Sunday, August 06, 2006

Joël is coming!

I hear that Joël Robuchon is opening a new restaurant called L'Atelier in Covent Garden next month. This is going straight on the list. I first discovered Joël Robuchon over ten years ago in Paris. I was staying in the madly eclectic Esmeralda hotel near Notre Dame (naturally, with that name!). I remember choosing the hotel because Chet Baker had stayed there and I hoped it would be 'cool'! My room looked like it had been decorated by an eccentric and slightly colour blind great aunt. It was all crazily flowered wallpaper and chintz. I certainly couldn't live in such a cacophony but it was fantastic and certainly more adventurous than the dull, soulless businessmen hotels that my company normally put me up in. I went exploring around the Latin Quarter and stumbled into a bookshop and headed for the food and drink section. My addiction wasn't as bad as it is now but I had already acquired the habit of weighing my luggage down with cookbooks and kitchen gadgets on the return from every trip. On perusing this lovely little Parisian bookshop I came across this fabulous Joël Robuchon and Patricia Wells cookbook - Cuisine Actuelle. I had read about the legend that is Joël Robuchon but hadn't really read any of his recipes in English. But thanks to the ever wonderful writing of Patricia Wells I was able to realise Joël’s vision. I totally fell for his 'bittersweet chocolate mousse' which has become an essential to my repertoire. And I have to admit that I had a sort of pommes purée epiphany whilst flicking through the pages. I had developed an obsession with Gratin Dauphinoise on my European travels. If even learnt the very useful phrase Potatis Gratang so that I could get this delicious garlicky, creamy concoction on my visits to Sweden. I would have placed Gratin Dauphinoise at No. 1 of my 'potato top of the pops' and then I discovered Joël. Now I think my top potatoes would be:
1. Perfect creamy mashed potatoes, think Gary, think Joel
2. Gratin Dauphinoise
3. Proper chip butties
4. Aligot – a cheesy, garlicky, potato-y mound of wonderfulness
5. Boulengère
6. Pommes Duchesse - crispy potato rosettes with a fluffy centre
7. Baked potato
8. Champ
9. Potato cake
10. New potatoes - cooked so they are slightly creamy in the middle and with butter and black pepper, no mint for me though.
But then there’s also sautéed potatoes, rösti, colcannon and fondant potatoes – clearly a top ten isn’t enough.

And what was so wonderful about Joël’s silky and satiny purée? After the potato is pass through a food mill (or ricer for my preference), they are stirred vigorously with a wooden spatula to dry them. Then a lashing of butter is incorporated cube by cube and then the milk is added in a thin stream. And finally as if you haven’t worked hard enough you push the whole mixture through a sieve or tamis. I have only made it once myself and it was truly sensational! I also had it made from me when I went on a cooking course in Burgundy in 2000. The course was run by the wonderfully eccentric Penny and her right hand French chef was the incredible Michel. It turned out that Michel was a huge fan of Joël Robuchon and described his ‘death row dish’ as a stunning seafood dish he’d had chez Joël. Naturally I asked about the pommes purée and Michel happily recreated it for me even though the beating in of each cube of butter took a really long time. I recall that Penny was none too impressed – but I was – thank you Michel! And maybe now I’ll be able to have myself some of the real thing directly from the master. Heaven indeed!

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