What I Cooked for Three French Chefs

This is not bonne femme cooking. Photo by karohemd via Flickr.

Last night, I cooked for three French chefs. Okay, actually, it was two French chefs and a Belgian chef. Out of respect for their privacy, I won’t use their names. But they’ve all been through European culinary schools, and cook at well-regarded restaurants.

Was I nervous? Not at all. One thing I learned early on about cooking for food professionals is this: Most times, they’re just thrilled when someone else does the cooking. Remember that next time you cook for a “pro.” When it’s their night off, they just want to relax and enjoy themselves.

I also told them exactly what to expect: Cuisine bonne femme. They knew they weren’t coming for Michelin-starred extravaganzas (as pictured at left), but rather, the kind of home cooking they’d get at tables of non-chef friends and relatives in France. They do what they do. I do what I do. And everyone came knowing that.

Here’s my menu, which I offer in the hopes that it might help you plan an enjoyable menu with friends.

Blanquette de Porc. My take on Blanquette de Veau, the number-one home-cooked dish in France. Photo by Richard Swearinger.

I started off with a glass of Champagne and some nibbles: Marcona almonds, Stonewall Kitchen Cheese Straws, a good selection of olives—all available at a local gourmet shop. You see, whenever I’ve dined in French homes, I’ve noticed that the cook doesn’t necessarily fuss with the appetizers: Well-purveyed nibbles suffice. After all, why stuff everyone silly with food you’ve knocked yourself out over, when there’s so much more good stuff coming once you move to the table?

First course: Belgian endive salad with walnuts and blue cheese. Served in honor of our Belgian chef—but of course, Belgians don’t call it Belgian endive (they call it chicon). Never mind—this trio of ingredients, tossed with a simple dressing of walnut oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, proved a bright, light way to kick of dinner. (By the way, the recipe is in my book).

Plat principal (Main course): Blanquette de Porc. This is my take on the famous French stew, Blanquette de Veau. I use pork shoulder instead of veal shoulder: Pork is easier to find, and it makes a bold, tender, robust meat for this stew, which gets a graceful flourish at the end thanks to cream, lemon, and a sprinkle of parsley. I served it with Any-Night Baked Rice, though noodles would have been fantastic, too.

One of the two French chefs had three helpings. (The other French chef had two helpings. La Belge had just one. But who’s counting?) As he polished off the third bowl, monsieur three-helpings mentioned that Blanquette de Veau is the number-one home-cooked dish in France.

Bonus: This dish can be prepared a day in advance and reheated.

The cheese course. Ours was much like this--straightforward yet wonderful. Photo by Choconancy1 via Flickr.




Cheese Course: The chefs insisted on bringing something. I didn’t want them to have to cook, so I asked them to bring the cheese course. They purveyed some absolutely stunning cheeses from our local cheesemonger. We served these simply with baguette. And while you might expect the French chefs to bring French cheese, they did not. They, too, know that world-class cheeses can come from anywhere: We had Ardrahan, a soft cow’s milk from Ireland; Red Hawk, a washed rind cheese from Cow Girl Creamery in California, and a Stilton from the U.K.

Wonderfully smelly cheeses chosen at just the right moment of aging….

Dessert: Floating Islands. I made these just for kicks. They’re about as common in France as apple pie is here. I loved the way their eyes lit up when I set the desserts on the table. They knew exactly what they were—and seemed tickled to see them here in Amerique profonde (deep America….basically what the French call anything between the coasts).

Floating Islands/Îles Flottantes. Beautiful French home dessert. Skip a few steps and buy high-quality caramel and chocolate sauces. But definitely make your own creme anglaise. Photo by Richard Swearinger.

One of my proudest moments was when one chef said to the other, “I’m going to put Iles Flottantes on my menu.” (He had thought of doing it before, but wondered if these desserts were too common.). I assured them that no one within about 500 miles of us were likely serving them tonight. Common in France, they’re a blissful rarity here.

Best moment of the night: Watching La Belge tip her dessert bowl and use her spoon to get every last scrape of the custard, caramel, and chocolate on the Iles Flottantes…..

I was also told, alas, of a better way to poach my meringues. It seems that 20 seconds in the microwave will do it, according to Monsieur three-helpings. I haven’t tried this, but will do so next time around.

If you wish to try, be my guest–and report back!

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1 comment to What I Cooked for Three French Chefs

  • Great story! I made this last night, to eat today, observing the second-day-always-better rule. Can’t wait to try it. I have seen it on menus for years but never appreciated that there was braising and cream involved. Using pork ( my fav) clinched the deal. Thank you.

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