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Archive for March, 2016

The celebratory dinner hosted by the French ambassador Florence Jeanblanc-Risler in Wellington on Monday night (21/3/16) was everything I love about French dining. Beginning with an aperitif and polite conversation, we moved to tables graciously set with a regiment of silver, and proceeded to work our way through an elegant procession of dishes representing the best of French cuisine.

The occasion was the launch of Goût de France, an annual event (now in its second year) that celebrates French gastronomy in various restaurants worldwide. It’s all about honouring the legacy of the greats – we toasted Carême, Escoffier, Vatel, Brillat-Savarin – and recognising the techniques and ingredients that remain the backbone of contemporary French cuisine.

In New Zealand eight restaurants are combining local ingredients with French inspired recipes this week (commencing 21/3/16) – Hippopotamus, Jano Bistro and Whitebait in Wellington. Bracken in Dunedin. Hopgood’s in Nelson, Kazuya and The Grove in Auckland, and Pacifica in Napier.

Each will bring their own style to the event. The Wellington menu  was fairly traditional, as befits an embassy occasion. The ambassador’s chef Fabien Le Gall worked with former embassy chef Veronique Sauzeau (now Le Marché Francais) and Laurent Loudeac (Hippopotamus Restaurant) on a six course menu beginning with consommé and ending with chocolat. French and New Zealand wines accompanied each course.

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Entrée of salmon, three ways

Laurent’s signature dish of Aoraki salmon served trois façons (ie, confit, tartare and wood smoked) was followed by a classic pot au feu (tenderly poached filet de boeuf in bouillon with ‘forgotten’ vegetables and a dash of truffle oil). It came with toasted walnut bread that was slathered with bone marrow and salt crystals – it was the perfect rustic counterpoint to the refined bouillon and I confess I had to dunk it. Discreetly, I think.

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Pot au Feu, filet de boeuf

The dessert was a degustation of chocolate – crowned for me by a dark chocolat ganache with a sliver of candied orange peel.

The cheese course was magnificent: an oven baked Mont d’Or with sautéed oyster mushrooms and crispy fried parsley to garnish.

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Baked Mont d’Or, Vacherin

We  broke through the crust and took it in turns to spoon the melted cheese on to our plates. It was unctuous. No one does cheese like the French.  Ripe and savoury, sensual, sophisticated – it was un vrai goût de France.

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…the end.

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Yesterday, at Old St Paul’s, Wellington’s restaurant community farewelled a much loved colleague, Pierre Meyer.  I’m hoping the Dominion Post is researching his obituary as I write this because he deserves to be celebrated as a much loved chef and restaurateur who made New Zealand his home and changed the face of dining in Wellington.

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Pierre’s Restaurant, drawing by Michael Fowler

When his eponymous restaurant opened in the late 70s on Tinakori Rd there were only 4 licensed restaurants in Wellington and all were fine dining establishments. Pierre’s was different. A French bistro housed in a refurbished wooden villa, it was at the forefront of a change to chic but casual dining. He served duck parfait, whole roasted poussin, delicate fish dishes, apple tarts and homemade glacés. It may not seem special these days, when ice cream is flavoured with everything from liquorice to miso, but back in the day Pierre caused a sensation with his kiwifruit ice cream. It must have stayed on the menu for as long as his restaurant stayed open, which is to say for many years.

Not many restaurants retain their popularity for as long as Pierre’s. Its success was as much to do with the man himself and the team he built around him as it was to his food.

The turnout at his memorial service was testament to that. The church was filled with his friends:  people who dined at his restaurant and attended his cooking classes;  people who worked for him, socialised with him and rubbed shoulders with him at food and wine events. His fellow restaurateurs were there too, representing a slice of the capital’s culinary history: Marbles, The Roxborough, City Limits Cafe, Boulcott Street Bistro, Brasserie Flipp, Cafe L’Affare. They were all there, along with one or two of us who used to supply them.

Dan and I owned a fresh pasta business back then. That’s how we first met him. We supplied him with  pasta, and it was typical of Pierre that he demanded the best and he demanded bespoke. I remember having to put our regular production on hold to make very small quantities of saffron fettuccine for him. It was inefficient, uneconomic and a pain in the neck to be honest, but he was so charming and so encouraging it was impossible to say no. And of course we were proud to have our pasta on the menu of an establishment that made almost everything from scratch.

We all had our Pierre stories yesterday. I never knew he was such an appalling driver. And I never knew he influenced a change to our licensing laws when a table of parliamentarians witnessed a raid on his restaurant. Close down Pierre’s? It was unthinkable. Rumour has it the law was changed the very next day. Thank you for that, Pierre. Thanks for everything.

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