Global Cuisines and Cultures: France
Hello! My name is Sean Morrill and over the next seven blog posts, I’ll be sharing my experience in my favorite class to date, Global Cuisines and Cultures: France! I signed up for the Global Cuisines and Cultures Trip so that I could experience France at a fast pace, and learn as much as I could in the two weeks that I would be there, and of course to have the trip of a lifetime!
After the semester ended, and just as the stress from finals was subsiding, our class rendezvoused in front of the lodges, and we boarded a bus to JFK, to experience my first Intercontinental flight. I’d been on plenty of flights before, but the seven and a half hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany seemed a little intimidating. It turned out to be a breeze. When we landed in Germany, we had a four-hour layover, so we kind of got to experience two countries in one trip! Not really, but we did get to have some really awesome sausage and German Beer in one of the restaurants in the airport.
Our next flight was just a little puddle-jumper to Paris. Due to my inability to sleep on planes, I was dead tired. But that didn’t stop me from squeezing out everything that Paris had to offer that night. When we landed, we met our tour manager, Lise Mignon. There seriously aren’t enough words to describe how amazing she is. Lise’s expert translation, bountiful knowledge, and bubbly personality made the trip that much more enjoyable. She even kept me from getting hit by a bus in front of Charles De Gaulle Airport, so… seriously, thanks for that, Lise.
We got on the Bus, and headed towards our first hotel—Hotel 34B. First things first, French hotels are so much smaller than the ones we have in the U.S.! Turned out to be a totally insignificant cultural difference, because we only spend like seven hours a day in our rooms to sleep and shower, but I thought you should know. After a quick freshening up in my hotel room, we made our way to our first dinner in Paris!
First dish at Le Mazenay—white asparagus, poached egg, tarragon cream, and herbs
Dinner was absolutely delicious, however one thing should be noted: things move a little bit slower here in France; dinner took a little bit under three hours to complete. The purpose is to slow down and enjoy your food, and enjoy your company. In France, sometimes eating is less about what’s on your plate, and more about who you’re enjoying that meal with. Either way, I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off our trip. When we sat down we enjoyed a white wine kir, cheese sables, and artisanal dried sausage from Morvan. Our next course was a beautiful expression of France’s favorite seasonal vegetable: white asparagus. It was served with a poached egg, and tarragon cream, and paired with an organic white wine from Saumur. I’ll be remembering that dish for a while. Next up was a roasted fillet of duck, served with honey and spicy spelt risotto. The meal was rounded off with a vanilla bourbon mille-feuille. This, I don’t have a picture of because I have quite the sweet tooth, and after a couple glasses of wine, dessert was calling my name.
After a good night of sleep, we woke up early, and went to a chocolate class led by Stéphane Glacier, an MOF (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France) of pastry, which he earned in the year 2000. MOF is the highest distinction in pastry in France, and it was an honor to learn from somebody of his caliber. First, he welcomed us with a much-needed espresso and a glass of the most delicious hot chocolate that I’ve ever tasted. Then he explained the process of making chocolate, and led a chocolate tasting with us to explain the effect that terroir has on chocolate.
The tasting was as follows:
Swiss Milk Chocolate (38% Cacao)—exceptionally creamy, easy to eat, sweet, and non-complex
French Milk Chocolate (50% Cacao)—still simple, less creamy, less sweet. (The French consumer demands a chocolate that is less sweet.)
Maracaibo Dark Chocolate (65% Cacao)—subtly creamy with flavors of coffee grounds
Manjari Dark Chocolate (64% Cacao)—brightly acidic, raspberry/citrus like flavors.
Cambrian Dark Chocolate (72% Cacao)—less acidic than Manjari, blackberry, and dried fruit notes.
Stéphane Glacier’s remarks on chocolate were just as important as the tasting. He believes that high-quality chocolate is the only chocolate that you can use if you want to make high-quality pastry. Even if you make the best pastry in the world, low quality chocolate in it will make that pastry fall short. To demonstrate this principal, we made three chocolate desserts with him—chocolate macarons, a creamy and crunchy chocolate tart, and a chocolate verrine. For me, this experience was less about the pastry and more about watching a man who has truly mastered his craft work so elegantly and so efficiently when making these pastries. He gave us tips that I will remember forever, even though I wasn’t a pastry major. For example, when making the meringue for macarons, start whipping the whites on high speed when the sugar mixture reaches 110 degrees Celsius. That way, the whites will be ready at the exact time that the sugar mixture needs to be poured in.
Stéphane Glacier doing a demo about macarons with the help of his assistant
That evening we had a demo and dinner with Chef Fatema Hal in her Moroccan Tagine Restaurant. I didn’t associate Tagine with France, but because of the influx of North African immigrants throughout France’s history, it has become part of their culinary identity.
Next up, I’ll be exploring Rungis Market, and the Palace of Versailles!
A tout à l’heure!
By Sean Morrill