Cranberries, maple syrup intrigue international chefs
When French chefs visit America, they often complain bitterly abou the lack of their wonderful creme fraiche, the local cheeses, tiny fresh vegetables and other typical French ingredients.
But the image of america's natural foods has changed, and it all started about the time that the famous chef Paul Bocuse admitted he carried Idaho baking potatoes as well as pounds of american beef back to Paris after his visits here.
And when he and other French chefs came to america for demonstrations and cooking classes, many admitted the kitchens they worked in here were as well equipped as those in France. They even admired some of the fresh vegetables and seafoods.
Today, French chefs visiting America have new respect for many of the native foods. Some are even creative with them.
French chef and Paris restaurant owner Deny Gentes is one of them. He cooked recently at a special dinner for food editors as well as at a three-months visit to the Vallauris restaurant in Palm Springs.
"Everybody said that with American flour, I couldn't achieve a first-class puffpaste," he said. "That's nonsense. It came out perfectly.
"Our brioches also were magnificent and the paper-thin almond cookies, called tuiles, were crispier than in Paris. Half the time we simply bought our flour at the local supermarket," he said.
Deny was one of the great chefs of Europe and an American chef from Washington, D.C., who prepared a special dinner using American ingredients for newspaper food editors at their annual conference in Minneapolis this year.
Each course was cooked by a different chef and featured one or more native American foods. As a departure from many dinners cooked by world famous chefs, none of the ingredients were brought from Europe.
Anton Mosimann, maitre chef des cuisines of the Dorchester Hotel, London, was one of the chefs for the American dinner, sponsored by Ocean Spray Cranberries. Mr. Mosimann, who has won many awards, recently received two gold medals for his individual entries at the 1980 Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt.
Others preparing the american dinner were Deny Gentes, Parisian chef, owner of Clodenis; Robert Vifian, Vietnamese, whose Tan Dinh Restaurant won the Marco Polo prize in 1979 for the finest Oriental restaurant in Paris, and Mark Caraluzzi, 29-year-old food director and part owner of the american Cafe Restaurants, washington, D.C.
One of Deny Gente's popular dishes when he first came to cook in the US war calf's liver served in a brioche with a mustard sauce.
"The calf's liver was superb and not expensive," he said. "I made it with your 'alf and' alf cream."
This he finished off with a sweet and sour sauce of cranberries and raspberry vinegar. It was such a success he has since served it at his Paris restaurant, Clodenis.
Deny does not think his compatriots have all the answers. "At the Vallauris, the young French on the staff showed less motivation and interest in what was going on in the kitchen than the Americans did.
"All the American waiters came to the kitchen offering to help so they could see what I was doing and how," he said. "I'm sorry to say the French regarded their work simply as a job.
"The american cooking students who come to France, on the other hand, are serious and hard workers. Many practically beg for an apprenticeship at the Clodenis. What I found in the US was that people were excited by quality. They have imagination and are willing to work."
Regarding American food, the young chef said there was much in America he would like to explore.
"I'd like to taste real gumbo and fried chicken, and Tex-Mex food."
In California, Deny was captivated by guacamole, doughnuts, chocolate chip cookies, and the asparagus "which you can eat from one end to the other. Asparagus tips would be wonderful in a terrine de poissons with a buerre blanc," he suggested.
"I like your bluefish, too. It resembles our fresh tuna, and it could be treated the same way -- sauteed and simmered with garlic, parsley, and crushed tomatoes.
"America has all the necessary products," he said, "but you don't seem to make the most of what you have. Perhaps it's because everything in the country is so huge -- the mountains, the Grand Canyon.
"Maybe that is why you let the vegetables grow too big, not realizing that smaller vegetables are more tender.
"American cooks go in for too many shortcuts. Nothing is more simple than making your own mayonnaise," he said. "And why buy bottled salad dressing when it is so easy to make your own vinaigrette."
Deny Gente's Clodenis is one of the fine small restaurants of Paris. Located in the Montmartre, he opened the restaurant when he was 24 after his Army service as a cook for a general. In the first of this year, he opened a second, more informal restaurant, Le Maquis, a few doors away from Clodenis.
Chef Gentes is an exponent of the nouvelle cuisine in his approach to food preparation, and he is concerned with appearance as well as taste.
"Looks count," he says. Anything that looks good has to taste better."
His first experiences cooking here convinced him that in america he could reproduce the same refined cuisine he practices in France more cheaply and better.
Thirty-three-year-old Swiss-born Anton Mosimann started at the elegant Hotel Dorchester as first sous chef in 1975. Four years later he was named maitre chef des cuisines of the Dorchester's huge kitchens with its staff of 100.
In the US he has been guest chef at the Hyatt Regency in Houston and the Beverly Wilshire, Los Angeles.
Chef Mosimann feels that what Americans can learn from European chefs is "basic cooking." "Before you can make variations, you must master the classical, the right way to poach, braise, and roast. Depending on the element, for example, poaching liquids are different.
"Americans don't go through the meticulous apprenticeship we do. The schools are good, but going to school is not enough.
"My advice to any aspiring young chef is to make a three-year apprenticeship in the kitchens of a big hotel or restaurant and during the same period, to spend a day a week in school.
"More attention should be paid to the presentation of food. It should be arranged according to color and texture without ever overloading a plate."
In his vast kitchens at the Dorchester, Mr. Mosimann uses either tins or frozen products nor microwave ovens. Any preserves are done on the premises, in the manner of a trhifty Swiss chef.
"Mostly I believe in fresh food cooked properly. Then in can be fantastic."
Anton is in love with the american breakfast, particularly the buffet breakfast which he enjoyed in Houston and Dallas.
"The cereals, the eggs and omelettes the chefs prepare in front of you; the good sausages and the abundance of fresh fruit. . . pineapple, papaya, mango, strawberries and blueberries. A very good experience."
Like most everyone else from abroad, he is partial to US beef and regards Americans as champions of the barbecue. He is enthusiastic about soft shell crabs, oyster stew, clam chowder and pompano, a new fish to him.
"The lobster is good but mostly I found it overcooked," he said. His method is to boil it in a court bouillon for three minutes. He then allows it to cool in the liquid after which he removes the shells and gently reheats the meat in melted butter.
Chef Mosimann has brought back maple syrup to London's Dorchester, offering it to guests not for pancakes, but with English scones. He also became acquainted with cranberries in America and now buys them regularly for the hotel.
"It is a fantastic berry in many ways with its beautiful color and it is neither too sweet nor too sharp." he said. He has featured it in souffles and in his home-preserved marmalade at the Dorchester breakfasts.
"What we Europeans can learn from the Americans," he added, "is the friendliness of all the people who serve you."