It isn’t often that the world comes together for one night. And, it isn’t often that five continents are unified for the mutual love and respect of the matriarch of all great tasting food, French cuisine.
On March 21st, 2016 I had the pleasure and honour of being a guest at the French Embassy in Ottawa to experience the second edition of the Goût de France /Good France culinary inspired initiative which united more than 1000 chefs from five continents in celebration of French cuisine.
During my interview with Nicolas Chapuis, Ambassador of France to Canada, hediscussed the thought process behind the Good France initiative. Chapuis explained that Laurent Fabius, the former French Minister of Foreign Affairs wanted to create a worldwide event that would be exceptional ‘in order to immobilize attention on what good food is about’. Not just food, but GOOD food. That is why it’s called Good France; its a word game on Taste of France.
The concept came from the fact that French chefs worldwide working in hotels, restaurants and bistros from Beijing to New York to Rio de Janeiro to Johannesburg were all complaining about the fact that more and more restaurants were opening with bad food. So the chefs wanted to fight against this culinary plague and restore the good name of good food.
In order to maximize the impact, Fabius asked all 180 Ambassadors of France worldwide to join the effort and host a very special dinner once a year, and do it in such a way that would impress their guests.
Restaurants worldwide who participated in the Good France initiative would present a menu à la française that would meet certain criteria: cuisine made of fresh, in-season products from local sources and dishes prepared with less fat, sugar and salt…cuisine for all pocketbooks, from bistros to fine dining.
In Canada, 27 restaurants paid tribute to the excellence of French cuisine, its capacity for innovation, and the values that it conveys: sharing, enjoyment, and respect for peers, the planet, and the art of bien-manger.
Chapuis noted that it was disheartening that Ottawa did not participate in this year’s event and also found it unfortunate that the Nation’s Capital doesn’t have a vibrant restaurant scene like that of Montreal which celebrates and honours traditional French food. However, hopefully that will change with people being more aware of the message that is being conveyed with this special dinner which exemplifies sharing and enjoying the art of good food!
Talking about cuisine — French cuisine, is also talking about joie de vivre, delicacy, optimism, and pleasure. Ideas that are all crucial to the image of France.” Alain Ducasse
Sixty distinguished guests, myself included, were treated to the multi-course culinary magic created by Chef Patrice Noël and Pastry Chef Olivier Potier, both from Montreal, at this year’s invite-only dinner at the French Embassy in Ottawa.
As a true lover of all things French, one knows that there is no such thing as having French food without the intoxicating and splendored flavours of Champagne to compliment it. Guests were treated like French royalty as every course was perfectly accompanied with an exceptional French wine and Champagne. But not just any Champagne was selected; Veuve Clicquot was the official Champagne for the evening. How could one not rejoice with such bubbly news?!
The French Embassy in Ottawa.
As guests were mingling in the beautifully decorated lobby adorned with vibrantly rich tapestries, an amuse-bouche of foie gras kept our hungry tummies at bay until we were seated for dinner.
Bonbon de Foie Gras set against a bowl of liquid nitrogen was the perfect way to start the French culinary voyage that the French Embassy was taking us on.
You know that famous saying “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams”? Well Chef Noël provided a great start by perfectly matching these two key ingredients with scallop in the first of three appetizers.
Seasoned scallop, soya risotto and cilantro oil served with Kristal caviar. A Reisling, Schlossberg Grand Cru, 2005 accompanied it.
Then, Chef Noël brought vegetables to a whole new level in the second appetizer as their simplicity and raw flavour profiles made this meat eater a fan favourite.
Vegetable medley on a flaky puff pastry composition. Served with a Reisling, Schlossberg Grand Cru, 2005.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a TRUE French dinner without some more foie gras and some earthy black truffles. Waiters waited until each guest had their bowl of foie gras in front of them before they proceeded to pour the beef bouillon that brought the dish to a whole new level. My generous pieces of bread served me quite well, as I soaked up all of that delicious liquid! It would simply be a sin to see even a drop wasted.
Foie gras and black truffle swimming in a beef bouillon. Served with a Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé.
The main course was one of anticipation for this particular food lover and I was not disappointed. A succulent cut of veal filet that was perfectly seasoned was served with various tasty vegetables complimented by a Panisse (a chickpea flour cake), which was a first for me.
Veal filet with infused sauce served with vegetables and Panisse (chickpea flour cake). Served with Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé.
The French love their cheese and how can we blame them?! Before dinner, during dinner and after dinner – cheese is a bona fide ingredient that can be eaten, let alone accompany most dishes at any given time. Both the Camembert and Brie married quite well with the pickled onions and basil leaves.
Camembert Espuma and Brie de Meaux served with Granny Smith apple purée, pickled onions and basil leaves. Served with Veuve Clicquot, Carte Jaune (Brut).
For many, the dessert course is the best part. I personally don’t have a sweet tooth, but I am always more than willing to try and see if I can be persuaded to the dark chocolate side of life. Pastry Chef Potier did an excellent job at convincing me. With the right techniques and ingredients, desserts don’t have to be overly sweet to be enjoyed.
Revisited Black Forest Cake. Served with Veuve Clicquot Demi-sec.
Now having eaten such chocolate decadence even though it was light and not overwhelming, Chef Potier left the pièce de résistance for the end…a light airy dessert bursting with tropical flavours that had all of us wanting more. This was my favourite of the two desserts as I could picture myself having this delectable ‘sweet’ anytime of the day!
Contemporary floating island (Île flottante): passion fruits, crème anglaise, Tahitian vanilla and coconut slices. Served with Muscat Domaine Otter, Sélection de grains nobles, 2003.
Food is pleasure, it’s a culinary art.
The French Embassy in conjunction with both Chefs, decided to share their recipes of some of their dishes. I think this is marvelous as now we can try to replicate parts of that enchanting evening.
Chef Patrice Noel’s recipe: Puff pastry with vegetables
Puff pastry (homemade)
1 bulb garlic
1 purple artichoke
1 red pepper
2 bunches basil
2 stalks white asparagus
1 carrot, top still attached
Divide the puff pastry into portions and bake it at 170° for 40 minutes.
Mince the onions and one clove of garlic. Mix them together.
Boil the carrot and one stalk of asparagus.
Bake the artichoke.
Dry the olives in the oven for 2 hours.
Make a pesto with the basil, garlic, and olive oil.
Peel and mince the white asparagus.
Cook the tomatoes whole sous vide. When you have finished cooking them, mix everything together.
For the panna cotta, infuse the cream with the basil. Add the gelatin.
Spread the onion confit on top of the (homemade) puff pastry. Poach the basil panna cotta, prepare the vegetables, season the pesto with black olives, and add the red tomato coulis.
Pastry Chef Olivier Potier’s recipe: A modern take on an Île flottante
Cook the chopped pineapple with the sugar.
Add the chopped mango and thicken the mixture with the cornstarch and rum. Bring to a boil.
(Left to Right) French Ambassador Nicolas Chapuis and The Food Tease; Chef Olivier Potier and Chef Patrice Noël discussing their Good France menu to their guests; Veuve Clicquot was the primary Champagne of the evening.
The Goût de France /Good France initiative will hopefully grow and flourish with each passing year as its message and purpose is one that should not only apply to the French culture, but be applied universally.
One man’s message stemming from his passion for excellent food and the voices that he represented from all facets of the restaurant industry has shed light to the world of the importance of great tasting food.
One message, one night, across the world and the result was a not only a beautiful one but a ‘good’ one.