Cooking with Christian Constant
Parler Paris–your taste of life in Paris and France
Monday, March 7, 2005
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Dear Parler Paris Reader,
Imagine my excitement when Christian Constant invited me to learn his treasured cooking secrets at his first private cooking class along with a few other selected individuals! More than I love to cook, I love to eat, so an opportunity to learn from the best and taste what he has created is a once in a lifetime occasion one wouldn’t want to pass up.
If you don’t know who Christian Constant is, let me remind you…
Constant won two Michelin stars as Executive Chef at the Hôtel Crillon’s Les Ambassadeurs, the Hôtel Ritz and Ledoyen. He has trained many of the hottest new names in French cooking, such as Yves Camdeborde, Eric Frechon, Alain Pegouret and Thierry Breton, who, I am told, are proud of being part of the “Constant Generation.” He won the coveted Gold Star at his own restaurant, Le Violon d’Ingres (number 135 rue Saint-Dominique, 7th), and has won rave reviews for his two new café style restaurants nearby on rue St. Dominique, Les Fables de la Fontaine (number 131) and Café Constant (number 139).
Please, do not confuse this Christian Constant with the “Chocolatier” Christian Constant on rue d’Assas in the 6th, a wonderful artisan, himself, but definitely not the same chef!
Constant has wanted to offer cooking lessons for food lovers for some time, in order to demonstrate his award winning cooking techniques and show how one can execute impressive dishes without too much effort. His hopes are to open his private kitchen about one Monday a month for a small, intimate group to witness, learn, participate in and then partake in the preparation of a three course meal, Constant style.
Today was his first attempt. I and nine others were the lucky Guinea pigs. Among our group were author Suzy Gershman (Born to Shop series and C’Est La Vie), cartoonist Barbara Dale (remember the funny riské greeting cards from a few years ago?), Discovery Channel’s Alan Grabelsky (Vice President of Production) and other noteworthy local and visiting directors, professors, attorneys and consultants.
Christian Constant and his Scottish wife Catherine, are warm, welcoming, spirited and gracious. They started us off at 9:30 a.m. with coffee and croissants at the tables at Le Violon D’Ingres (closed on Mondays) before donning our crisp white aprons and marching into the kitchen that serves all three restaurants. Catherine handed out the menu and instructions in English and translated Constant’s comments while he and his sous chefs prepared for the lesson. He proudly introduced Stéphane Schmidt, his number one sous chef, and Edouardo Jacinto, a new recruit from Brazil who he met at a gastronomic event in Sao Paolo.
After a brief tour of the three-part kitchen, Constant demonstrated the preparation of “Eggs Roasted with Breadcrumbs” then watched over and assisted each of us as we tried our hand at properly peeling the just-cooked eggs, sauteing them in butter and breadcrumbs, arranging the presentation of the plate with “mache” (known in the States as “baby lamb’s ear lettuce”), toasted “pain de mie” (white bread) spread with truffle butter, and to top it off, thin slices of truffle. Just some of the few things we learned during this first demonstration were that if you boil the eggs in water and vinegar, they will peel easier, that the best truffles are marbled and unearthed in January or February and that truffle oil should be used sparingly, but is delicious on salad.
We tasted the egg entrée ravenously and I caught a great shot with my pocket digital camera of Suzy licking her fingers — ripe for blackmail material!
We moved on to Sea Bass Encrusted with Almonds, Lemon and Caper Vinaigrette. Tiny croutons made up the crust that was pressed firmly into the flesh of the fresh sea bass (no, you can’t use Picard’s frozen fish for this!) and then fried in a light inexpensive oil. At the same time, a sauce mixture was made of “beurre noisette” (browned butter), lemon, gherkins and capers. The final presentation placed the fish on a bed of baby spinach, topped with toasted almonds, the sauce along with chicken stock surrounded the delicate mound.
Constant agreed that any firm fleshed fish would work well with this recipe (“aile de raie,” “dorade,” for example) and those of us who love fish, slivered away at it until every drop had been licked from the plates.
“La pièce de la résistence” came when we had our hand in preparing Coffee Chocolate Shortbread Tart. First, a “sablé” (sand) was made with flour, confectioner’s sugar, butter (tons of it), coffee extract, ground coffee and egg to form the crust. Kneading the butter into the mixture took strength as kneading dough would (and it was awfully tempting to lick my fingers, too, from the sticky buttery mixture that coated my fingers and hands). At the same time, a chocolate “sabayon” (eggs and sugar) was mixed (by an electric mixer) until it was smooth and frothy. Poured into the crust, only eight minutes later in the oven produced a light simple dessert that we couldn’t stop eating.
Once complete, we divested of our aprons, poured a glass of Chablis and toasted the hosts and Chef Extraordinaire. He and Catherine invited us for a full three-course lunch at Les Fables de la Fontaine just next door. Over Soupe d’Etrilles, Coquilles Saint-Jacques in butter (of course!) and another round of Chocolate Shortbread, drinking both red and white wines, we reminisced about the wonderful experience we had just behind us, planned for the next occasion in his kitchen, and savored his creative cuisine yet another time.
When’s the next one you can reserve for yourself or give as a gift for a friend?
For more information about Christian Constant and his restaurants, visit http://www.leviolondingres.com/
A la prochaine…
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Cooking with Christian Constant
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