Splitting the Strawberry and other Great Dishes

News has been/is swamped by misfit dictators whom seem intent in remodeling themselves on myself, by tempestuous ladies called Emily & Irene as well as some of the problems one encounters when trying to get dependable room service in New York’s hotels.

Who, I ask, can compete with all that ? Clutch a glass, stay motionless & indoors. Shake your head occasionally. Perhaps invest your last €’s in reserve supply’s of wines for pure – & instant – pleasure.

I think, Summer passed, that I may have found a morsel left by a banker. Hold the back page.

It all started while reading an article in the Guardian – yes I know, but it is one of the few remaining UK newspapers with traction, substance & grip – on the closing of El Bulli. This enjoyable piece of writing ended with its author suggesting & wishing that we could all now move on, or possibly return, to the simple but noble pleasures of eating & drinking. She said something to the effect of  ‘it would be nice to have something on ones plate in restaurants again’.

Well, Paris is my starting point for that not so elusive plate of abundance, but I was pulled up short in my confident stride to the table by the restaurant critiques SnR* of the moment. With Fernand Adria safely eclipsed, there seems to be a movement underway to unearth his successor. Preferably & understandably in Paris. This ladies wishes may yet go unheeded. As I discovered, not without amusement, interest & undeniable pallet pleasure, the temptation to cross the room to serve two halfs of a ‘Mara des Bois’ strawberry can be greater than the wish to satisfy our understandably famished Guardian journalist.

This journalist will be welcome at Macéo where our new chef, Maître Park, is playing to her wishes while quietly developing new twists that are best described as ‘Culinary Subversion’. Maître Park, a native Korean, has spent more than a few years working alongside some of France’s most respected chefs & perhaps because of this experience manages not to achieve the obvious conjured up in the mention ‘Fusion’. Park’s culinary offerings most definitely do not resemble experiments reminiscent of molecular collisions.

There is no obvious violence in his carefully thought out preparations. In fact you may not even be immediately aware that subversive work is quietly at play in the kitchens of Macéo. “Circulez, il y à rien à voir”.

So what, I hear you ask, happened to Thierry Bourbonnais, Macéo’s great chef for the last 8 years ? Thierry, like many chefs I have worked with over the last 30 years, is to open his very own restaurant. Soon. I have absolutely no doubt that he will enjoy a long & successful career as patron-chef & wish him all the very best. He will be opening his restaurant in Crosne. When you find out where that is, please tell me !

No mention of ‘new’ would be complete without welcoming the soon to be not so Hidden Kitchen of the dazzling American couple, Laura & Braden, out into the lights of the Rue Montponsier. They are poised, on 3 floors & just 3 doors down from Macéo, waiting to open ‘Vertjus’ in the place of  ‘Alfred’ – just across the road from the Theatre du Palais Royale. See ‘Paris by Mouth’ for upcoming details on this & other essential morsels.

Finally, my great friends Juan & Drew are battling with shadows to complete their latest restaurant across the Rue de (in)Seine from Fish. Le ‘Temps Perdu’ which has done a great job making them do just that, is going to open some time in November under a more fortunate name. Just don’t quote me.

*sniff & rave

Macéo’s Secrets – The Vegetarian Side

Actually, though this is not widely publicised, Macéo has offered a vegetarian menu – with choice – since more or less the day we opened in 1997. Born from a simple wish to kick back against an ingrained discrimination prevalent in the upper echelons of French Culinary excellence, as well as more or less anywhere else you cared to look – excepting the brown food alleys that only people classified as desperate would seek out.

I wished the restaurant to do a SGJ -seriously good job – in the ‘alternative’ cuisine we offered our guests. To my mind it makes little sense to treat ones often charming, perfectly delightful vegetarian guests like second class citizens. At Macéo we eliminated the need to ask for ‘something special’ with the embarrassed look of a trouble maker. The ‘Vegetarian Option’ is small but important part of what we do. Quite well.

Back in 1997 with our  first chef, this undertaking was a momentous struggle, similar to asking an architect to construct a Grand building without any structural materials. In the mind of Macéo’s otherwise very capable chef of that era, vegetables were simply garnish & respectable culinary creations necessarily depended on central, preferably noble ingredients, to be admitted onto a menu worthy of the name. Poulard de Bresse, Agneau de Sisteron, Homard de Bretagne…products worthy of a great chef. I resolutely stuck to my position, but I am forced to admit, being denied a satisfactory result back then. Patience can be a taste one acquires.

To the question ‘if it is French, can it be vegetarian?’ the answer seemed to be ‘Non’.

Thierry Bourbonnais has accepted this challenge with a very different approach since 2004, finding the notion hugely stimulating, embracing it rather than hoping the problem would be tossed into the proverbial stock pot. Our Menu Vert is now genuinely popular & not only when it offers black truffle & baby potatoes! It’s ongoing success can be measured in the number of menus ordered, or in the wide range of people who, sometimes surprisingly, choose this option, or simply by the effect of contamination it has had in our immediate vicinity. Thirteen years is a reasonable test of time.

Thierry has recently been working with the respected Nutritional & ‘Anti Age’ specialist, ElyaneLebre, concentrating still further on nutritional balance with culinary creations that notably increase wellbeing, which we see as the next frontier.

Do I need to add – without detracting from their ‘qualités gourmandes’ ?