My last stop in Paris was the kitchen of L’Ambroisie located in the very chic Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement. Bernard Pacaud is one of France’s most talented and respected chefs who drew attention early-on with his classic skills and intense flavor combinations. L’Ambroisie saw a meteoric rise to success in the 80’s and finally received 3 Michelin star in 1988 which they have held since, making it one of the longest running 3 Michelin star restaurant.
High-end food is open to various interpretations and can be technically brilliant or painfully simple, shockingly original or rooted in tradition, l’Ambroisie’s cuisine undoubtedly belongs to the classics. Experiencing Bernard Pacaud’s cooking is being brought back to the past to indulge in the tradition of haute cuisine. As a matter of fact, the only modern equipment in the kitchen are a blender, a robocoupe and an ice-cream machine. We don’t like to follow trends here. It makes it even more ironic that cutting-edge chefs such as Pierre Gagnaire and Pascal Barbot have called l’Ambroisie their favorite restaurant.
There’s a sharp contrast between the kitchen of L’ambroisie and the previous ones i visited. Here, the kitchen is small and can accommodate only 8 chefs, six on the savory stations and two in pastry, to serve a maximum of 36 guests at each service. One could think that upon entering the kitchen of such a temple of gastronomy, the intruder (aka: me), would be subject to suspicious looks from the team. It was quite the opposite in fact, as everyone in the kitchen was as open and friendly as possible, and more than willing to share their knowledge.
Bernard Pacaud asked the chefs to give me a tasting version of the dishes that were being ordered. How lucky! What a feast! It started with a delicious velouté with a black truffle cream, it was followed by a tartare of langoustines with a cauliflower mousseline and countless more luxurious little bites. So much that the lingering taste of black truffles accompanied me for the rest of the afternoon.
‘Aspic de foie gras landais a la truffe, remoulade de celeri-rave’. Very simple in theory but it’s the attention to details that makes this dish truly sublime. I watched the sous-chef create the mille-feuille of celery and black truffle ‘a la minute’ and it was a lesson in knife skills and precision. A ‘must’ when you work with such expensive ingredients.
Those poularde de Bresse stuffed under the skin (which truly shines like gold) caught my eye. In case you’re not familiar with it it’s a breed of chickens that originates from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes region of France and are highly valued for their depth of flavour, yet fine, tender flesh and delicious golden fat. In the hands of Bernard Pacaud, this already amazing bird is turned into food for the Gods. The kitchen was experimenting with new recipes that day and i happily volunteered to the tasting part. Someone’s gotta do the job, right?
A table of regulars ordered five portions of ‘Dos de sole braise au vermouth, duo de celeri en ‘demi-deuil’. Dover sole coming straight from the English channel every morning. It’s braised with vermouth and two kinds of celery. I’ve been dreaming of the generous spoonful of crème fraîche d’Echiré that went into this dish. The most luscious kind of crème fraîche you can dream of. Of course, the fact that it’s finished with black truffle doesn’t hurt either.
It’s the height of the black truffle season which explain why you see so much of it on the menu. You will never see me complain about too much black truffle, though. Just look at this…
The Feuilleté de truffe fraîche ‘bel humeur’ is a whole black truffle (about 100 grams) sandwiched with foie-gras and enclosed in a rich puff pastry, served with a sauce Bordelaise thickened with black truffle. “Bel humeur” means “good mood” in French and cutting through the pastry to let the truffle aroma escape will do just that. I can’t think of a dish that could make anyone more happy.
There were other classics like ‘Escalopines de bar à l’émincé d’artichaut, nage reduite, caviar oscietre golden’, a line-caught sea bass sitting on an intricate tower of thinly sliced artichokes, scattered with dill and a creamy, buttery, briny, subtly acidic sauce enhanced with Golden Osetra caviar. The other one was a filet of John Dory with a crispy ‘crust’ that was a special that day.
I believe this classic “Tarte fine sablé au cacao amer, glace à la vanille” is still unsurpassed in this world as far as chocolate desserts go. It’s light without detriment to its taste, which is enormously bold. It may look innocent, but i can’t think of any word to describe it that would do it justice. The perfect quenelle of vanilla ice cream that comes with it is just as intense: “It is made with 6 vanilla beans per liter”, confessed the pastry chef.
Needless to say, i have some experimenting to do.
9 Place des Vosges,
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Tags: Famous chef