a young cook honing my skills in the mid-1990s, I fell into a position at Emily’s, a small restaurant in suburban Detroit led by Chef Rick Halberg. With twenty years’ hindsight, I now look back at my time there as an important educational phase of my career — a cook’s equivalent to graduate school. The food culture we see today was only in its infancy then, and our resources were limited to print — this was well before we could scan social media feeds for instant inspiration and ideas from around the world. Emily’s served as a creative incubator for the cooks who worked there. In our downtime, we swapped the latest books and magazines, mining them for techniques and flavors to infuse into the menus we developed. We looked to Europe, of course, but we were also keenly aware of the rumblings here in the U.S. Then, as now, it was an exciting time to be a cook.

Our research materials included dog-eared copies of Art Culinaire (still publishing and quite relevant today), rare issues of the European import Opt Art and the highly influential series of books Charlie Trotter began writing in 1994. One book, however, stood out among the pack: Jean-Louis Palladin’s Cooking with the Seasons, originally published in 1989. By day we cooked French-inspired classics, but at night we studied Jean-Louis’ modern and sophisticated interpretations, documented in sleek photography. Though highly refined techniques and luxury ingredients jumped from every page, the book also served as a love letter to the ethos of “local” and “seasonal” cooking. I recall one dish that we ended up adapting into our repertoire: a deceivingly simple but elegant terrine fashioned from ultra-thin slices of house-cured salmon, spinach and anchovy butter. As my own path was heading toward a concentration in pastry, I also experimented with the book’s dessert recipes, including Palladin’s traditional clafoutis (a staple of his native southwestern region of France) and a raspberry-studded crème brûlée.

Jean-Louis Palladin

Chef Palladin

Though perhaps eclipsed by chefs who came after (and those who became more ‘famous’), Jean-Louis’ influence on American cuisine can’t be overstated. He was often considered a “chef’s chef.” Cooking styles and aesthetics have changed and few are replicating his dishes today, but his legacy lives on with respect to his insistence on local ingredients. One might argue that most French chefs in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s relied on imported ingredients. Palladin, upon arriving in 1979, made it his mission to seek out the best of what was here. His flagship restaurant in the storied Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. showcased these products with impeccable technique to honor them. A compatriot in this cause was Gilbert LeCoze, who opened Le Bernardin in New York; rather than ship Dover sole from Europe, LeCoze walked the stalls of Fulton Fish Market and championed fish from this region’s waters, and in the process changed the way American chefs sourced and cooked fish. And by no coincidence, Eric Ripert, the current chef and owner of Le Bernardin, worked under Palladin when he emigrated from France, just prior to being hired by LeCoze.

Michael Laiskonis

Tribute, 1999, with Chef Michael (top left) and guest chefs Susanna Foo, David Burke, Roberto Donna and Jean-Louis Palladin

I was afforded my own personal introduction to Jean-Louis years later in 1999, when he cooked as a guest chef at Tribute (also in Detroit), where I had recently become the pastry chef. Many lasting impressions came of these guest chef dinners over the years, but few memories top observing Palladin’s confident swagger at the stoves, his missives barked in an impossibly deep voice and thick French accent. Sadly, Jean-Louis would pass away two years later at the young age of 55, still very much in his prime. But since then, I occasionally pull his book from the shelf and contemplate the evolution of cuisine — what has changed and what fundamental ideas remain the same. I will also quiz younger cooks from time to time, to test their knowledge on the influencers who came before us — I can count how many cooks I’ve sent to the internet in search of Jean-Louis and his generation of chefs.

Michael Laiskonis dessert

Chef Michael’s take on raspberry crème brûlée

I was offered an opportunity to come, in a sense, full circle within my own Jean-Louis story, and straight into his old kitchen at the Watergate just last month. At the urging of my friend Paul Liebrandt, I accepted an invitation from current Watergate chef Michael Santoro to celebrate Palladin’s legacy and the 50th anniversary of the Watergate Hotel. An exclusive multicourse dinner also featured D.C. chefs Robert Wiedmaier, Brian McBride and Watergate pastry chef, Kieu-Linh Nguyen. The most difficult decision was which dessert to prepare, but after several days’ deliberation, all I needed to do was flip through Cooking with the Seasons and the inspiration became immediately clear. Upon seeing my old friend — that raspberry crème brûlée — I created a dessert that served as a metaphor for my own evolution: a sphere of vanilla mousse hiding a liquid raspberry center, glazed with raspberry and set upon a shortbread base. Inspired by the original, this dessert represented a culmination of skills acquired in twenty years, yet still clean and deceptively simple — in the manner of how Jean-Louis taught us to cook.

It’s your turn to study pastry arts with the masters — click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

By Ted Siegel—Chef-Instructor, Culinary Arts

At least once every decade some culinary pundit or self-appointed expert on cuisine and gastronomy makes a grand pronouncement declaring the “death of French cuisine”. This has been an ongoing trend in culinary journalism since as far back as the late 19th century. Whether it was the fall of the classical grande cuisine of Carême, Escoffier and Du Bois or end of the nouvelle cuisine revolution that shook France after from the 1950s to the 1980s, the state of French cuisine has always been ripe for debate.

Fresh seafood at a French market

Fresh seafood at a French market

Yet there seemed to be a significant shift somewhere around 2003, when the New York Times ran a front page story in its Sunday Magazine declaring—once and for all—the death of French cuisine. The piece went on to anoint Spanish chef Ferran Adria as the “pope” of contemporary gastronomy (called molecular or modernist, depending on who you asked).

However, upon a recent trip to Paris, it was apparent that the death notices (as usual) are premature. The wild card in the whole discussion is the profound influence—encoded in the DNA of the French people—of the cuisine bourgeoise: the cooking of French housewives and grandmothers, rooted in the terroir of local ingredients and traditions. In the context of restaurants, this cuisine has transformed itself into a movement labeled bistronomie, a trend that snubs the grande luxe dining palaces with their fine china, sterling silver place settings, starched linens and snooty waiters, maitre’ds, and sommeliers (who act as if the customer is there to serve them, not the other way around). Here the cuisine of grandmère and maman rears its beautiful head—in simple preparations based on a market-driven cuisine with an emphasis on seasonality, solid culinary technique, unpretentious presentations and friendly, relaxed knowledgeable service.

Traditional French cuisine relies on products unique to the region's terroir.

Traditional French cuisine relies on products unique to the region’s terroir.

Like any so-called revolution, politics and economics are among the underlying forces that have dictated this change in French cuisine, gastronomy and food culture. With the volatility of the “euro” and the global economic crisis, it is now more cost-prohibitive than ever for a business owner to sustain luxury operations in the long-term. It has become economic suicide to maintain a brigade of forty to fifty chefs, cooks and other staff (in the back of the house alone), uphold a large inventory of grand cru wines, and support the various other elements of leasing or owning a space that would fit the traditional Michelin definition of three stars.

Lunchtime at a French cafe

Lunchtime at a French cafe

Complementing this transformation in the kitchen is a social and literary movement, one that has rallied in particular behind France’s modern response to the long-reigning Michelin Dining Guides. Founded in 2000 by Alexandre Cammas, Le Fooding springs from a curious mix of anti-corporate left wing politics and social libertarianism, and it poses a direct challenge to the moribund culture of Michelin and its dominance over French cuisine for more than 100 years. The first Le Fooding guidebook was published in 2006, and the movement has since jumped the Atlantic, holding annual events in New York City—incidentally, taking place this weekend in the Rockaways.

It’s particularly fitting that Le Fooding should also celebrate NYC’s dining culture, as many of the restaurants that my wife Cheryl and I visited in Paris would fit in very comfortably (thank you) in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side, Williamsburg or Long Island City. Below are some of the best examples of this “new/old” cooking that we discovered—fusing la cuisine bourgeoise with chef-level consistency and innovation.

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Sea scallops poached in champagne with a nage of black truffles and melted leeks

L’ASSIETTE—Rue du Chateau in the 14th arr.

Chef/owner David Rathgeber’s cuisine is deeply rooted in culture of his homeland of the Landes region of Southwest France, but his technique was honed for ten years under the renowned Chef Alain Ducasse. On the night we dined at this restored 1930’s boucherie, we savored his house-cured country ham with homemade farm bread and beurre demi-sel, foie gras terrine with a conserve of figs, and rillettes of suckling pig and foie gras. There was warm, poached asparagus with an incredibly silky sauce mousseline; sea scallops poached in champagne with a nage of black truffles and melted leeks; stuffed calves head, sauce ravigote and what could only be described as the most ethereal sea salt crème caramel one could possibly taste.

CASA OLYMPE—Rue St. George’s in the 9th arr.

Olympe Versini is an icon among female chefs in Paris, receiving her first Michelin stars when she was only in her twenties. She is considered to be “the godmother” of this new trend in French dining, as when she opened Casa Olympe in 1993, she asked the Michelin inspectors to stay away and not review the restaurant. Her food is profoundly influenced by her Corsican ancestry and the Mediterranean basin.

If available, try her blood sausage croustillants on mesclun greens; warm salad of seared scallops, house-cured foie gras, avocados and mâche; daurade roasted on the bone with tomatoes, lemon, potatoes, herbs and olive oil; perfectly roasted squab with Asian spices and Thai red rice-coconut milk pilaf.

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Smoked pork belly, braised slowly and served with reduction of braising jus and a nicoise olive-potato purée

LE COMPTOIR DE RELAIS—Place d’Odeon in the 6th arr.

Chef Yves Camdeborde has been the leader and vanguard of bistronomie for the past 20 years in Paris. He worked for many years with his mentor Christian Constant at the Hotel de Crillon, where they elevated the cuisine of the Restaurant les Ambassadeurs to two Michelin stars. His extensive menu is available at lunch, but be forewarned—no reservations are accepted and the restaurant fills up by 12:30 pm. It is virtually impossible to get reservations at dinner, when the menu becomes a prix fixe of fifteen courses.

Dishes that I can highly suggest are the unusual warm terrine of boudin noir with a refreshing salad of celery root, apples and sucrine lettuce; salade gourmande of salt-cured foie gras, green beans, artichokes and potatoes; smoked pork belly, braised slowly and served with a reduction of the braising jus and a nicoise olive-potato purée; pan-fried stuffed pigs feet and a warm individual apple tarte with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel.

LES COCOTTES—Rue St. Dominique in the 7th arr.

Christian Constant, mentioned above, left the Hotel de Crillon years ago to establish his own restaurant group, which includes Les Cocottes. The restaurant is known for its casual counter seating, large menu of wines by the glass and hot menu items—all of which are served in deep cast iron cocottes produced in Alsace.

Our starters included Spanish jamón ibérico simply served with pickled piquillo peppers; an outstanding ravioli of langoustine with artichoke purée and shellfish coulis (that resembled a shellfish cappuccino more than a classic sauce); impeccably seared scallops on parmesan polenta with a light reduction of jus d’opulent roti; and wood pigeon roasted with a ragoût of spring onions, honey mushrooms and chestnuts, simply sauced with a reduction of the roasting juices.

One quick note about the wines we drank: one does not have to break the bank to drink reasonably well in Paris. Stick to the regional wines with A.O.C. certification and you can enjoy excellent wines for less than thirty Euros a bottle.

Craving more culinary travel stories? Check out Chef Ted’s guide to Rome

 

By Virginia Monaco

 

Last week, ICE was honored to have a true living legend visit our school – Chef Alain Ducasse.  Along with his long time collaborator and Corporate Chef Sylvain Portay, Chef Ducasse came to debut and demonstrate his new app – My Culinary Encyclopedia : Recipes and Techniques by Alain Ducasse.

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Chef Alain Ducasse

Alain Ducasse was trained in some of the best European kitchens, notably Moulin de Mougins under legendary chef Roger Verge, where he learned Provençal cooking, now his trademark. The list of Chef Ducasse’s accomplishments during his career is long and groundbreaking.  He was the first chef ever to have three restaurants in three cities with three Michelin stars each at the same time. He is currently at the helm of 22 restaurants with a total of 17 Michelin stars.Culinary Education is key for this chef. In keeping with his values, he established Ducasse Education, the mission of which is to educate the next generation of top international culinary professionals with exceptional global standards, rigor, innovation, and creativity.

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Table setting for the event

Unlike many established chefs, Chef Ducasse has a rare ability to evolve and adapt, and his new app–both novel and groundbreaking–is a perfect example of this.  My Culinary Encyclopedia features 250 classic Ducasse recipes hand-picked by Chef Ducasse himself, along with interactive instructional videos, in-depth ingredient fact sheets and dozens of important base recipes.  It brings his classic Culinary Encyclopedia book into the 21st century.

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Chef Sylvain Portay plating the Half-Salted Cod “a la Meuniere” with Country Puree of Haricot Beans

ICE was the perfect fit for Chef Ducasse to premiere his impressive app, as we are the first culinary school in the country to fully integrate iPads into our professional kitchens.  Many in the audience had the app open on their iPads and were able to follow along as Chef Portay demonstrated two recipes from the app, with Chef Ducasse tasting and adjusting every component that went onto the plate.  The audience watched as Chef Portay skillfully crafted two dishes based on the app’s interactive instructions.  A packed room full of students, alumni and press were lucky enough to enjoy a classic Shrimp Cocktail with a Horseradish Royale and Tangy Tomato Syrup followed by Half-Salted Cod “a la Meuniere” with Country Puree of Haricot Beans.

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Plated version of Shrimp Cocktail

The video instructions–which were broadcast on several large screens around the room–walked Chef Portay through every part of the recipe process from beginning to end. While the demo was performed by a professional chef in this instance, the app is designed for cooks of all experience levels, and is sure to produce a beautiful final product.

 

After the demo, an audience member asked Chef Ducasse about the role of technology in the kitchen. He replied that it is a very useful tool, but nothing will ever replace the importance of knowing your craft, a good stove and constant tasting. It is clear that Chef Ducasse walks a fine line between studying and revering classic dishes, while at the same time innovating and incorporating new ideas and techniques into his repertoire. In other words, he is a constantly evolving chef and culinary creator.

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From Left: ICE Chef Sabrina Sexton, Chef Sylvian Portay, ICE President Rick Smilow, Chef Alain Ducasse, and ICE Chef James Briscione

Chef Ducasse’s visit to ICE, along with his app, gave audience members a revealing look into the mind of a world-famous chef.  We were thrilled to host such a culinary legend on one of his rare public appearances.  As Chef Ducasse’s demonstration of his new app showed, the possibilities for the integration of technology in the kitchen are endless. ICE remains at the forefront of technological culinary advancements in its own kitchens, and is excited about what the future holds.  However, technology will never replace the classic dishes, years of skilled technique and passion that chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Sylvain Portay bring to their exquisite cuisine.

Last week, we brought you part one of ICE Chef Instructor Kathryn Gordon’s report from the ICE Alumni Cuisine Course in France. Now, here is part II:

Chef Guy’s Pate en Croute

On our trip, we stay at Le Moulin Brégeon in the Loire Valley. Working there with Chef Guy Izambard is always a riot. Although classes are generally translated into English, he manages to communicate almost entirely through his infectious smile and enthusiasm. We skinned and filleted live eels after preparing Pâté en Croute, Country-Style Duck Rillettes, Boudin Blanc and Plum Tart. After all that, we did cook up a dish of swiss chard from the Mill’s gardens to counterbalance. At the end of the week, we have a market basket cook-off in the Mill’s kitchens. Twice before this has been wild boar, but you never know what will be available. More…

Every year a group of ICE alumni travel to France to participate in the ICE Alumni Cuisine Course. Led by ICE Chef Instructor Kathryn Gordon, the intensive course is a unique, alumni-only trip that includes hands-on classes with a variety of chefs and visits to restaurants, farms and bakeries. The activities include visiting famous fleur de sel marshes, shopping in traditional markets and seeing organic chevre farms. Here is part one of Chef Kathryn’s report from France:

While every ICE Alumni Cuisine Course is memorable, there were several new and exciting activities on this year’s trip. Never before had we visited a foie gras farm or sat down to an in-depth tasting of Loire wines. Each session was more informative than the last.

For example, in our hands-on cooking class with Chef Eric Bichon of L’Orée des Bois we practiced our knife skills. But it wasn’t all tournéeing mushrooms (move over, Chef Ted!). We were able to use state-of-the-art equipment including paco jets, combi ovens, sous-vide equipment and blast freezers. We cooked three different courses before a Q&A session with Chef Eric during lunch. The memorable meal included Seared Foie Gras with Mango and Sweet Potato Emulsion, Potato-Wrapped Lamb with Summer Vegetables and Tomato Confit, and Coconut Crème Brûlée with Exotic Sorbet and Four-Spice Syrup.

More…

These days modern cooking techniques include turning carrots into foam and squeeze bottles are filled with hydrogenised fluids rather than familiar red wine or a plain tomato coulis. But on Saturday evening 17 ambitious foodies traveled back in time and came together to celebrate the remembrance of things past at ICE’s Carême and the Grand Art of French Cooking in the 19th Century recreational class.

Chef Cathy Kaufman, ICE’s resident food historian, didn’t miss a beat introducing us to life in 1800s France. Ushered in with background music appropriate to the era, Chef Cathy launched the evening with a succinct and informative presentation explaining the man of the hour, Antonin Carême, the foremost practitioner of the art of classic French cuisine in his day. She guided us through Carême’s wildly lavish and obsessively aesthetic recipes. A glimpse at Carême’s actual illustrations for his trademark over-the-top culinary and pastry preparations set the stage for the task ahead. More…