Tennis and truffles mix with today's cuisine at Troisgros
Roanne, France — When you step into the Troisgros establishment it is not unlikely that tennis will be the subject of first importance, running a close tie with food as the main subject of importance.
There are tennis cups and winning trophies on the wall in the lounge of the three-star Hotel des Freres Troisgros. And in the huge kitchen a bulletin-board lists people on the staff scheduled to play tennis in their own tournament.
Jean Troisgros plays tennis with as much enthusiasm as he handles a whisk or a chef's knife, for he does all his own preparation with incredible ease. He and his brother, Pierre, have been doing so for over 25 years.
The extraordinary brothers have an extraordinary restaurant with impeccable food and service, extraordinary warmth, and an exciting kitchen.
They are in the group of chefs who made nouvelle cuisine famous with their talent, individualism, and special respect for ingredients.
They grew up in their father's restaurant, located across the street from the railroad station, and it was their father who insisted on 10 years of classical training.
Both received it at the restaurant Lucas-Carton in Paris. Paul Bocuse also trained with them and the three worked at La Pyramide in Vienne for the great Fernand Point.
There they began developing the experimental ideas that resulted in the lighter cooking style that has changed French cooking in restaurants from the provinces to Paris and beyond.
As with all chefs who trained with Point, the emphasis is on quality of produce, but the Troisgros, along with Alain Chapel, are perhaps closest to the land.
Many of their dishes are of peasant origin, such as pigeon roasted with whole garlic cloves and their famous salmon with sorrel sauce. This dish started a new surge of interest in sorrel sauces, especially for fish, in restaurants all over the world.
They did away with the showy tableside serving performed by headwaiters, which often meant the food was cold by the time it was served.
Instead, they thought the chef should serve the food he had prepared, and they introduced large serving plates on which to arrange food and sauces in the best way.
The new cooking rejects unnecessarily complicated dishes and overly elaborate sauces. In many cases a sauce is placed on the plate first so that it is beneath the food, rather than covering it as in the past.
Foods are not cooked as much now -- duck breast slices and medallions of lamb are often served rare. Salads include cooked slices of meat.
Sauces are definitly lighter, usually eliminating flour and depending more on reductions of natural juices and broths or on vegetable purees.
Presentation is very important in the French cooking today and the oversized dinner plates are ideal for a kind of culinary art borrowed from Japanese tradition.
While I talked with Jean the next morning in the luxurious kitchen, it was easy to see that although the dining room is warm and attractive the kitchen is a complement to the high culinary standards of the house.
It is a beautiful, although functional, institutional kitchen, not windowless and closed-in as most are. It is large, open, light, and airy. There are chilled drawers, sinks running the length of the room and thermostatically controlled electric cooking surfaces.
We talked about cooking, both French and American. Jean posed a question.
''Why don't American chefs cook American foods and cook them well, rather than importing foreign things -- mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables?''
''There are wonderful foods in the United States - why does everyone ignore it in preference to foreign foods?''
Perhaps their most famous dish of all is the Mosaique de legumes truffee, which is a cold layered loaf of vegetables with truffles. This started a trend in vegetable terrines in restaurants around the world.
''The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean & Pierre Troisgros'' (New York: Wm. Morrow & Co. $12.95) contains many of their recipes which come very close to the flavorful simplicity of the cooking of French home cooks.
The Troisgros restaurant is expensive, as are all three-star French restaurants. But the resulting satisfaction is expressed well by Richard Binns in his English guidebook, ''French Leave,'' when he says, ''You leave Troisgros feeling richer than when you went in, whatever you pay.''
The following recipe has been adapted from one of the Troisgros vegetable terrines. Vegetable Terrine (Terrine de legumes ''Olympe'') 8 ounces young string beans 10 ounces shelled fresh peas 10 ounces small, new carrots, peeled 6 medium artichokes 1/2 lemon tablespoon butter Filling: 1 pound jambon demi-sel (substitute Virginia ham) Juice of 2 lemons 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 2 egg whites 1 cup imported French peanut oil 8 vine leaves, bottled Uncooked Tomato Sauce, recipe follows Prepare vegetables and blanch in boiling salted water. Allow 5 minutes for beans , 1/2 minute for peas, and 8 minutes for whole carrots. Drain, chill in ice water, drain again, and place in refrigerator. Trim artichokes, wipe with lemon, place in casserole side by side with l tablespoon melted butter and cook over low heat 10 minutes. Add salt and water to cover. Cover casserole with wax paper to fit top, recover, bring to simmer and cook slowly 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size. Cool, drain, remove chokes. Chill thoroughly. Chill blender or food-processor parts. Cut ham into tiny dice. Chill about 30 minutes then place in food processor with lemon juice and seasonings and blend briefly. Add egg whites and blend well. Add oil a little at a time. If filling becomes warm, return to freezer to chill. Oil a 6-cup Pyrex loaf mold. Rinse and drain vine leaves and drape on bottom and sides of mold. Cover the bottom with a thin layer of ham filling, then arrange neat rows of carrots over it. Add another layer of filling, then the beans, packed together tightly in one layer. After another layer of ham, arrange artichoke bottoms, cut in half, as close as possible. Add more filling followed by an even layer of peas. Finish with ham filling. Fold leaves over top and cover with buttered wax paper. Set in a pan of boiling water and bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees F. Cool in the water, then chill 8 hours or overnight before unmolding. To serve pour a ladle of tomato sauce on each of 4 cold plates. Carefully cut terrine into 3/4 inch thick slices and arrange them over the sauce. Have a spatula handy to catch each slice as you cut it and transfer to the plate. Add a garniture of a few extra string beans, scattered at random and serve at once. Serves 4. Uncooked Tomato Sauce (Sauce froide a la tomate pour Jean Yanne) 1 1/4 pounds tomatoes 1 rounded teaspoon tomato paste 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar 1/4 cup imported virgin olive oil 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh tarragon 1 to 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
Choose ripe, freshly picked tomatoes. Blanch 10 seconds in boiling water then plunge into cold water. Peel, cut in half and squeeze out seeds. Push pulp through a fine sieve, pressing with a spoon. Refrigerate puree.
At the last minute, add tomato paste and vinegar to tomatoes. Mixing continuously with a wire whisk, incorporate oil a few drops at a time. Add salt, pepper, tarragon and parsley.
If fresh tarragon is unavailable, substitute fresh basil.