Monday, 14 April 2014

A lunch to remember!

“French cooking?” he puckers his lips, frowns, and blurts out, “outright boring.”  He is staring into my eyes. I let out an awkward giggle that comes out more like a stifled grunt.

Star of the show! 
He is a burly man with handsome features,  sports a stubble, speaks in a somewhat  gravelly voice , and with an unmistakable French accent . You can’t miss the tattoos peeking from underneath the sleeves of his immaculate, white chef’s coat and a cool pair of shades sits on his head . And he has magic in his fingers.  
I am talking about Toronto based chef Marc Thuet, a Frenchman who finds the severe traditions of French cooking boring, insists on having utmost fun with his ingredients, enjoys cookinG, hates routine and if you don’t find him at home or in his restaurants, he is, perhaps, off hunting bears in the Canadian wilderness.

This afternoon I had the good fortune of tasting a few of Chef Thuet’s signature dishes at Le Thuet, a special gastronomic experience hosted by the Taj Bengal and I can’t quite stop drooling over the mere reminiscence of the superlative meal that I was served.

Chef Thuet and wife Biana Zorich 

Just the other day a fellow food writer popped a question at a similar lunch to the group eating together. He asked which was the last memorable meal we had and where? To our dismay not one of us came up with the likeness of a concrete answer. I wish I was asked the question now.  I can say without a hint of doubt that it was the best meal I have had in a long, long time.

When Chef Thuet and his wonderful wife and business partner Biana Zorich, the duo is a part of Canada’s culinary elite and runs some very successful restaurants in Toronto, left Canada, the temperature was a freezing -20. Imagine there predicament landing in Calcutta and having to surf a few heat waves. One they had to tackle the heat and two, Chef Thuet had to make a few changes to his menu. Of course, the local produce and ingredients available also urged him to tweak the menu. However, the first thing, he introduced his cold cucumber soup to the menu, perfect for the summer heat, just what you need to cool if off. “The cucumbers here are lovely and I had to make this soup,” he says.

For the soup the chef seasons the cucumber and leaves it for about 48 hours so that the water runs out and then he blends the cucumber with thick hung curd, a few spices and some beautiful, fragrant Israeli mint. It does have a faint resemblance with the our raita but then in it go chunks of goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.  Subtle on the palate, refreshing, with the burst of tang from the goat cheese and the tomatoes, this one made for a promising beginning. I hear, the chef also makes a non vegetarian version of the same soup with poached scallops and prawns. Hear seafood lovers!

With the soup came a hunk of Baguette Traditional, a traditional French sour dough bread had rolled just like olden times. It’s soft yet chewy, very light and fluffy. “The dough for this classic French baguette  is fermented 4-6  times,” says the chef.  Tear off a chunk, dip it in the golden green olive oil that comes along, and relish its goodness.

The main course comprised, Cured Quebec duck magret, sweet water prawns, black cumin caramel and mango followed by Gremolata crusted lamb rack, basil and goat cheese mashed potato.

Cured Quebec Duck Magret with Roquette, Parmesan and a drizzle of Olive oil

Interestingly, the Cured Quebec duck magret accompanied the chef all the way from Canada. Magret basically breast of ducks specially treated, read force fed, to produce fois gras. Fois gras, made of fattened liver of duck or goose, is of course France’s most famous delicacy.  Now the breast is question is super meaty, the size of a brick, and Chef Thuet cures the meat in his signature style – first the meat is seasoned with grey sea salt and left for 4-5 days, then the chef prepares a rub with 14 special spices, rubs it on the meat and hangs the meat for 7 days. “You can hang it for as long as you like but I want my duck to be meaty rather than dry like prosciutto,” says the chef. 

Cured Quebec duck magret, sweet water prawns, black cumin caramel and mango

The dish is question had a generous cut of cured Quebec duck wrapped around prawns in a subtly sweet, slightly tangy and perfectly creamy sauce with pickled ginger and bits of mango. Perfectly executed, the dish is light on your palate and a perfect balance of subtle flavours. The best part:  the duck definitely enjoys the glory pot in the dish. Better still, just so we could savour the duck with  out any trimming, the chef sent to the table a platter of finely cut duck meat topped with Roquette, Parmesan shavings and a drizzle of olive oil. 

The second dish, Gremolata crusted lamb rack served on a bed of basil and goat cheese mashed potato, baby carrots, mushroom and asparagus. The meat was perfect, done rare, the perfect dark pink inside and the fatty juices dripping crazy.  And the delicious;y creamy mashed potato with the basil and the goat cheese brilliantly complemented the gremolata crust of the lamb. I sure hope no one noticed while I was shamelessly scraping away at the last dregs of meat.

Wild mushrooms risotto with Parmesan shavings

Next in line was the Wild mushroom risotto generously topped with Parmesan shavings. Now I have spent almost a month in Italy (three weeks to be precise) and I have had some great risotto there but none quite like this one. This risotto is by far the best I have had. “Great rice and great wine make for the secret behind a good risotto,” says the chef. Biana, laughs, “He is French with no love lost for Italians and he makes this brilliant risotto.” I agree! It was definitely a stunner, thearborio perfectly cooked, al dente, creamy but no too much, a little smoky from the Shiitake and truffles that the Chef uses in his recipe. It was very very difficult to be polite with that dish around, is all I can say.  

 Chef Thuet is an emotional man. His wife Biana and he appeared in the award-winning reality television series Conviction Kitchen, where ex convicts  were trained to run a restaurant. But two seasons later the chef refused to continue with the show. “During the course of the show these people you train and work with become extremely attached to you , dependent on you. Once the show is over we cary on with life and they are left on their own. It is very difficult for them. It was painful for us. So we decided no more!” he shares. And I have no doubt that a person as emotionally charged should make such great food.

In front: Saffron Tartlet with golden peach and Alphonso compote, maple syrup and walnut rumble; Behind: Chocolate caramel Mousse Verrine with sea salt crumble

Anyway, so finally it was time for desserts, something I look forward to and wait for, even before a meal commences. For desserts there was a gorgeous Saffron tartlet, light and buttery, filled with golden peach and alphonso compote, maple syrup (trust the Canadians with maple syrup, the Canadian province of Quebec alone produces one third of the world’s total produce of maple syrup) and walnut crumble. Now at any other point in time I would go crazy over this dessert, but this time something else claimed my attention and affection, completely. A Chocolate Caramel Mousse Verrine topped with sea salt crumble. I cannot but not use the word orgasmic when I am talking about this bite of unadulterated Sin. The gooey dark chocolate laces your mouth with its bitter sweetness and just when you are least expecting it a burst of salty distraction bowls you over. This one  is a winner, the star of the show. And I will go back, just for this, one more time.

Crazy thing I did: Popped a anti allergy and dug into the prawns anyway. This one time I couldn't resist and glad I didn't.

PS. The food festival Le Thuet exhibiting Chef Marc Thuet’s signature dishes will be open for lunch and dinner till April 18, 2014 at The Hub, Taj Bengal.

1 comment:

  1. My love, I told you popping that pill was totally worth it. :D