Paris: Good To The Very Last Pit
The other day, when I was working with Yves Camdeborde in his kitchen at Le Comptoir, he told me that he was taught that “the best chef is the one who can use the leftovers.” (Or, put another way, “The best chef is the one who has no leftovers.”) Of course it made me think of that wonderful tomato-peel dish I’d had at his hors d’oeuvre bar, l’Avant-Comptoir.
Then, working in my own Paris kitchen with my friend Alice Vasseur — that’s Alice and moi in the top picture — we made her Sweet Cheesecake Tart for a video with David Turecamo (like Yves and his Tuna and Mozzarella Pizza, Alice had given me the recipe for my new book) and I debated throwing away the unneeded egg whites because I wasn’t going to be cooking much in the coming days. Alice was rightly horrified: “Make financiers!” she urged. And so I did.
I’m usually pretty good in my kitchen. I try to channel my inner French great-grandmother and make sure that the odd bits find a tasty home. And when the bits are vegetal, I collect them for soup or the compost bin (which explains how a pumpkin plant showed up in my garden this year). It’s not much, but what I make is usually satisfying and I feel great when I turn something that might have been tossed into something that can be enjoyed.
But mine are the efforts of a piker. The gold-star for taking shells and peels and pits, bits and bones, mixing them with a tremendous of imagination, skill and humor and coming up with things that are startlingly delicious, is Daniel Rose, whose latest incarnation of his restaurant, Spring Paris, is the most sought after reservation in town.
Daniel’s kitchen is entirely open, so that each of the (only) 20 diners can see the chef, his right-hand, Marie, and the small staff in action. But even though everything is in full view, the magic is still hidden: it’s in Daniel’s head and on your plate. This dish of perfectly-cooked sweetbreads in a cucumber broth boldly seasoned with lime, came to the table ungarnished. Then Daniel walked over and poured a little jus around each plate and announced, “Jus de ecrevisse, a little preview of the second part of this dish.”
And minutes later, out came the crayfish (ecrevisse). Asked about the jus, Daniel said, we got ecrevisses from a new supplier, so we were playing around and had shells leftover from one our experiments. The pairing of warm sweetbreads, slightly cool cucumbers and crayfish was remarkable and the jus pulled the dish together.
But here’s the leftover trick I liked most and am most likely to adopt – peach syrup. Sadly I don’t have a photo for you (and sadly this photo isn’t so good either) – it was the side-dish to this dessert: apricot puree, intensely vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of cardamom caramel and a dusting of crumbled sable. The side dish was a teensy cup of raspberries floating in an only faintly sweet peach syrup. And here’s the fun part: it was handfuls of peach pits that gave the syrup its lovely flavor. Make a light syrup of sugar and water (you can use half as much sugar as water, or even less), toss in the pits (if they have bits of peach stuck to them, so much the better), bring to a boil, simmer and allow to infuse.
Marveling at his ingenuity, Daniel and shrugged and said, “The pits are nothing compared to the pea skins.” To make a smooth pea soup, Daniel removes the peas from their pods and then blanches them (boils them in salted water for seconds and pops them out of their thin skins. Seeing the pile up of peels, so bright and green and ruffly gave Daniel an idea: that night, each filet of sole was decorated with row of pea skins!
And I thought I was clever when I stir-fried the leftover pods …