en Lumière Brings Belgium's Best Chefs
This exciting gastronomy
part of the festival is making Belgium a star -- it has become
a big hit with
a public eager to taste the best this country has to offer.
This year, Brussels and Wallonia are putting our taste buds
to the test. What a thrill to enjoy such marvelous food. Sixteen
chefs have paired up with local Montreal chefs to cook up their
tantalizing dishes- - unique creations that feature the ingenuity
of these formally trained masters in gastronomical matters.
There are also chocolatiers whose mouth watering demonstrations
bring the public that much closer to making their own sinfully
rich desserts. They are also taking us through every stage of
the chocolate process. But Belgium, as this event proves, is
so much more that beer and chocolate. I was astounded at the
delicate tastes and simple flavouring and sauces that made my
venture into dining Belgian style simply unforgettable. Wines
from Oregon and Washington were poured this year and the public
was given a chance to meet all the invited vintners. Bon Appétit!
Chef Tjaco van Eijken Reveals Seafood's Sensual Side at Renoir
Never in my life had I tasted the wonders of the sea cooked
in such tantalizing ways; I wanted to dive in for more! Inside
Renoir Restaurant, Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile, a miracle happened;
from being a carnivore to a seafood 'salivator' -- with one
condition: it has to be chef Tjaco van Eijken who creates the
dish. Having being mentored for six years at Ile Cortile in
Paris by chef Alain Ducasse, a Michelin star winner, Tjaco is
presently the executive chef at Crystal Lounge, Sofitel Brussels
Le Louise. Prior to this, he spent four years heading Hong Kong's
Spoon Restaurant -- also the brainchild of Alain Ducasse. Now
the globetrotting, Netherlands-born boy (who just happens to
be a marathon runner) is dashing off to Vietnam to oversee Sofitel's
restaurant there (March 1, 2012).
Renown for his
flare for Mediterranean fare. Tjaco departed from such varied
cuisine to concentrate soley on seafood. At Renoir, he created
three seafood dishes, staying true to his philosophy of finding
the feminine, lightness of fish."I want to stay true to
the soul of the particular seafood I cook; I do this using the
technique of reduction." He basically boils out the water
very slowly, and retains the essence of that which is left over
until it becomes 'crystalized.' This adds to flavouring, even
the sauce, along with the few condiments he uses to bring out
exquisite taste and tenderness. He focuses on the feminine side
of seafood cuisine; this requires delicate handling and precision
timing in every aspect of creating the end result. The result
and seafood need the same delicate treatment as a woman."
first delight was grey shrimp from the North Sea served in five
delicate ways. Tjaco somehow gets everyone of his dishes to
melt in your mouth; he never ever suffocates the seafood in
superfluous sauces. Every ingestion comes with subtle taste
and a super-refined tenderness. He is known for making the outer
layer either into a sliver-thin crusty texture or breaded. Then
the inner part becomes a total surprise in texture. This starter
I paired with the Cloudline 2009 Pinot Gris from Domaine Drouhin
winery in Oregon. What a light delight this white wine is! No
post-headache, no heaviness -- feminine in fact!
The next dish consisted
of four magnificently tender mussels served with a Marinière
garnish. A wonderfully light garnish of white wine, cream with
a tad of tomato was poured before my very eyes from a mini teapot-like
creamer onto the now floating mussels. I never eat mussels,
but if ever I have the opportunity to enjoy a mussel dish made
by Tjaco, my palate will be most pleased.
David Millman, managing
director of Domaine Drouhin shared in a glass of 2008 Chardonnay
Arthur -- named after one of the children of Veronique Drouhin-Boss,
the winery's great winemaker who oversees almost 124 acres of
land dedicated to the vine. The estate is located in the Dundee
Hills, 25 miles southwest of Portland Once again, I was surprised
by the lightness of the wine. Slightly tangy on the tongue,
the Chardonnay has a special effect that comes from the way
it is aged -- 50% is put into tanks, and the other half into
oak barrels. It was devoid of the flatness found in many white
told me the dish he was most proud of on the menu was the Coquille
Saint-Jacques. Indeed, this pièce de la resistance consisted
of a great dare: one raw scallop placed on hazelnut bread, hiding
melted Ganda ham from eastern Belgium and a melted paper-thin
slice of Parmesan cheese. A sweet cauliflower puree sat to the
side topped by a miniature freestanding piece of cauliflower
in the shape of a sail with little indents. Mustard and hazelnut
butter also went into this dish. But wait! Sitting diagonal
to this raw number was a single cooked scallop: wafer-thin crispy
on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. Another
surprise! What brilliant contrast -- to serve the two scallops
(one raw, the other cooked) while adding elements of hidden
surprises to be revealed only once the food is inside your mouth!
With this pleasure came Domaine Drouhin's 2008 Cloudline Pinot
Noir. David Millman referred to it as being sexy. It brings
full- bodied imbibing satisfaction. Once again, it was light
to the taste for a red wine. The is a classy wine, but not snobby
The meal ended
with a roasted filet of beef rondelle with carbonade reduction
which sat upon an equally rounded endive marmalade (textured
like cooked eggplant). That endive was delicious, as was the
sautéed one served on the plate. A little round frozen
cherry flavoured in sherry vinegar was sweetly pleasing too.
However, I did not care for the beef. Although extremely tender
-- by now a Tjaco trademark -- somehow it seemed misplaced on
the menu, with a tad hint of taste heaviness. This final dish
was coupled with yet another Pinot Noir (2007) cutely named
after Laurène, another child of Véronique's whose
great grandfather started producing wine in Burgundy, France
in 1880. Véronique is the family's fourth generation
The meal 'almost'
ended with an aged cheese made by the Chimay Monks and a sizzling
beer made by the Trapistes Fathers of the village -- an ale
for sure with 9% alcohol. The colour was a burnt brown -- really
appealing -- as was the dessert samplings of white chocolate
ice cream which looked (by coincidence I think) like a tiny
beluga whale. Under it were little crystalized chocolate sprinklings,
surrounded at each corner of the large plate by mini samplings:
a dark chocolate mousse, a chocolate milkshake, a chocolate
fudge cookie and one more chocolate treat. I'll keep that a
surprise. What a divine evening of superb cuisine. Chef Tjaco
Eijken, please stay in Montreal!!! There are plenty of fish
in our lakes.
Creates WOW Factor with Sauces
French-born (La Vendée) master chef is a bundle of personality,
down-to-earth charm, saucy humour
and huggable warmth. Chef Thierry started cooking when he was
14. His immersion into the French cooking circuit gave him well-seasoned
restaurant experience as a 'cook' -- as he puts it. He honed
his skills in such places as Anjou, Chamonix, Mont Saint-Michel,
even the Basque area. He also served the top guns in the army,
cooking for the military brass in Orleans for an entire year.
Then in 1978 at the age of 19, Thierry took an about face turn
and headed off to Chicago where he worked as sous-chef for three
years at the now defunct La Fontaine Restaurant. So what does
an ambitious chef with food flare do? He flies off to the City
of Angels; Los Angeles welcomed him in at Seven Street Bistro.
Creating his own unique imprint, experimenting with all the
various dishes he had come across in his life inside a host
of kitchens, matching flavours and mixing them -- essentially
doing all kinds of magical things -- is what has made this chef
the Leonardo di Vinci of sauces. They are truly the best I have
ever tasted -- so tantalizing yet subtle in taste and texture;
heavenly, in fact.
The epiphany for
this chef happened in Seattle. He purchased Rover's Restaurant
-- a 1910 gem of a house that he renovated, thereby making something
new out of something old. He also owns Luc, a French American
neighborhood bistro named after his dad who passed away five
years ago. Rover s, which boasts his North West Contemporary
'concoctions' with a French accent, has been wowing foodie fans
for the past 25 years. Such success has a lot to do with Thierry's
attitude towards food. "It has to be good, real, not at
all pretentious or exaggerated." Referring to the fine
dining edge Rover's has, Thierry remarked: "I do not want
to serve just a piece of beef or fish, I am totally interested
in what accompanies it, the sauce is extremely important. I
believe in layering the flavouring, and it must be delicate
in taste and texture."
I was ready to dig in. Inside the trendy restaurant called,
Les Cons Servent, Thierry prepared a 6-course menu. I found
each dish breathtaking in presentation and taste. His starter
called 'Oeuf Brouillé' consisted of a miracle: A perfectly
rounded hole at the top of an egg was filled with a scrambled
egg mixture bathed in a fresh cream of lime, and topped with
caviar. Wow! Thierry told me the entree is his trademark at
Rover's. Indeed, it is wonderful. Then a beautiful consommé
was served. It consisted of oyster mushrooms lightly smoked.
Thierry claimed it was a classic dish in France, yet as an invited
food journalist landing and living it up in Lyons, then moving
far beyond the gourmet capital city to try different regional
food fare, I had never come across such an outstanding consommé
mixture. It was his ingenious Asian-flavour touch that changed
everything, I imagine; after all Seattle has many Asians living
The next 'starter'
was wild salmon from Alaska, and once again I was wowed by the
supple sauce of vermouth and ginger. A puree of potatoes along
with the sweet and delicate parsnips slipped over the tongue.
But then there were tiny bits of texture in this sauce -- veal
feet that were pleasantly surprising.
Simon, one of Les Cons Servent's three young owners, is an expert
sommelier and importer of over 100 wines. He stocks them all
in his popular east-end Montreal restaurant. He paired the salmon
with a Ramato, Channing Daughters 2010, Long Island (Hamptons)
red wine. Its slightly tangy taste is due to the ten days of
fermenting it goes through. It's a brash kind of wine in a fun
way, so it added kick to the salmon which I found to be a tad
overcooked. But its sauce really benefited the fish.
Following the salmon
was médallion of venison 'des Appalaches' -- combined
with brussel sprout leaves, musquee butternut squash and seared
foie gras -- all basking in a black pepper sauce that I couldn't
get enough of. I ended up using a spoon to finish off this delectably
supple sauce. The flavour was fit for a king, and adding to
the excitement was a fabulous red Rôtie Cellars, 2000
Northern blend from Walla Walla, Washington. This was a stand-out
that went perfectly with the venison.
Three cheeses then
were eaten: blue cheese, tomme and Grey owl goat cheese. Being
a lover of goat cheese, I can't express my uber-satisfaction
with the Grey Owl. The cheese came with a honey mustard sauce;
to be enjoyed solo or in combination. The woody tasting red
wine Frederic had chosen for the cheeses was a good choice:
It was a Pinot Noir, En Gedi, La Bête, 2009 En Gedi from
Oregon. Ein Gedi (real spelling) is one of the most inspiring
natural settings in Israel, and indeed, this wine was utterly
original in taste. I am sure its moniker is in reference to
brought a plate whose centrepiece was a rectangular chocolate
fudge square topped with a tall, skinny waffle-wafer. Lower
down was a blood orange and caramel passion fruit mixture set
off with a stunning meringue. A sweet Ratafia, Single Cask,
Janisson-Baradon 2009 was offered by Frédéric
for me to imbibe. The menu finale was indeed, an embarrassment
of sweet riches!
All these marvelous
culinary creations showcased Thierry's terrific talent for layering
harmonious flavours in ways that turned the ordinary into the
extraordinary. He is a relaxed chef, and his restaurant reflects
that. It's a place for gourmet cuisine to be enjoyed without
phoniness or fuss. Twelve years ago, his wife bought him a straw
panama-type hat. He wears it all the time. It has fittingly
given him the moniker: "Chef in the hat." Hats off
to you Thierry Rauureau!
Eating and Laughing Define Ridi's Spontaneous Chef
may not know this, but Calabria is the inspiration behind Chef
Peppino Perri's cuisine; and from a young age
he was always watching his mama cook up great home-fresh healthy
food. Those aromas -- veggie inclusions and recipes for sauces
-- would reappear decades later in varied ways when Peppino
landed in Montreal in the 1960s and began making dishes that
boasted simplicity with great flavour. With gusto and confidence,
he lifts ingredients to their fullest potential; and he does
it by merging the traditional with his own creative imagination.
I suspect he is always trying something new. The results produce
a robust cuisine. He is not afraid of seasonings, often doing
what what others dare not do.
got a taste of this throughout the entire dinner. Who would
think that ravioli would be far better when stuffed with guinea
fowl? It seems like an odd combination, but was it ever good.
This number came with an underlying sauce of shiitake mushrooms
and Parmigiano Reggiano which I found to be a tad thick and
salty. Another starter proved a delightful surprise: stuffed
crab cake. Wow! The soft texture and the taste offered great
pleasure. Furthermore, its underlying tasty sauce of ketchup,
mayonnaise and Tabasco really enhanced this little square crab
cake. I wanted more.
winner was the grilled shrimp -- satisfying in texture and taste.
But there was one snafu here. Although I found the accompanying
risotto stunning in its bright yellow colour, it had a hint
of the medicinal; maybe it was a case of saffron overkill. I
did love that combination though of shrimp and risotto. I would
go back for the shrimp. Then I was served a fabulous tender
dish of octopus slices. Peppino,
the consumate chef explained: "I get them tender by boiling
the octopus for an hour and a half. Then I grill it and mix
in olive oil, basil, tomatoes, cucumber and red pepper."
I hesitated at first. Even in Greece, I won't eat it, but I
have to say, chef Peppino created succulent ever-so-tender slices.
It was served with polenta and a pleasing Mediterranean sauce.
Diverse and exciting!
feature in particular really impressed me about this chef, and
I suspect it is a Peppino trademark: Behold the parade of brilliant
colours and the artistic presentation! This is what greeted
my eyes with each successive dish; and it made for a seductive
veal was tasty and tender too, but the accompanying broccoli
and green string beans sat sadly on the plate. The former --
bitter and watery -- the latter too dry. But by now, I was full.
the superb dessert of homemade amaretto ice cream, a shooter
of heated cream with sambuka and strawberries plus a tiramisu
cake -- all resting like temptresses on one plate -- just about
did me in. It was decadently delicious!
Boucher, the really attentive and fun maitre d' (he's also a
rock guitarist) paired some of the dishes with interesting wines,
but my favourite was the dessert digestif, Passito Liqoroso,
coming from Pantelleria, an island off Sicily. It is made from
sun dried muscat grapes. It was similar to the sweet wine from
Samos Island in Greece.
in all, it was a great evening and I did do a fair bit of laughing
and a lot of eating, thanks to this very colourful chef with
his wonderful approach to Italian cuisine and life in general.
Peppino was listed among 30 chefs responsible for changing the
face of dining in Montreal by Gastronomie Weekend.
He has written a cookbook that is selling faster than the flip
of a pizza (not on his menu -- by the way).
his name ring a bell with you? You may have heard about Peppino
through his famed restaurant Le Latini. For 18 years he brought
joy to loyal clients who ate his fine-dining Italian dishes.
Then he brought his culinary creations to Westmount when he
opened up Sapori Pronto. He was there for 12 years. In fact,
longevity is the key to this chef whose boyish grin reflects
the ambiance of Ridi, his latest restaurant. It is connected
to Montreal's Merirdien Hotel. "Ridi in Italian means laughter.
That is what I want for people coming here. To enjoy everything;
be relaxed and have a great time as they eat." On Ridi's
menu it says: Living, Friendship, Eating, Drinking and Laughing."
offers spontaneity on any given night. "I will plan a menu,
but I may change something on it the last moment or add something
new, or give a client a variation if he requests it," said
the affable Peppino.
loved the informality of Ridi, yet its design and colours of
red, green black, beige deep rose and white spoke of chic. The
lighting and those curving banquettes of leather are so comfy.
Then I realized this place resonates his cooking style: take
the traditional and make it modern yet simple. Ridi, with its
cool simple contemporary decor and fabulous colour schemes,
appeals to those wanting classic Italian fare with contemporary
flare served in a unique comfortable setting.