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 Carly DeFilippo

In ICE’s Culinary Management program, students learn key aspects of the bar business, including how to prevent bar theft or how overly generous bartenders affect your bottom line. Yet many students have never actually worked behind the bar. Each year, the annual Calvados cocktail competition gives these enterprising students an opportunity to train in mixology and challenge their palates. Competing alongside New York’s top bartenders, students have the chance to test drinks from the best in the business. Better yet, the winner of the New York student contest is given the chance to compete in the brand’s international cocktail competition in France. We sat down with this year’s winner, Ilyse Fishman, to learn what inspired her culinary career path and what crafting cocktails first-hand has taught her about the business.

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What motivated your decision to enroll at ICE?

Before I enrolled at ICE, I was actually a corporate lawyer at a large Manhattan law firm. I’ve always been interested in food and restaurants and, whenever I could, I focused my papers in law school about food and restaurant legislation. I would take breaks by reading every food-related blog or book I could get my hands on. So after interning for a restaurateur in North Carolina (just nominated an Outstanding Restaurateur finalist by the James Beard Foundation!) while earning a Law and Entrepreneurship degree, I realized that I just might be able to make this passion a full time career. I began to work at Per Se, where I currently spend my time while not in class at ICE.

As far as why I chose ICE, the Culinary Management program was the best program offered in New York City for my particular interests and needs. After completing the program, I feel confident I will have the background I need in order to reach my culinary goal: opening a restaurant of my own in Washington, D.C. 

What were you hoping to learn by participating in the Calvados competition?

I’ve always appreciated the craftsmanship that goes into craft cocktails and thought that the Calvados competition could be a great chance to learn a few pointers in order to make better drinks myself. I figured that I had nothing to lose by submitting a recipe to the competition! For all of us who participated, ICE Instructor Anthony Caporale has been a fantastic mentor and did an excellent job preparing us for the competition. He ran two group sessions to help us buff up our technical skills and improve our presentations. He also took the time to answer all our questions and was there every step of the way through the competition.

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What was the inspiration for your drink?

Barney Stinson, the character played by Neil Patrick Harris on the television show How I Met Your Mother. Our instructions were to identify someone you think embodies the masculine or feminine ideal and then create a drink inspired by that person. I wanted to have fun with this project and thought that Barney could be a great example of a masculine ideal. At first impression, Barney appears to be a simple, one-dimensional guy who enjoys suits, cigars, laser tag, womanizing, magic and accepting challenges from his friends. As the show progresses, however, Barney reveals a bit more complexity and demonstrates that he has a softer side. The “Wait For It” similarly reveals its complexity the longer you sit with the drink and allow it to open up. Initially, you are likely to identify orange and floral notes from the orange twist and Grand Marnier. As the drink sits, however, the apple from the Calvados comes through. Then, the baking spices from the Carpano Antica, whiskey barrel bitters and clove garnish become apparent. This drink is ultimately a variation on a Manhattan, which felt appropriate as New York City plays a prominent role in How I Met Your Mother.

How was competing in France different than in New York? 

The competition in France literally took place on a much bigger stage, complete with two hosts who interviewed the participants, bright lights, several cameramen, a large audience and a photo shoot of our cocktails.Traveling to the competition with so many ingredients also created logistical challenges, but gave me the chance to improvise and improve with Anthony’s help. We also had a practical exam as part of the competition in France, which tested our knowledge about Calvados. Then there was the language barrier to account for, as many of the organizers and participants spoke exclusively French.

Additionally, I loved the tour of the Calvados distillery and all of the opportunities that we had to interact with Calvados producers and representatives. The ability to conduct a side-by-side taste comparison of a wide array of Calvados gave me a much better understanding of how age and terroir affect its flavor profile, and the opportunity to direct my questions toward the very people who produced that Calvados gave me unique insight into what each brand seeks to achieve.

More generally, I was surprised to learn that the European palate tends to prefer cocktails that are much sweeter than those to which we are accustomed. In the US, we use bitters and acidic fruit juices to create what we consider a more “balanced” flavor profile. In France, many of the winning cocktails in the competition were exceptionally sweet by our standards. So, ironically, while Americans may eat sweeter foods than our European counterparts, our cocktails are decidedly more bitter.

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Ilyse and Anthony Caporale with renowned New York bartender Pamela Wiznitzer.

What has this competition experience, in combination with your ICE education, taught you in regards to your future career?

There are so many wonderfully talented and passionate people in this industry to learn from. You never know who you will meet and what unique experience or perspective they will offer. As a future restaurant owner and operator, both ICE and the competition experience have also taught me the importance of being flexible, expecting the unexpected—and above all else, to have fun with it! Every challenge presented is a potential opportunity.

Wait For It…

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Calvados
  • 1/2 oz Carpano Antica
  • 1/4 oz Dolin Blanc
  • 1/4 Grand Marnier
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters
  • 1 orange twist
  • 1 orange twist studded with 3 Cloves
  • Ice

Instructions:

  1. Fill shaker 2/3 full with ice.
  2. Pour the Calvados, Carpano Antica, Dolin Blanc, Grand Marnier and Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters into the shaker.
  3. Stir.
  4. Strain into a rocks glass.
  5. Rim the glass with an orange twist.
  6. Garnish with a 3 clove studded orange twist.

Ever wonder what’s cooking at ICE? Five-Course Friday gives you a snapshot of what we are whipping up weekly. Whether you pop in to a recreational class, catch a professional demo or watch the transformation from student to chef, there is something scrumptious happening daily. This week, culinary students made recipes from Thomas Keller while the pastry students were busy making French desserts.


White Truffle Oil-Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout


Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraîche


Heirloom Tomato Tart with Niçoise Oliver, Mesclun and Basil Vinaigrette


Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with creamy broth & mascarpone enriched orzo


Finishing off with a Paris Brest from Pastry Arts students

Have a delicious weekend!

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is the bûche de noël, a roll of sponge cake and buttercream decorated to look like a yule log. It’s as if the Yodel went to France for the holidays, in a ball gown and tiara. In the classic style, it’s covered with coffee or chocolate buttercream which is combed to look like tree bark and then it’s decorated with meringue mushrooms, snowmen and holly leaves. Modern versions have elaborate and delicate decorations made from sugar, chocolate, and almost every type of sweet you can think of. It’s fantastic to behold, but a bit like pumpkin pie — a special treat that I look forward to but always find that eating it just once a year is enough.

This year, I was fortunate to be teaching a class on genoise, the classic French sponge cake, a few days before Thanksgiving. There was no pumpkin pie at my house. Instead a beautiful, chocolate bûche de noël stood proudly in all its woodsy glory, tiny mushrooms and all. I was pretty excited. It wasn’t Christmas but for me it was close enough. My students however questioned my sanity for a moment and were confused as to why dessert would ever want to emulate a log and mushrooms. More…

When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before. Since the book’s release, they have been discovering even more interesting culinary career paths. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature: “Unique Culinary Careers.”

If you live in New York, you may recognize Lauren Shockey as part of the team behind the food section of the Village Voice where she works as a food critic. Her job has her travelling to all corners of the city to taste and sample menus (all while trying to stay incognitio), but Shockey also travelled around the world learning to cook in four very different kitchens in New York City, Hanoi, Tel Aviv and Paris. She chronicled her experience in the food memoir, Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Ten Aviv, and Paris. We sat down and asked her about her experience and her life in the food industry.

How would you describe your job?
I am a staff writer at the Village Voice, the alt-weekly newspaper, where I write a weekly restaurant review and I blog daily about food and restaurant for the paper’s blog, Fork in the Road. I am also the author of Four Kitchens, a just-released culinary memoir of learning to cook in restaurants in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris. More…

As I tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive about things, I recently found myself possessed with the idea of getting to Paris after learning about a bakery that specializes in what is the equivalent of a French version of the Hostess snowball. It was all I could think about.

To curb the insanity, I find myself trying to recreate the experience. I made and ate those French snowballs every day for two weeks until I couldn’t stand them anymore. I needed a fix, and bad. So when I heard about this new French pastry shop that had opened downtown, well I knew it was on my to-do list. Cooler bag in hand, I made my way to Mille-feuille Bakery. It is a tiny sliver of a shop in the Lupa neighborhood, hardly where one would expect to find perfect French pastries. When you walk in the first thing you will notice is the incredibly heady smell of butter, real butter, not the fake popcorn butter smell that perfumes the Food Emporium bakery at 8:30 am on any given morning. The display of available pastries is very small but just a few feet from you is Chef Olivier in his kitchen, preparing whatever deliciousness is at hand. Now, I’m a bit of a cleanliness freak, so I can appreciate seeing exactly how my food is prepared (again, the obsessive-compulsive in me comes out). More…