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Monday, December 15, 2014

Cooking with Olivier Jean and Reflets de France

"Hello, Michael, this is Olivier. Reflets de France invited me to do a demonstration next month, will you have time to come to the event?" Normally I don't get invited to food-related events. After all, I am not in the business of food and beverage, nor am I a journalist or a real food blogger. However, chef Olivier Jean of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei knows I like to dabble in cooking and kindly called to extend an invitation. I am always keen to learn some new techniques, thus I was happy to make the time to attend the event.

Reflets de France was started in 1997 by Promodès, which later merged with Carrefour. Reflets de France seeks out small producers across France to make local specialties for the brand. Under Carrefour, the brand has steadily grown and has now expanded to Asia. The Carrefour in Taiwan started selling Reflets de France products in September of 2013. Reflets de France is a high-end supermarket brand, rather than a luxury brand. However, what separates Reflets de France from some of the other supermarket brands is Carrefour has enlisted chef Joël Robuchon as a consultant.

While Robuchon is the chef with the most Michelin stars, he also endorses products and acts as a consultant to other brands. For instance, Robuchon has formed a partnership with Veuve Clicquot to promote the champagne. His name can also be found on a beer by Sapporo. Recently Robuchon renewed his consultancy with Air France to design the menus for the first and business class passengers. Of all his endorsements, Reflets de France is probably the most curious one as it is the most value-oriented of Robuchon's endorsements; furthermore, Robuchon doesn't use Reflets de France's products in his restaurants. Yet, Reflets de France is one of Robuchon's longest relationships with a brand, an association that started in 1996.

In his role as a consultant to Reflets de France, Robuchon holds monthly meetings at his kitchen laboratory in Paris with the executives of Carrefour. Together they taste and discuss the quality of the old and the new products. Last November, the French television show Capital on M6 was provided access to one of these meetings. Chef Robuchon was seen with his right-hand man chef Eric Bouchenoire discussing the cheese and the new kouign amann products with Carrefour's director Richard Vavasseur and his staff. The products are scored from a range of 0 to 10 with 6 as a passing grade. Products that don't pass the taste test will be reworked based on the comments provided in the meetings.

Carrefour in Taiwan now carries around 80 Reflets de France products, ranging from juices to jams to duck confit. For this holiday season, Carrefour has asked Robuchon and Jean to create three dishes using Reflets de France products: Foie Gras Terrine with Sweet Potato, Duck Confit with Kabocha, and Caramelized Apple with Crepe. To promote the products of Reflets de France, Carrefour held an event at ATT 4 Fun in the Hsin Yi District of Taipei. When I arrived at the venue I thought I was just going to watch Jean cook the dishes. Instead Jean handed me an apron and said we will be cooking together.

The top floor of ATT 4 Fun is a cooking studio with cooking stations setup along two sides of a long counter. Each station has two induction burners and a small work area. Earlier in the day Jean and the staff at the venue have already set up the equipment and the mise en place for cooking the dishes. Jean stands in the middle of the counter and demonstrates each step along with verbal instructions.

We start first with prepping the kabocha of the main course as it takes some time to cook in the oven. Split the kabocha in half lengthwise; scoop out the seeds with a spoon; drizzle with olive oil; season with salt and pepper; wrap in aluminum foil; and bake in a 150 degree Celsius oven for around 45 minutes or until soft to touch.

While we wait for the kabocha to cook, we begin on the preparation of the starter. The first step is to take the foie gras terrine out of the jar: lower the jar into boiling water for a few seconds; stick the knife along one edge of the jar to allow a little air to enter; and finally flip the jar over onto the cutting board to release the foie gras. The second step involves scraping off the fat on the outside of the foie gras; splitting the foie gras in half; and placing the foie back into the refrigerator to harden for around 30 minutes. The third step of shaving the foie is perhaps the most challenging. When Jean demonstrates the technique it looks easy.

While I know the theory – the foie needs to be quite cold and the peeler needs to be dipped in hot water before peeling – it isn't that easy to execute. Even when one manages to successfully shave the foie in one large piece, it isn't easy to shape the foie into an arch-like form. Nevertheless, Jean says that it's fine if the foie breaks. Just try to assemble it back in pieces; the garnishes will cover some of the cracks in the form.

The second component of the starter is the sweet potato, which Jean has already cooked earlier in simmering water for 30 minutes. Jean instructs us to peel off the skin of the sweet potato with a spoon. The sweet potato is then thinly sliced crosswise,  cut into calisson-shape with a cookie cutter, and placed on a plate. Diced shallots, thyme, salt and pepper are added. Everything is covered in cling film with as much of the air squeezed out as possible. The sweet potato is set aside to marinate for two hours at room temperature.

When the sweet potato is ready, the dish is ready to be plated. This is actually the easy part because Jean has already prepared all the other components: thin slices of radishes, toasted baguette, shavings of parmesan, slivers of arugula, and vinaigrette. The three pieces of sweet potato are first transferred to a plate and then topped with foie gras shavings. The garnishes are added, then drizzled over with vinaigrette, and finished with some Reflets de France fleur de sel and espelette pepper. While I know my foie gras shavings and plating techniques are not up to Jean's standard, I am pretty happy with my plate; looks more like a plate at a restaurant rather than my usual home cooked dishes. I like this dish and it is reminiscent of the dish Robuchon serves at his restaurants. The combination of shaved foie gras with parmesan, bread chips, and vegetables is a classic in the Robuchon repertoire.

With the starter plated, we start to work on the main course. The first step is to take the kabocha out of the oven, scoop the flesh out with a spoon and slather it on top of a tamis. The next step is to use a scrapper to push the kabocha through the tamis. This requires a little strength and patience. I suppose one can use a potato ricer or food mill instead, but the result will not be as smooth. Scraping through the tamis is one of the basic tasks at Robuchon's kitchen since it is the technique used to make the famous mashed potato. As I am scraping through the tamis, Jean says the commis at L'Atelier does the same task twice a day everyday and for at least 45 minutes each time. Afterwards, the kabocha purée is transferred to a pot over low heat and combined with some milk. Whisking constantly, butter is gradually added into the mixture to finish.

To prepare the duck confit, we first scrape off the duck fat, which is not used in this recipe but can be saved for other uses. Jean shows us how to take the skin off the duck using the edge of a spoon. We then clean off the fat on the underside of the skin and place the skin on a pan with low heat. The goal is to crisp the skin so it will be like a chip. Jean says it is best to cook the skin on a low heat for a long duration. High heat and overcooked skin will make the taste a bit bitter. I find the cooking of the skin to be the most tricky step in the recipe. It is not easy to achieve a crispy skin. The duck skin I prepare is crisp when I cut it into small pieces. However, by the time I assemble the dish and eat it, the skin has gone a bit soft. I believe part of the reason is the humidity of the room. I probably also should cook the skin a bit more. However, I don't have enough experience to know how to cook the skin to the edge of overcooking but not beyond. The precise control of heat is one thing that separates a home cook from a professional. The rest of the duck confit is deboned and cut into bite size pieces and set aside.

Next, we prepare the vegetables that will be served with the duck. Jean first demonstrates the cutting of the scallion. Here is another case where the home cook differs from the professional. The technique Jean uses with the pulling of the knife after the cut produces a very clean cut. I don't have the knife skill nor the correct motion. Therefore, while my scallion pieces may look okay, they are not as good as Jean's. The same can be said about the dicing of the mushroom, which we did after the scallion. To cook them, a little butter is first added to a gently heated pan. The scallion is tossed in to be soften but not colored. Then the diced mushroom is added to the pan. This method produces a more stew like dish. As a variation, Jean says one can sauté the mushroom first at high heat and then add the scallion, which will give a more roasted flavor. A few coriander seeds are added and toasted to provide some additional flavor. The duck meat is then folded into the mixture follow by some chicken stock to deglaze the pan and moisten the meat. After a few minutes in the pan, the ingredients are ready to be plated.

The ideal dinnerware for the dish is a shallow bowl. First, spoon the duck meat mixture into a bowl and roughly shape into a mound. Second, add the kabocha purée on top to completely cover the meat. Jean instructs us to gently tap the bottom of the bowl to let the puree settle around the meat and spread out on top. The garnishes include a lightly dressed frisse salad and the crispy duck skin. I must say my final result is pretty good. The little touches on the top really elevate the dish not just in terms of taste but appearance as well.

This main course is quite interesting to taste. Normally at L'Atelier the purée is served on the side of the protein. Here the two are mixed together, thus every bite of the dish is a combination of the purée and the duck meat. The occasional bite of the corriander seeds do add a nice elegant flavor profile. I only wish the duck skin is a bit more crisp to provide more contrasting textures.

The last dish of the day is dessert: caramelized apple wrapped in crepe. The first thing to do is peel and dice the apple. Second, we use our hands to crumble the cookies into large and small pieces. We sandwich the crepe in between two plates and place them over a bain-marie to soften and warm the crepe. I believe one can do this with the microwave as well, but Jean says the bain-marie method provides more control. In the mean time, we add some confiture du lait to the pan to heat and caramelize it. Apples are then added to the pan to cook. Once the apple is a bit soft and caramelized we pour in some Kinmen rice wine. One can almost immediately smell the fruit flavors of the alcohol. Jean says the more adventurous cook can also flambe the alcohol to make the dish even better. While there is still some liquid in the pan, we add some of the cookie crumbles and cook them with the apple mixture.

To plate the dish, we first lay the crepe flat with the lighter side up, spoon the apple mixture onto the middle, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. I brush the edge of the crepe with some more jam, which helps the crepe to stick together as I fold up the sides of the crepe like a soup dumpling. Afterwards the crepe is transfer to a plate and topped with a little more whipped cream. A little cookie crumble is added to the side to anchor the ice cream. I spoon the ice cream as best I can as a quenelle and pretend to be like a professional, by rubbing the bottom of the spoon to release the ice cream onto the crumble. The result of the dish is quite nice. With more practice I am sure I can fold the crepe into a prettier shape. This is a nice and fast dessert to make. The products of Reflets de France allow one to save some time since one doesn't have to make the caramel and crepe from scratch. I can also imagine using other fruits such as pear or pinapple, in lieu of apple.

After the dishes are made we all sit down at a table to taste our own creations. As I taste the dishes I cannot help but be critical of my own work. I suppose this is just part of my training as an architect. Every time I visit my own buildings I just see the faults and think about ways to improve. For the dishes, I start to wonder whether I should have made the shallot brunoise finer for the starter, crisp the duck skin more for the main course, and cook the apples longer for the dessert. To be fair to myself, I probably shouldn't judge my dishes based on the criteria that I judge a restaurant. However, since the dishes turn out to look like restaurant dishes, one starts to be a bit more ambitious. Cooking is very much about technique and refinement. All the little techniques that Jean uses to make the dish, even with the simple tasks such as peeling the skin off of a sweet potato, all contribute to the refinement of the dishes. While a home cook may not need to be so self-demanding, it is important to have a high standard to strive towards.

I am very glad that Carrefour invited me to the event. It is a privilege to cook along with Jean. I benefit a great deal from simply watching Jean work. Besides learning from Jean, I am also able to try the recipes that he designed. After the session I can say the recipes by Robuchon and Jean are not difficult to execute, and they are ideally suited for a nice family dinner or even a large dinner party. I can easily imagine doing the recipes for a party for 8 guests. The use of Reflets de France products make the dishes look more complex than they really are. While each dish contains several components, most of them can be done hours before the meal. The dessert can even be done à la minute after the main course is finished. Jean is very keen to allow the cook to not be stressed at the dinner party and to spend some time with the guests or family instead of being tied up in the kitchen. Now I just need to invite my friends and family over for dinner. Perhaps I won't tell them upfront that I am using the products from Reflets de France. Maybe they will think I work very hard and appreciate my cooking more.

"Hello, Arthur, this is Michael, do you have time next month to come over for dinner? I am going to make a foie gras terrine, duck confit, and apple with crepe."

“你好,Michael,我是Olivier。下個月Reflets de France禾法頌邀請我示範幾道菜,你有空來參加嗎?” 食品相關的活動通常不會邀請我參加,畢竟,我不在餐飲業,也不是一名記者或是美食部落格作者。然而,台北侯布雄餐廳的主廚Olivier Jean知道我喜歡涉足烹飪,所以來電邀請我。我當然很高興挪出時間來參加這個活動,因為我總是熱衷於學習一些新的烹飪技巧。

 Reflets de France由Promodès於1997年成立,後來併入家樂福集團。Reflets de France在法國各地尋找小型製造者來為它做當地有特色的產品。這個品牌在家樂福管理之下一直穩定的成長,並且已經擴展到亞洲。家樂福去年九月在台灣開始賣Reflets de France的產品。Reflets de France並不是一個奢侈品,而是一個高端的超市品牌,但是Reflets de France與其他超市品牌不同的是,家樂福聘請了Joël Robuchon擔任顧問。 

雖然Robuchon是世界上擁有最多米其林星星的廚師,他也有幫產品代言和當品牌的顧問。例如,Robuchon目前與Veuve Clicquot合作推廣香檳。Sapporo 也有一瓶以 Robuchon為名的啤酒。最近Robuchon與法國航空公司續約,為頭等和商務艙的乘客設計菜單。在Robuchon所有代言的商品之中Reflets de France可能是最特別的,因為Reflets de France是一個平價商品,此外,Robuchon的餐廳並不使用Reflets de France的產品。然而,Reflets de France卻是Robuchon合作最久的品牌之一,源起自1996年。 

作為Reflets de France的顧問,Robuchon每個月在他巴黎的主廚實驗室與家樂福的主管舉行會議,他們一起品嚐舊的和新的產品,討論它們的品質。今年11月,法國M6電視台Capital節目跟隨了Robuchon拍攝了一個會議的過程。節目中Robuchon與他的左右手Eric Bouchenoire廚師和家樂福主管Richard Vavasseur代領的團隊試吃了乳酪和兩種布列塔尼蛋糕。會議中所有的產品都會獲得0到10之間的分數,6分以上為及格。不及格的產品將基於會議中提出的意見進行改良。

目前家樂福在台灣,有販賣大約八十個Reflets de France的產品,包括果汁,果醬,油封鴨腿。因為聖誕假期的來臨,家樂福特別請Robuchon和Jean使用Reflets de France的產品打造三道新菜: 精選鴨肝凍綴甜薯,香料南瓜泥與油封鴨肉,焦糖蘋果可麗餅。為了促銷Reflets de France的產品,家樂福在台北信義區的ATT 4 Fun舉辦了一場活動。一開始我以為我只是去看Jean煮菜,沒想到當我到達會場時,Jean遞給我一件圍裙說我們會一起烹調三道菜。 

ATT 4 Fun的頂樓是一個烹飪工作室,場內有一個長檯,兩側均是料理台,每個工作站有兩個感應爐。Jean和工作人員當天早上已經幫我們把工具與食材準備好了。Jean站在櫃檯的中間,一邊示範一邊解說每個步驟。


當南瓜在烤時,我們就開始準備前菜。第一步就是要把鴨肝凍從罐子拿出來:將瓶子放入沸水中煮幾秒鐘然後取出;用一把小刀插入瓶子邊緣,讓少量空氣進入瓶中;最後把瓶子翻轉過來讓鴨肝凍釋放出來。第二步是將鴨肝凍外的油脂刮掉;切成兩半;把鴨肝凍放回冰箱大約30分鐘使其硬化。第三歩是要用削皮刀將鴨肝凍刮成片,也是這道菜最有挑戰性的步驟。看Jean示範這個技巧好像很容易。雖然我知道此技巧的理論 – 鴨肝凍需要是冰冷的,然後削皮刀在切割前需要浸在熱水中 – 實際操作這個動作並不容易。即使可以成功削下一片完整的鴨肝凍,也不容易將鴨肝凍塑造成拱型。然而,Jean說,就算鴨肝凍在削的過程破裂也沒有關係,祗要盡量嘗試著把鴨肝片重組回去;另外,其它的配菜也將會把一些不好看的裂縫隱藏起來。


當地瓜準備好了,就可以開始擺盤了。實際上這倒是比較容易的部分,因為Jean早已準備好所有其他的配料:櫻桃蘿蔔薄片,法國麵包,帕馬森乾酪,芝麻葉,和沙拉油醋醬。首先將三塊地瓜放在盤子中間,上方曡上鴨肝凍片,再用配菜裝飾,之後澆上油醋醬,並灑上一些Reflets de France的鹽之花和espelette辣椒。雖然我知道我的鴨肝凍片和擺盤的技術達不到Jean的標準,我還是對我的成品蠻滿意的;看似一盤在餐館的菜餚,而不是我平日做的家常菜。我很喜歡這道前菜,它很像Robuchon餐廳的一道前菜。鴨肝片,帕馬森乾酪,麵包片,和蔬菜是一個Robuchon的經典組合。







裝盤的第一步是將加熱好的可麗餅放在盤中,淡色的面朝上,然後把混合好的蘋果和餅乾放在餅中央,淋上半湯匙的鮮奶油。之後用焦糖牛奶醬塗在可麗餅的週邊,這有助於餅粘在一起,折曡的方式如同做小籠包一般,可麗餅粘好之後再淋上少許鮮奶油。另外將一些餅乾小碎片放在盤子的一角以固定冰淇淋。我用勺子挖冰淇淋,盡我所能將其型成一個quenelle,學著專業的廚師,用手撑摩擦勺子的底部來釋放冰淇淋至盤中。我這道甜點的成果還不錯,若是有機會多練習幾次,我相信可以把可麗餅折的更漂亮。製作這道甜點很快。使用Reflets de France的產品可以更省一些時間,不必自己做焦糖和可麗餅。另外我想應該也可以使用其他比較結實的水果,如梨或鳳梨,來代替蘋果。

菜完成之後我們一起坐到一張長桌品嚐自己的作品。邊吃著我不禁要批評我自己。我想這是我做為一個建築師的本性。當我每次近入我自己設計的建築物,我都只看到一般人看不到的各種問題,並一直想如何可以改進。對於眼前的三道菜,我開始懷疑是否應該將前菜的蔥切的更細,將主菜的鴨皮煎的更脆,將甜點的蘋果煮的更久。不過我也應該對我自己公平一些,我不應該用批評餐廳的標準來評判自己做的菜。  但是當我的作品開始像似餐廳的菜餚,我的野心也變大了。烹飪的重點在於技巧和追求完美。所有Jean使用的技巧,即使是很簡單或是基本的工作,像是剝地瓜皮,都有助於菜餚最後完成的精細度。雖然一般家中的料理並不需要達到米其林餐廳的水準,不過內心有一個目標或是知道一個標準還是有其必要性。

我很高興家樂福邀請我參加這場活動。有機會與Jean一同烹飪是我的榮幸,單純看著Jean工作,我已經學到很多技巧。此外,能夠當場嘗試著做,得到Jean的指點,更使我受益匪淺。活動結束後,我可以說 Robuchon和Jean的食譜並不難執行,而且非常適合一個周末的家庭晚餐,甚至一個大的晚宴。使用Reflets de France的產品可以讓簡單的菜餚看似複雜。Jean非常了解在一個家庭晚宴,主人不應該整個晚上都困在廚房中,重要的還是要能夠與家人或是朋友共同用餐。因此,雖然每道菜中含有許多個原料,大部分其實都可以在餐前幾小時先完成。甜點甚至可以在主菜吃完後再開始做。所以現在我應該邀請我的朋友到我家來。我想我先不告訴他們我會用Reflets de France的產品。他們或許會認為我工作的很辛苦和費時,因而更欣賞我做的菜。

“嗨,Arthur,我是Michael ,你下個月有空來我家吃晚飯嗎?我會準備精選鴨肝凍綴甜薯,香料南瓜泥與油封鴨肉,和焦糖蘋果可麗餅”。

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