Two 3-star French chefs explain their quest for quality; La Mere Blanc
| Vonnas, France
Narrow, winding, country roads lead to the lovely village of Vonnas, colorful with flowers trailing over window boxes at the edge of the little bridge to one of the most excellent small country auberges of France.
Chez La Mere Blanc as it was called until recently, has belonged to the Blanc family for four generations. The building overhangs the willow-swept Veyle River and has retained all the charm of a French village inn with the added creativeness of George Blanc's cooking.
The Blanc family are legends in the area. Although his mother, grandmother, and great grandmother are famous for their cooking, 38-year-old George is the inventive young cook today, and his wife Jacqueline is the maitresse de maison.
George was born in the auberge where his mother was famous for her chicken in cream and her frogs legs in butter. It was hard having your mother as boss he admits.
His cooking combines the native Bresse traditions with the principles of the new cuisine so the menu includes both his own dishes and the traditional dishes which his grandmother and mother created and which brought the restaurant its first two stars. His inventiveness earned the third star last year.
Side by side on the menu you will find poached Bresse chicken in heavy cream or the same chicken lightly sauteed with vinegar and served in its natural juices.
My lunch started outdoors on the garden terrace where we were served snails in pastry. As we walked around to the dining room we could see the kitchen through a window. A helipad is hidden by shrubbery behind the building.
Chef Georges Blanc believes in using fresh foods in season and his menu includes many regional dishes and excellent fish dishes.
His specialties include Bar de ligne a la mariniere (Sea bass in a sauce with shallots), Petite bouillabaisse aux crustaces (Mediterranean stew with shellfish), and Crepes Vonnassiennes (Potato Pancakes).
Across the street from the inn a small shop holds a variety of items for sale , all with the Georges Blanc label. There are jars of white asparagus, snails, jams, Villeroy & Boch dishes, vinegars and oils; they are also available by mail order.
La Mere Blanc is a most attractive little inn with overnight accomodations and excellent food.
This recipe, a favorite at La Mere Blanc, is well known and is an example of the ability of the chef to make a sophisticated dish from a common vegetable of the region. Elizabeth Ortiz includes it in her book, ''Cooking with the Young Chefs of France'' (M. Evans & Co., $15.95).
Mrs. Ortiz recommends the crepes with the main courses of meat and poultry, with a little sugar as a dessert, or just by themselves. Crepes Vonnassiennes (Potato Pancakes Vonnas Style) 1 pound potatoes, peeled and quartered 1/2 cup milk 4 tablespoons flour 6 large eggs 1/4 cup heavy cream Butter
Cook potatoes in boiling salted water to cover until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain thoroughly, steam to dry over low heat for l or 2 minutes. Mash or puree, then add milk. Chill thoroughly.
In a food processor or blender, combine potato with flour. With machine running add eggs one by one, then stir in cream. Beat batter until very smooth. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if necessary.
In heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon butter; when foam subsides, pour in about 1 tablespoon of batter, or enough to make a 3-inch crepe. Cook over moderate heat until brown turning to brown other side.
As they are cooked, transfer to a dish lined with paper towels and keep warm. Add butter as needed.