Monday, March 26, 2007

End of an Era

Philippe in action

I catered my last party with Philippe de Vienne on Friday and what a night to remember! Before I had Noah, I was working with PdV full time as an assistant caterer, helping him on big projects or sub-contracting small ones. I’ve been back a few times to help when he’s been particularly busy and needs an extra hand in the kitchen. This was my final opportunity to work with him as he is closing his catering business and moving on to other projects.

Things have changed in the past few years for Montreal’s best traiteur. He now owns two hugely successful stores at Jean Talon Market, Olives & Epices and La Depense:epicerie du monde, he has a radio show, appears regularly on TV, and he is also working on a cookbook! All that combined makes for a very busy chef and after 30 years, he has said good bye to his faithful clients and has closed his catering forever. I was fortunate to be able to work with him. He is a true master of the kitchen and is undoubtedly the best chef I know.

A 35 lb Halibut marinates in a coconut, mint and coriander masala as it awaits the oven.

I have to recount to you some of the events of this last party that we did! No names, of course, to respect to privacy of the client, but I did manage to take a few pictures amid all the excitement, even though they don't do the dishes justice.

Big, Big, BIGGER! were the instructions from our client as they welcomed 100 people into their gorgeous Upper Westmount home and everything we did was lavish and over the top, from the oyster bar featuring $1000 worth of succulent shellfish, to the gourmet lobster and foie gras ‘hot-dogs’ with porto sauce. Champagne was slurped by guests lingering around the grand piano in the salon, while in the kitchen we steamed mounds of tender young asparagus and roasted off dozens of quail in a rose petal sauce. Here are just a few of the dishes from that night.

We served an enormous haunch of Elk (background of photo) encrusted in a Red Wine and Sandalwood rub. This was the jaw dropper of the evening as people tried to wrap their minds around the sheer size of this great Canadian beast. One fellow remarked to his friend while he waited for his piece:
"Isn't that the biggest leg of anything you have ever seen?"
To which his friend replied:
"Well....I've known some dancers..."
I had to bite back a laugh, as I did when a New Yorker loudly proclaimed:
"This is the first time I've ever had elk. Now I'm addicted to it! Who knew?"

PdV actually had an elderly lady exclaim that that was the biggest chicken she has ever seen! He didn't skip a beat, but solemnly asked her if she would like white or dark meat, a comment he later confessed he was quite tickled with.

In the foreground of the photo is roasted Lobster Tails with a White Chocolate and Lemongrass Hollandaise. By far, one of the most divine and decadent sauces I have ever tasted. People were swooning over this dish and kept coming back for more. One gentleman asked me if it was OK if he took two lobsters and I said sure, lots of people were.
"OK, I'll take three then." He said. Classy.

My favorite dish: Vij's Marinated Lamb 'Popsicles' with a Fenugreek Cream Curry.

This is actually a signature dish of Vancouver chef Vikram Vij, who is also a good friend of Philippe's. It is included in his brilliant cookbook, Vij's Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, but you, dear reader may find it right here on UtHC.

Cashews in a Coconut Curry. They're always the favorite part of the traditional chicken and cashew curry dish, so why not make the whole dish out of cashews? Pure decadence.

This was my baby, a massive halibut with a spicy coconut and mint sauce. I had fun serving it. People are so funny/fussy about fish.
Gentleman: "Is that goat?"
Me (dying to laugh): No, it's halibut".......(noticing he still looks confused)...."FISH."
Gentleman: "OH!!I didn't know fish came without scales."
I didn't get to photograph the desserts, but this was the cheese. An entire wheel of Brie de Meaux and a slab of aged Stilton. Mmm. For dessert there was a fluffy champagne sabayon with fresh berries, a rich flourless chocolate cake, creme brulé with spices and vanilla, a compote of stewed dried fruit and Syrian pastries.

After a 15 hour day, I was exhausted, and as we sat around the kitchen after the guests were long gone, sipping port and eating slabs of Brie with raisin bread, I realized that this was the end of an era for me. For Philippe, for the cater-waiters, for all of us. People were snapping pictures, exchanging emails, business cards and hugs as we prepared to go our separate ways. It had been a fun run over the years; it had had it's ups and down, but was always interesting.
Perhaps this night had been the best of them all.

Vij's Marinated Lamb Popsicles with Fenugreek Cream Curry


For the popsicles:

  • 2-3 French cut racks of lamb (with the bone cleaned down to the chop)
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ¼ cup grainy yellow mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the Curry Cream:

  • 2 tbsp. crushed garlic
  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 litre whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp. dried green fenugreek flakes (known as 'kasuri methi')
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp. paprika

Cut the racks of lamb into the 'popsicles' by slicing the chops in between the bones. Mix the white wine, mustard and salt together in a large bowl, then add the popsicles, turning to coat them on all sides. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

In a separate bowl, mix together the whipping cream, salt, paprika, cayenne, fenugreek flakes and lemon juice. In a medium-sized, heavy pot, saut? the crushed garlic in the canola oil. Once the garlic is golden in colour, add the turmeric, stir and heat for one minute. Add the whipping cream mixture, stir and heat on low to medium heat for a few minutes. (the water in the whipping cream will evaporate, thickening the sauce. If your heat is too high, the cream will separate.) If making the sauce a day ahead, let the garlic mixture cool completely, then add to the cream mixture and refrigerate. Thicken the sauce close to serving time by heating gently.

Grill the popsicles just before you are ready to serve your meal. You can either pour the cream curry over the grilled popsicles or use it as a dipping curry for them.


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