eat in my kitchen

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Tag: Paris

Meet In Your Kitchen | Paris and the Mystery of Chez Allard

Chez Allard

In 1932, Madame Marthe Allard decided to open a restaurant in Paris, Chez Allard. It is the beginning of a story deeply woven into traditional French country cuisine, a story of resolute women who love to cook, who master French classics to perfection, and passionately share their creations on Rue Saint-André des Arts, in the heart of the lively St German-des-Prés, until today. You could call Chez Allard a gourmet bistro, cozily elegant, the flaming red benches and wooden chairs in front of floral wallpaper filled with happy guests for more than 80 years. The interior barely changed, and so did the dishes on the menu, there’s still a strong focus on many of Madame Allard’s original family recipes from Burgundy, passed from one woman to the next.

As soon as her son’s wife, Fernande, joined the family, the chef didn’t hesitate to introduce the young woman to all her kitchen secrets, and so the next generation was secured. Marthe Allard stayed in the small kitchen on Rue Saint-André des Arts all her life, for more than half a century, tweaking and refining her famous rustic staples, like Challans Duck with Olives or Sole Meunière.

After decades of female power at the cooker, there was finally a man in charge for 20 years, but when Alain Ducasse took over the restaurant, he knew he’d pass the reign to a woman again. Chez Allard has a female spirit, a female soul, Chez Allard is a woman. Since 2015, Fanny Herpin has been responsible for keeping the restaurant’s tradition alive, the recipes that became “old culinary friends” to so many guests. The young and celebrated executive chef manages to incorporate this history and at the same time giving it validity 80 years after the first pages of Allard were written. Fanny is calm, quiet, but she’s a woman you shouldn’t underestimate. Her instructions are short and precise, she’s charismatic. When you open the ornate glass door to the restaurant, you stand right in front of Chez Allard‘s heart, the kitchen. The room is open and there isn’t much space to move, this kitchen has to work smoothly and there’s no doubt that Fanny accomplishes this task with grandeur.

Fanny Herpin is from Bordeaux, like Alain Ducasse, they even learned at the same culinary school. Both of them feel the same strong connection to their home region’s famous cuisine and products and have many of them freshly brought to the restaurant every day, like the fois gras on Allard‘s menu. When Fanny talks about food, or when she peels carrots with the precision of a scientist, you can feel her love, her passion, her obsession with quality. When she discovered the wonders of cooking and baking, she was hooked. Alan Ducasse was always her idol, she studied his recipes, she dove deeply into the magic that he’s been creating for decades. So when he called her to ask if she’d like to fill the position at Chez Allard, she was just 26, she remembers, “It was a big day, I didn’t believe it was possible. I asked are you sure, me?” She says that she’s still a little bit nervous when he comes and visits her at the restaurant. There’s a humble heart inside this strong, inspiring woman.

The dish that she cooked together with us felt like a bite of Paris, her Petits Rougets Barbets au Beurre Blanc (red mullet with a buttery, vinegary shallot sauce and sautéed root vegetables) was as pretty and perfect as the city that it was made in.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Chez Allard

Petits Rougets au Beurre Blanc

(Red Mullet with Beurre Blanc and Glazed Roots)

By Chef Fanny Herpin – Chez Allard

Serves 4

For the Beurre Blanc

80g / 3 ounces shallots, finely chopped
150ml / 2/3 cup aged wine vinegar
50ml / ¼ cup dry white wine
3g mignonnette pepper (coarsely ground pepper)
400g / 14 ounces cold Echiré butter, cut into small pieces
Juice of ½ lemon

For the vegetables

4 navet turnips
4 large carrots
1 yellow turnip
¼ celeriac
1 green radish
4 red radishes
4 baby leeks
50ml / ¼ cup olive oil
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper
1 garlic clove, with skin
1 sprig of thyme
500ml / 2 cups and 1 tablespoon chicken broth
30g / 2 tablespoons butter

For the fish

4 red mullet fillets, about 250g / 9 ounces each
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil

For the Beurre Blanc, in a medium saucepan, bring the shallots, vinegar, wine, and mignonette pepper to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the sauce gently and gradually add the butter, stirring and whisking constantly to combine the sauce and the butter. If you add too much butter at once, the sauce won’t bind. Adjust the seasoning and add a dash of lemon juice; set aside (at room temperature).

For the vegetables, peel the turnips, carrots, celeriac, and green radish. Cut the celeriac into diamond shapes, the green radish and turnips into “half moons”. Scrape and rinse the red radishes.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil. Rinse the leeks and blanch until soft. Transfer to a bowl filled with ice water, immerse quickly, and lay on paper towels. Cut the leeks into strips.

In a large heavy pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the vegetables separately for about 1-2 minutes. Transfer all the vegetables to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, thyme, and broth, cover the pan, and cook until soft. Before serving, add the butter, stir to glaze the vegetables, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the fish, season the mullet fillets with salt and pepper on the meat side. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy pan over medium-high heat and sear the fillets, skin side down, for 4 minutes or until the fish is done, the skin should be lightly crispy. Flip the mullets over, then transfer to a grid and set aside.

Arrange the mullet fillets, slightly overlapping each other, on one side of the plate, the vegetables on the other side, and a spoonful of the Beurre Blanc in the middle. Serve immediately.

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and who you are?

My name is Fanny and I’m from Bordeaux. I’m 27 and I’m Head Chef at Allard, a restaurant from Alain Ducasse.

In which part of France did you grow up? Where did you spend your childhood?

In Bordeaux, in the southwest of France. I studied there and afterwards, I left to Paris.

Did the cuisine of Bordeaux influence you a lot?

Yes, yes, yes, of course! The food in Bordeaux is very important for me. There is the foie gras and the duck. My mother was always cooking at home with my family, so I have a big influence from there which is always there when I cook, both at home or in the restaurant.

Do you get products from Bordeaux for Chez Allard?

Yes, the foie gras, for example. I was at the same school as Alain Ducasse in Talence. We attended the same culinary school. So, I know that the products are also important for him.

How old were you when you started your career?

I started at 22.

Did you always know that you wanted to become a chef?

Yes, yes, because I like to eat! Since always! At home, I was always cooking but more sweets, like cakes and everything. I did culinary training when I was 22 – just one week! – and I was sure.

And that was the moment that you decided no more sweets, but cooking, more savoury cooking?

Yes, exactly.

Do you still do sweets sometimes?

Sometimes, but just at home. Because it’s very different: pastry and cooking. It’s two different jobs.

Why did you want to become a chef? Was it just because you loved to eat so much or did you meet other chefs that inspired you?

Yes! Alain Ducasse, of course! When I was at school and I was starting to learn, I read a book about Alain Ducasse – the big book with all the recipes – and I knew that he has a lot of restaurants in the world: the bistro and the 3 star Michelin restaurant. So, I asked to do a culinary training in his restaurant. I did it and after that I was sure that I wanted to become a chef. I really like to manage people. It’s like a family that works together. It’s a lot of work but it’s my passion. I love to do it! I want to do it for the rest of my life.

When you started, did you ever dream that one day you would be here? That you would be the chef at Allard?

Of course I did, but I was thinking maybe after I’m 30. But I became the chef here at 26. It was really fast!

How did you feel when he called you and asked you to become the Head Chef?

(Laughing) It was a big day! I didn’t believe it was possible. I was working in London and he asked me to come here to take the position. I said, “Are you sure? Me?” He said, “Yes, come!” So, I came here one weekend, I saw Alain Ducasse, and we talked about the position here and… let’s go! One month later, I was here and I started work. I have a lot of support because it’s a big company. I am not alone. I’m the head chef for this restaurant but I have other head chefs above me so I am never alone. I always have someone to help me, to support me, if I want it. For that, it’s super!

Does Alain Ducasse come here often to see if everything is going  well?

Yes, of course. He comes sometimes to spend time with friends, but he comes for work, too.

Does it make you nervous when he’s here?

A little bit, of course, but that’s normal. I’m always impressed by him when he’s here but it’s always a good moment.

Chez Allard has a very strong line of female chefs. It was founded by Madame Allard who passed the recipes on to her daughter-in-law who took over from her. There was a female chef before you and now you’re here. Do you think that this restaurant has a female spirit or a female soul? Is Allard a woman?

Yes, it’s tradition! Marthe Allard started to cook here. After her, it was Fernande. When Alain Ducasse took over the restaurant, he said, “I want to keep this tradition because it’s strong.” Laetitia Rouabah, the chef before me, worked here for three years before they asked me to take this position. It’s very important to keep the tradition. When people come here they say, “there have been female chefs here for a long time.” It’s very strong identity. For me, it’s also very important to keep that spirit.

Is there a difference between men and women running a restaurant in the kitchen? Does it feel different?

I don’t think so. It’s not about men and women. It’s just about the person and their personality. We’re all different.

There are a lot of traditional recipes on the menu that Madame Allard invented or came up with – so how much of Alain Ducasse is in the recipes here at Allard?

We keep and use all the recipes, but Alain Ducasse brings less sugar, less salt, and less fat to the recipes. That, for Alain, for all his restaurants, is the way to think and to work now.

How often do you change the menu? 

I keep a menu throughout the year, but some dishes I change according to the season. For example, we have just started to introduce root vegetables and pigeon to the menu. In the summer, it was tomato salads and raw fish. We change the menu every two or three months, depending on the season.

Do you have a favourite season?

It’s now! (late summer) Yes. The pigeons, and all the different birds – it’s a very exciting time.

Do you love Paris?

Yes, of course (laughing)! I really like this city because there are a lot of different restaurants: bistros, Michelin restaurants, and also there are a lot of small restaurants with different food and cultures. So that’s interesting for me. And it’s a beautiful city. You can walk everywhere – it’s beautiful.

Do you go to restaurants a lot?

Yes, sometimes. I try to go once a week.

Can you go out and eat at a restaurant and just relax and enjoy it? Or do you analyse the food?

No, I’m always thinking but it’s less than before (laughing). Before, I was too hard!

What does healthy food mean for you?

Healthy food, for me, is when you use good products, produced in a way that respects the environment, and when it’s good for you, for the body, for your health. Voila!

What is your greatest kitchen hack?

Yes, actually I have something very important for me. It’s when you cook meat, you must let it rest. If you cook the meat for 10 minutes, then you let it rest for 10 minutes. This way, the meat is soft.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what  would it be? Alain Ducasse?

(Laughing) No. It would Laurent Garnier because I’m a BIG fan. Maybe a dessert, like a chocolate cake, something easy and good.

If you’re going to have 10 friends over for a spontaneous dinner, and you don’t have much time to plan or go shopping, what will be on the table?

Foie gras toast! (Laughing) It’s easy!

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others when you’re at home?

Alone, I think, because I can do what I want. When there are a lot of people in the kitchen, it’s like my job here. I do that every day. I always have to check everything and to be everywhere. So, sometimes I really like to cook alone, just me in the kitchen, to relax, and to take the time to cook.

Do you prefer improvised or planned cooking? Again, at home in your own kitchen.

Planned. Always.

So even when you cook at home you always know exactly how you’re going to do it?

Of course! I always know what I want to do – I have everything in my head. Sometimes, at home, if I’m missing an ingredient, it’s ok. I can remove it. Here at the restaurant, it’s not possible, but at home, I can change it.

But there’s always a plan?

Yes. Always. I’ve always worked like that!

Thank you very much, Fanny!

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

 

Chez Allard

Meet In Your Kitchen | Cécile Molinié’s Life and Cooking in Paris

Cécile Monilié

You only need to walk along the Boulevard Saint-Germain on a sunny afternoon to understand Paris. You’ll promise yourself that you’ll come back – for the rest of your life. Once you’ve seen this city, a piece of you will stay there forever. Just walk and gaze up at the facades of the elegant sandstone buildings of the 19th century Haussmann era, dotted with white wooden shutters. Or sit in a café, get comfy on a colorful French wicker chair at a marbled bistro table, a glass of crisp white wine in front of you, order a Galette, crêpe, or escargot, and look at the chic people around you scurrying on the cobblestones. The trottoir is a stage in Paris, and the bistro is the place to watch it from.

We could have just stayed in Paris, visited renowned restaurants and celebrated chefs in their praised kitchens and we would have never had to leave this inspiring city, but when we decided to include France in our culinary trips around the world together with Zwilling, I had to think of the whole picture that the country paints. France, to me, is the trinity of Paris, the countryside, and the sea. It’s the capital’s seductive charm, its haute cuisine, food temples that attract gourmets from all over the world to enjoy the pleasures of French tradition, to create the best food with the most refined techniques and ingredients. It’s a city that rouses and satisfies your appetite, you’ll never get enough of it.

Then there’s the countryside and its more rural cooking, frugal, hearty, and meaty, all those wonderful delicacies coming from the soil and the woods, and also the home of French wine. And which region would be better to learn about the country’s famous wines and winemakers than the picturesque Médoc. There are so many fantastic French reds and whites and there’s a compelling mystique about the vineyards covering the slopes around the city of Bordeaux.

To make the trilogy complete, we have to look at the sea. All those oysters and clams, fresh fish and lobster, these treats that are often served raw or so pure that you can still taste their salty freshness. It’s always better to go to the fruits from the sea than letting them come to you, so we packed our bags and went to Cap Ferret. It’s a long peninsula stretching into the rough and cold Bay of Biscay, where the beaches are long and lonely, the people are kind and welcoming, and you can eat the best oysters of your life straight from the banks, all day long.

So we started our trip in Paris and Cécile Molinié’s kitchen was the first place we visited for a new series of Meet In Your Kitchen features in France.

Cécile Monilié

Four children and a cat called Cookie are enviably lucky to call Cécile Molinié their maman. Her Paris kitchen is the cozy heart of the big family’s beautiful home close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, in the capital’s vivid Quartier Latin. The room is bigger than normal city kitchens and opens onto a spacious, green terrace. It’s filled with lots of light, life, and laughter, while delicious food spread out on the large island and table is a tempting invitation to come together and indulge in maman‘s creations. It’s a family kitchen where the six Parisians, Cécile, her husband, and their kids, meet to share their day, to cook together, and turn their daily meals into little feasts.

Cécile is an excellent cook, her grandmothers passed their passion on to her and this heritage found fruitful ground in the young woman, she’s been fascinated by the excitements of the culinary world since she was a little girl. At the age of 16, Cécile already prepared the meals for dinner parties of 20 guests at her parents’ home. The house was always open to friends, her mother loved to entertain, but didn’t feel inspired by the kitchen herself. So Cécile gladly took over those duties and became more and more skilled as a cook, she refined her taste and became impressively precise through experience and practice. Tender Boeuf Bourguignon, Blanquette de Veau, or petite Madeleines are staples in her repertoire, she loves the famous French classics and curiously dives into the country’s different regional cuisines.

Cécile Monilié

Southern France inspired her to create a recipe for sea bass bedded on sugary-sweet roasted tomatoes. She finishes off the summery composition with lemon slices grilled in the oven until the edges are crisp and golden, it’s a colorful firework of flavors and textures. How could I disagree when she offered to cook this dish together with me in her kitchen? I’ve been waiting impatiently for the day to come to finally meet her, in the kitchen that I knew from her famous Instagram account where she shares visual bites from her life. The pictures are stunning, she’s just as talented behind the camera as she is at the cooker. You can feel her love for her city, so much so that you want to stroll along the Seine, the bistros and boulevards together with her. When she visits her second home just outside Paris and posts episodes from her country life, you seriously wish you could move in with the whole family.

So we finally met in Paris, but before we pulled the pots and pans out of the cupboards in her kitchen to cook, we went to the beautiful market on Rue Mouffetard in the 5ème arrondissement. The shops and stalls of the daily farmers’ market gathered on this street make you want to pack your bags and make Paris your home. We filled our shopping baskets with wonderfully milky Sainte-Maure de Touraine, ripe Saint-Nectaire from Auvergne, and the creamiest SaintMarcellin from Fromagerie Véron. The beauty of the presentation at the fishmonger took my breath away. Quality and freshness are unbeatable, wherever you look. Gills and eyes clear and shiny, crabs are still alive, bulots (sea snails) freshly cooked, and the oysters in the wooden baskets taste salty-cold like the sea. Cécile’s butcher is right next door, you can smell the golden poulet rôti rotating on metal skewers all along the cobblestone street, their hot juices dripping onto the potato wedges perfectly placed at the bottom of the grill. Packed with warm baguettes from the boulangerie under our arms, the baskets overflowing with all these delicacies, we went back to Cécile’s kitchen and started cooking.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Cécile Monilié

Sea Bass with Candied Tomatoes and Roasted Artichokes and Potatoes

By Cécile Molinié

 Serves 4-6

For the sea bass

1kg / 2 ¼ pounds cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper
2 organic lemons, very thinly sliced
2 large sea bass fillets
A few young sprigs fresh thyme

For the side dish

4-6 baby artichokes, trimmed
1 lemon
1kg / 2 ¼ pounds little potatoes (preferably a sweet variety), rinsed and scrubbed
Olive oil
Fine sea salt
Ground black pepper

Preheat the oven 170°C / 350°F.

Spread the cherry tomatoes in a large baking dish, add a splash of olive oil, salt, and pepper, mix, and roast for 1 hour or until soft and candied.

While the tomatoes are in the oven, spread the lemon slices in a large baking dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and bake them, with the tomatoes, for 30 minutes or until they soften.

For the side dish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the juice of 1 lemon and the artichokes, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse quickly with cold water, and set aside.

Cook the potatoes in a medium pot of salted water for about 15-20 minutes or until almost soft; drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F.

When the tomatoes are done, arrange the sea bass on top of them, season with salt and pepper, and cover with the roasted lemon slices. Roast for about 10-15 minutes or until the fish fillets are done, you should be able to flake the fish with a fork. Mind that you don’t overcook it. Sprinkle with the thyme.

While the fish is in the oven, heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy pan and sauté the potatoes and artichokes over medium heat, stirring once in a while, for about 15 minutes or until golden and crispy. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately when the fish is done.

Cécile Monilié

What brought you to Paris? 

I came here because of university. My younger sister was admitted to a very good post-baccalaureate school, Henri IV, here in this neighbourhood. As I was the eldest one and I was good with managing a home and cooking, my mother wanted us to go together. So I was admitted to the prestigious law school here, and then…I never left!

Did you fall in love with the city immediately?

Paris? No, because I was the country girl, and there was all this noise….The year we arrived, there was a big strike during the winter and all the cars were stuck and it was a big mess…

So, you didn’t have an easy start?

No, but we could go back to the country every weekend. At the university, I didn’t know anyone – there were 1000 students! And I was the little girl from the country inside the big city…

Were you always interested in photography?

Yes, yes. I remember that when I was a child, I won a little camera because I did a drawing contest, and then when I was 16, my dad gave my sister and I a nice Canon camera – I remember! An old one, you know an analogique (analog).

How did you get into cooking? 

I love to cook. My mother is more an intellectual woman than a….

…a kitchen woman?

Yes! So, I had an interest in cooking – I don’t know why – and I took over the kitchen at a very young age. She let me do whatever I wanted so I tried new recipes, I made notebooks, and as my parents had lots of friends coming from all over the world – they were very welcoming – I used to cook a lot!

So you cooked for the family and for friends! For how many people?

I don’t know! But when I was 16, I could cook big meals and it was great because you have some meals where you need to be in the kitchen and do things at the last moment, so my mother was with the friends and I was cooking!

What’s your favourite dish cooked by your grandmother or one of your grandmothers?

My father’s mother used to make a very good blanquette de veau, a very good one. My mother’s mother, she’s from the southwest of France, so it’s more about zucchini, eggplants, and tomatoes, more Mediterranean – and she cooks very well, too. In my husband’s family, it’s not as we call in France plats en sauce, you know all these stews. It’s more about very good produce, cooked well.

Does your husband love to cook too?

He cooks rarely, but when he does it’s a very elaborate meal. We are great fans of Alain Passard, the chef of the Arpège. I used to be invited to his restaurant when I was a student by a friend. We go there for very special occasions, so my husband has his book and sometimes he cooks from this book. He cooks very creatively and elaborately, but not that often.

So, he’s more the weekend chef?

I would say, once a year!

So, once a year he’s the weekend chef but then he’s fantastic!

Yes, exactly! I think it’s what men do: amazing things, but not that often for food…

Where do you find your inspiration for your recipes?

At the market first because you see the food and you think “ah, I want to do that or this” and then cookbooks. I think I love cookbooks! I love to read them, I like to see the pictures, but I’m not good at following the recipes exactly.

But that’s not important! I think cookbooks are…

…a great inspiration. I still have one from when I was a very young woman and I still look at it, because the recipes are all good. Really, the inspiration comes from the market or from other people. At the market this morning, I spoke to a guy who was telling me what he was going to cook for his parents for lunch – you take ideas from everywhere! And some blogs too, but you need to have time to read them – sometimes it’s easier to have a book.

Do you prefer to cook when you’re here in Paris or in the countryside?

In the countryside, it’s usually the weekend so we have more time. And maybe you think I’m picky but I prefer to cook with gas rather than with induction.

What does healthy food mean for you?

Healthy means first of all cooked with good produce. I want my kids to have veggies and fruits every day. They are picky eaters, I must confess! I try to have them eat fresh fruit and veggies – it can be compote, it can be soups, it can be raw – healthy, for me, is when you have all the nutrients that you need in the food.And homemade, mostly homemade. I rarely buy frozen food. Some frozen pizzas just for when I have no other plan, but I prefer to cook eggs and potatoes instead.

What is your greatest kitchen hack?

When I bake cakes, I use the baking paper. In France, it’s not that automatic to do that.

So, you can’t live without baking paper?

No! And then I always have some veggies to roast. You know, I am very organized, so sometimes I start to cook in the morning – even at 7am, when the kids are just waking up. I always roast some cherry tomatoes, zucchini… And when it’s winter, pumpkin – that kind of thing. I always like to have something roasted.

So being organized in the kitchen is one of your greatest tips?

Yes, when you work and you have a lot of kids, who often come for lunch and dinner. And bread. I’m sorry, but we eat a lot of bread! I always have some bread! And butter! And cheese!

You’re going to have 10 friends for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

It’s going to be pasta – I’m sorry! – because we always have pasta and fresh Parmesan. We often have ham. In French we call that – you know the proscuittto crudo? The big ones that you can slice yourself – so I often have that. I could do pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil – I always have basil – so all good produce but very simple. And a good bottle of wine! That’s something that I would do if I had an impromptu meal with lots of people. Everybody is happy with that kind of food. And then fresh fruits or cooked fruit that’s easy to do.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

I love Alain Passard’s food. So if he could come cook for me, a delicious vegetable dish, I would like it! I like light food.

If you could choose between improvised and planned dinners, what would you prefer?

I like to plan because I know I’m happy to plan something. It makes me happy to anticipate the people’s happiness. But sometimes, it’s stressful to plan something. You want to have a good result. I am a perfectionist, so sometimes when you plan ahead and you want people to be happy, I’m often disappointed by the result. When it’s impromptu, you don’t have much time to think about it and it’s more about the pleasure to be together. You know, I think as much as I like to plan a meal and to share it with friends, when I do something that’s not planned it is super good, too. So I don’t know what I prefer!

You like both! 

I prefer everybody to be happy around the table and laughing. If the food matters too much then sometimes you lose something in the pleasure of being together.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I like when my kids give me a hand, and I like to cook with friends, because it’s something to share, but I am faster by myself!

Thank you very much, Cécile!

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

 

Cécile Monilié

A visit to Reims and the Mystique of Champagne

Paris Reims

Paris, Reims and Champagne, I had an exciting start to the week! I was invited by Champagne Jacquart to join a Vins Clair tasting in Reims, the pure, still wines which form the foundation of every Champagne and I was happy to get a little insight into the mystique and the making of this wonderful sparkling drink from the northeast of France.

Paris Reims

I was lucky, my trip started with a bright Sunday in Paris. Warm and sunny, it couldn’t have been better, I walked down the boulevards, along the Seine passing the beautiful Musée d’Orsay. The charm of this city is contagious, it just puts a smile on my face! I took a rest at a romantic bistro on Rue du Bac in the VIIe arrondissement and enjoyed an amazing Terrine de Canard accompanied by a glass of Sancerre. Life at its best, wonderful! A visit to a boulangerie and patisserie reminded me of my love for the French baking tradition. I left with bags full of bread, a delicious dark loaf and a fine Pain Platine and, of course, some sweets. I’m obsessed with Éclairs au Café, so as soon as I stepped out of the boulangerie, I opened the bag and had a big bite of my favourite éclair. It was delicious, as expected! In the evening, I joined a few other bloggers and journalists at dinner who were also invited to learn more about Champagne. We were all excited about what the next day would bring!

Paris Reims

 

Paris Reims

 

Paris Reims

Diane from Jacquart welcomed us to their headquarters in Reims. Her sweet and lively way and her love for Champagne made me curious to find out more about this legendary place. Reims is located in the Champagne-Ardenne region, 130km / 81 miles northeast of Paris. We took the TGV high-speed train and arrived just 40 minutes later! After a short drive we turned into the Boulevard Lundy in the center of historic Reims. We stopped in front of a beautiful villa, with a curved pebble stone driveway surrounded by boxwood bushes. I walked through the iron gates and entered another world! The house, called “Hotel de Brimont”, was simply stunning. It was built in 1896 and is surrounded by all the other prominent Champagne houses. In this prestigious neighborhood, a few houses form the center of the Champagne world!

Paris Reims

Jacquart’s history is different to other big Champagne houses, it was written by a few visionary growers who decided to form a cooperative to launch their own Champagne instead of supplying their grapes to other Champagne houses in 1964. In the late 90’s, 3 regional cooperatives of growers united to form the Groupe Alliance Champagne and bought the established Jacquart brand. Today, 1800 growers make up this alliance, all together owning more than 7% of the surface area of the Appelation Champagne, 60 crus (villages) in the Côte des Blancs, Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Bar. 10 of them are classified as Grand Crus and 22 as Premiers Crus assuring grapes from the finest terroirs in the Champagne! It started as a vision and led to great success, the growers holding shares in the brand guide its direction and development!

The grapes used for Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, they ripen on the slight hills, rich in chalk, and make the cuvée, the blend for the Champagne. The secret of each cuvée lies in the composition which is where Jacquart’s oenologist Floriane Eznack comes in, she’s young but very experienced, open minded and absolutely passionate about her product. Together with her team she finds the right composition for the different cuvées every year, mixing them in graduated tubes, trusting their fine senses to feel the wines’ temper and style, to let them express themselves within the blend carefully, without letting a single one becoming too overpowering. It’s a science but above all, an art!

Paris Reims

 

ParisReims27

Directly after the harvest which is made by 100.000 pickers every autumn, the grapes are pressed separately for each cru and filled in stainless steel tanks. The first fermentation creates the Vins Clairs (clear or still wines) after a filtering process. Around 4 months later, the oenologist assembles the different Vins Clairs to create the cuvée. For example the Cuvée Brut Mosaïque, is made of 50 different wines. I tasted 7 different Vins Clairs at Jacquart and it’s hard to imagine how one can develop a memory for so many different tastes! When the right composition is found, the wine is filled in bottles together with a small amount of yeast and sugar. In the following 8 weeks, gas starts to develop in the bottles turning the still wine into sparkling wine. After more than 15 months (or 3 years for the Brut Mosaïque and 5-6 years for vintage wines) in a horizontal position, the bottles are repeatedly shaken for 21 days (the remuage or riddling), gradually tilting the bottle neck down and drawing the sediments into the neck. These sediments are eventually removed by freezing the bottle neck through a quick cooling process. This forms a plug of ice which shoots out when the bottle is opened leaving behind a bottle of sediment free wine. Sealed with a cork the Champagne is ready to be sent into the world!

Paris Reims

I learnt so much about Champagne, the grapes, Vins Clairs, I could write about so much more but Champagne is best when experienced personally, the region, its history and of course, the drink as well. So I can only recommend a visit to Reims!

As we enjoyed a wonderful lunch together, Floriane declared that Champagne is the celebration of the moment. I agree!

Here’s the wonderful menu we enjoyed for lunch, created by Maison Schosseler in Taissy, and the accompanied selection of Champagne 

Oysters in cucumber jelly with Aquitaine Caviar
Champagne Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2006

Butterflied roasted langoustines, with a citrus and coriander infused olive oil
Champagne Jacquart Rosé Mosaïque

Braised sea bass with shellfish sauce and French garden vegetables
Champagne Jacquart Cuvée Alpha 2005

Finely sliced Comté with rocket
Cuvée Champagne Jacquart Nominée 2002

Apple pear and lemon éclair
Cuvée Champagne Jacquart Demi-Sec

Paris Reims

 

Paris Reims

 

Paris Reims

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