The chef, in the castle's kitchen, with everything he's got
This whole trip to Paris was planned around eating in Le Chateaubriand, the Michelin-starred restaurant of the Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte, which now is on the 74th place in the best restaurants' chart of the magazine "Restaurant" after its best ranking of 9th in 2011.
According to the reviews and interviews with Aizpitarte –
Wait, a side remark. In order to find exactly how Aizpitarte's surname is pronounced I stumbled upon this video –
It seems that 'Chef's Night Out' from Munchies, the food channel of the media octopus Vice, is the rowdy and fun brother/sister of the more conservative and pensive 'Mind of a Chef' and 'Chef's Table' series. On their way through a somewhat ordinary Parisian evening-through-night, Aizpitarte and his friends give a hint on what is life. Or at least how life should look like: Working hard preparing food (and you cannot deny that a Michelin-starred chef works very hard), but eating and drinking even harder afterwards.
Back to my story.
As Aizpitarte himself tells us on the clip, he started his cooking career in Tel Aviv, and after googling a little bit I found out that he started working actually as a dish-washer in a kosher Serbian restaurant that operated in Tel Aviv during the '90 and went by the name of 'La Rosata'. I guess that only Israelis and Tel Avivians can fully grasp how unusual this combination is, so it wasn't a surprise for me that I couldn't find any other mention of the restaurant anywhere else. And neither anyone else whom I've asked, some of them Tel Avivians since birth and some are deeply rooted in the city's food scene. That was one hell of a magic restaurant…
All of this could have been a great prologue, but all of this is irrelevant, because the reason for going to Le Chateaubriand wasn't (this time) Aizpitarte's cooking. That night the restaurant took part in the Grand Shuffle event organized by the team called Gelinaz, led by the Italian food writer Andrea Petrini, who was named in 2013 one of the 'Gods of Food' by TIME magazine. His surname cannot present more different and epicurian approach to food than of another Petrini – Carlo Petrini, who is the founder of Slow Food movement. I have my preference about which team I wish to belong to, but let's just say that there are enough places around the table for everyone.
This kind of event when chefs change kitchens with others is not so rare these days, but probably this is the top event since it involves figuratively (or maybe literally) la crème de la crème of chefs around the world, among them Massimo Bottura, René Redzepi, Alex Atala and many more. There is only one thing you have to remember: you don't know who will be the chef that evening until you get to the restaurant (unless you have an inside informer, which I hadn't).
When you book a table to a restaurant which you don't know who, among the 40 chefs who are involved, is going to cook for you – never go by your first instinct, because for sure Bottura won't cook that evening in Osteria Francescana and Redzepi won't be around Copenhagen, but you'll still have a 2.5% to catch them anywhere else. That's why I decided to go to Paris, because even if this surprise dinner would somehow get messed up – I will always have Paris. Add to this the fact that the offered menu included 8 courses for 100 euros (different price for each restaurant, according to the chef in office) – I couldn't lose!
Along the month before the event clues were sprinkled over the web regarding the chefs' identities in each restaurant – most of them were false, and I fell for them and even added some of my own, which helped to create a sense of an adventure and a rush of adrenaline. Fortunately enough, my good Parisian friend F. is always ready for any food adventure and therefore, knowing only the address for the evening we arrived to the restaurant and were sat in the same table which is shown in the clip, not far from the kitchen with a fair point of view on what is happening inside. And just as we sat we got the menu for that evening and the chef's name was revealed!
Paul Carmichael arrived to Australia in 2015 after four years of heading the kitchen of Momofuku Má Pêche ('Lucky peach – Mother peach' in Japanese-Vietnamese-French mixture, and OF COURSE it's relevant to the magazine which goes by the same name – David Chang, the founder of Momofuku's network is also the magazine's editor). Continuing his peachy path at Sydney's Momofuku Seiōbo ('Queen Mother of the West' in the Japanese mythology who used to serve the peaches of immortality to her guests), Carmichael is carrying the Barbadian flavors along with him since he started cooking at the age of 15, which means surprising and spicy ones, and for me probably the closest I'll ever get to Barbados or Australia.
Chef Paul Carmichael, from Barbados to New York to Sydney to Paris (for just a short stop)
So while Aizpitarte was cooking in Singapore's Burnt Ends (as the waiteress said), and Alex Atala in Carmichael's Momofuku Seiōbo we were accompanied by Laurent Cabut, Le Chateaubriand's co-owner and Aizpitarte's good friend from the clip, who also that night showed that probably his normal state of mind is super happy (or drunk, I'm not judging). Definitely not the regular menu which consists of five dishes, that evening chef Carmichael presented 12 dishes that moved in the range between French-interpreted (still, we're in Paris) and some from the land down-under – taking the long way through the Caribbean.
Just hints for what will come next
You can imagine how long it takes to eat 12 dishes, not to speak about reading about 12 dishes, not to mention writing about 12 dishes, so here are just the peaks and highlights of the dinner. Those dishes absolutely stood above the rest.
The first one, not even a dish but an appetizer, was a fish head soup, not thick but with a much defined taste and smell, and on top of it floated deep-green drops of sorrel oil. The contradiction between the very yellow and the very green fluids depicted a great composition which changed with every touch of the spoon, creating fractal-like stains. What's great about this soup is that it's a one-time dish: no bowl, not even the one of F. which went out of the kitchen the same time as mine, would behave the same way.
Contradiction as composition
Following an oyster which was joined by tiny cucumber cubes and lime juice –
We were served with a nice amount of foie gras – definitely not from Barbados, but the whole point of this event is that the chefs would travel around the world and amalgamate themselves with new kitchens. The characteristics of the foie gras served Carmichael twice: its silky texture went perfectly hand-in-hand with crunchy burnt chicken skin flakes, while its spreadable taste was spiked with spicy pineapple coulis. The opposites attracted well to each other and the perfectly placed marigold leaf was a great add-on.
Soft and crunchy, soft and spiky
After another two very good dishes: a cod fritter with parmigiano cream and poppy seeds, and veal tartare with coriander and orange coulis on top of cassava chips –
The dinner continued with one of the softest brills I've ever tasted. The remarkably moist fish lied on a banana leaf and was half-covered with hot Creole tomatoes that weren't too spicy so we could concentrate on enjoying the fish and not looking for something to ease the pain. The capucine leaves were there mainly for their looks, but added some fresh crunchiness to the melting fish.
Don't worry, it's getting spicier: a giant squid ring that was lightly smeared with mango curry swam in a pool of clementine-scented olive oil. The curry helped to stick on the squid crushed broccoli and almonds which all together gave an unpaved and piquant ride. A month later and I still don't know how to relate to this dish (then I guess I'll have to try it again sometime) – but I really like the photo.
Not sure what it was…
The capucine leaves returned! And now they were mixed with taro leaves and placed next to a very tender lamb cut, hiding beneath them another one. This balanced combination of colors sat on a light coconut cream with coconut shavings on top. Besides the great look of it, the dish was a true highlight thanks to the relaxed textures that resided in the core of a main course (even if it's a tasting menu) – the notion of acceptance, that we had gone far enough to feel safe with this meal. Any meal.
Hiding under the leaves
Unfortunately, we got signs that the dinner was on its final stage, but I would love to get more signs as such anytime: plantain brûlée seasoned with Jamaican hot chili, yogurt and grapefruit pulp. Wow! Almost a full circle of tastes: sweet plantain, a hint of bitterness from the burnt crust and grapefruit and of course the lightly acidy yogurt. The spicy chili moved fast between the other ingredients and gave each of them a new meaning. For me the dish was a true reflection of the Grand Shuffle concept – a local frame for flavors from the other side of the world.
A real treat
We had already passed the promised 8 courses, but Carmichael had some more tricks up his sleeve: after the spiciness of the Jamaican chili arrived a super refreshing cucumber ice cream decorated with chervil leaves and angostura, a magical duo of Guiness beer ice cream, polenta pudding and hazelnut butter, and since it was a very heavy dish to end the night with we got also puffed veal sweetbreads that were sweetened by caster sugar and a little spicy caramel. Just to remind us that there is much more to experience.
Vegetable and beer ice creams, caramels - and sweetbreads
I didn't know anything about Paul Carmichael until that night in Paris nor about French-Barbadian cuisine, but as they say in Barbados: 'Give Jack 'e jacket', which means that credit should be given where it's due. And that evening credit was definitely due to Carmichael after he presented his full creative mind and drove fast on the scale of local ingredients while spicing them up with piquant bites and pinches according to (apparently) the Caribbean tradition. The combination of the surprising cooking and the excellent service of Le Chateaubriand's team created a tremendous evening and sent me to plan the next gamble for Gelinaz Shuffle 2017.