When my good friend Mary Luz Mejia from Sizzling communications emailed me to alert me to the fact that acclaimed Chef Alexandre Gauthier of the Michelin star restaurant
La Grenouillére in Montreuil-sur-Mer, France was coming to town, I was literally trembling as I RSVP d “Oui”.
Chef Gauthier was coming to Canada for a second Celebrity Chef in residence at the Stratford Chef School and to reveal his blueprint of the new auberge to travel journalists. Friday January 21st Travel journalists and media were invited to The Fairmont Royal York to meet the brilliant young chef as he explained the vision for the blueprint of the new kitchen at La Grenouillére and rooms at the auberge.
Within minutes of meeting the approachable and charming Chef Gauthier you are connected with his passion for food and for the restaurant and inn which have been in his family since the 1930’s. Preparing for an interview, I had done my homework and had been reading various articles about him growing up in his father’s kitchen, discovering that all consuming passion for cooking which overshadowed studies, his culinary stardom abroad. I was captivated reading how his father devastated by the loss of the Michelin star which had accompanied the restaurant since the 1930’s, had reached out to Alexandre and asked him to come home to help earn it back. I was in love with the story before I met him. I carefully crafted my questions and waited for the work day to end, there were so many things I wanted to ask and to learn but I had 15 minutes or so I thought. When I got there I was enthralled listening to him describe the vision for the new addition to the auberge and was so transported that I felt like I was there.
I was walking down stairs to my room located just below grade and finding myself somewhere very special with wood burning fireplaces comfortable with unique amenities , without common place elements like mini bars and the high tech coldness that reminds you are away from home. Each room containing a unique surprise that when you discover it you think to yourself of course of course why didn’t I notice it before! The redesign of the auberge is sure to position it as a destination experience rather than traveling for the sheer bliss of Chef Gauthier’s food only to set forth on a two hour drive back to Paris. Everything that is left over either from renovating or from ongoing maintenance will be salvaged and take on new life. As they explained even when the gardener cuts the lawn if they will find a way of incorporating and giving the clippings a new purpose. There seems to be a real connection and a real appreciation of the land from the moment you enter through the arbre arch into the inn, through the dining experience, through the guest’s stay.
To me the architectural vision very much reflects Chef Gauthier’s food. The message to find beauty in the purity and beauty of the ingredient of itself, undressed, always innovative and inventive. Chef Gauthier describes his food as Cuisine Délurée which essentially is forward, using seasonal ingredients, and revealing new flavours in new combinations and preparations of pure ingredients. In the sauce laden, elaborate world of French cuisine, Chef Gauthier’s food is often said to have Japanese influence because of his concentration on the beauty and purity of the ingredients themselves. The Chef candidly told us how he hates symmetry on the plate, again challenging the ideals of traditional restaurant elegance and making us think about what is on our plate finding beauty in new form. It is unsurprising after meeting this young chef that he has been praised and recognized by culinary icons like Alain Ducasse.
I dreamed of Montreuil-sur-Mer all weekend of the sights and sounds and the pleasure of the meal I would experience the following Monday at The Stratford Chef School.
I took the day off on Monday so I could truly enjoy all of it, untainted by every day pressures. I picked up some croissants au beurre at my favorite Patisserie Clafouti so I would have even the smallest thing to give back in exchange for how inspired I was. During the long and very icy drive to Stratford I reflected on what an opportunity the students at the Stratford Chef School were going to have, to learn from such a young chef with brilliant vision. Being passionate about food myself, and having just started a continuing education program in culinary arts, it really did seem like an unbelievable experience. I had no idea how special the schools program was until I sat down to dine with Kimberley Payne the Executive Director.
For the past 27 years The Stratford Chef’s school has offered its students an exclusive opportunity to be taught in actual restaurant facilities. The history of the school itself is unique and distinguishes it from traditional colleges. Recognizing a shortage in top talent locally, three of Stratford’s finest restaurants decided to form a training alliance and the Stratford Chef’s school was born. During their two year program students apprentice at restaurants in between sessions and the school has retained a remarkable 100% placement rate of its students. The school has grown from a graduating class of 12 in 1983 to 76 full time apprentice students in 2010 and with innovative hands on learning experiences such as their Celebrity Chef in residence program it is clear that they are attracting both the brightest Chefs in the culinary world to instruct and future talent.
Christine Cooper , Chef Rossy Earle, and Steve Stacey and I were all treated to an extraordinary culinary experience on the first night of a 5 night series of Celebrity Chef in Residence dinners with Chef Alexandre Gauthier.
Each of Chef Gauthier’s exquisite dishes were paired perfectly with a Huff Estates wine including a yet to be released 2007 Cuvée Peter Huff.
Below is the menu of what we were about to be treated to. The menu was designed to go from lightest to heartiest and was full of plays on textural and sensual elements of crispy with creamy and hot with cold.
The first course was replaced with an exquisite Beef Carpaccio, a ribbon of apple, and egg foam.
Next was a Purée de haricots blancs, foie gras, beurre d’ail- White Bean Puree with foie gras, croutons, and garlic butter.
Followed by one of my favorite dishes of the evening Gnocchi de petits pois- Gnocchi with peas
The main was a delicious Langue de veau crousillante, polenta crémeuse, beurre de câpres- Crispy veal tongue with creamy wheat polenta, pesto and caper butter.
Heaven on a plate Tube de chocolat blanc, crème d’agrumes- White chocolate, citrus cream and Clementine
Palate cleanser- Honey comb with lemon. Serving yourself directly off of the platter was very sensual and delicious
Surprise ending- Hand cut petit fours with your choice of white chocolate and orange or caramel
I ended my evening with a special chat with Chef Gauthier him thanking me for the croissants, me thanking him for an unforgettable experience.
A very special thank you to Kimberly Payne from The Stratford Chef’s school and Mary Luzon from Sizzling Communications for a rare and treasured opportunity.