I’ve done it again and again. In the gourmet capitals of the world…Paris, London, Tokyo, New York. Tasted the emblematic dish of the seventeen Michelin starred maestro Alain Ducasse’s culinary philosophy. A symbol of “sincere cuisine”– a harmony of flavors– that is both respectful to the environment and to health. And that too in restaurants located in the world’s most legendary hotels. I refer to the cookpot…Alain Ducasse’s world renowned signature dish He serves up seasonal vegetables from the local terroir cooked in the cookpot. And this seemingly simple pot is used from the stove to the table.
It’s truly a “sensual” dish with an aesthetic that cradles and caresses the food. It’s almost feminine and womb like and Ducasse’s inspiration for it is from his grandmother. “We must restart from the beginning, where the true tastes are […] the technique here is to reveal the flavour of nature,” announced this maestro many years ago. And this simply superb and superbly simple dish has a basic recipe which is the same across all of Ducasse’s restaurants, with the mushroom duxelle and at least seven local, seasonal vegetables. The pot itself is a design masterpiece that is contemporary and nostalgic ( created by Pierre Tachon it owes it’s attractive curves and perfect proportions to porcelain manufacturer Pillivuyt)
Over the years I’ve been getting high on the cookpot in Ducasse’s restaurants around the world.
Be it London’s Dorchester, Paris’s Plaza Athenee, these finest of all hotels are reputed for infusing into their essence the glamour, excitement, and creativity of the people who have been regulars here.
Today I share with you my most recent taste of this dish in three memorable venues.
PARIS :LUXURIOUS VEGETARIAN WOWS
Please take a look at the photograph, shot in the gleaming kitchen of Paris’ most stylish address Plaza Athenee, which serves up the best of the best. Including Alain Ducasse’s shimmering temple to gastronomy which has the gardener’s name on the menu and serves only vegetables, grain and fish. Luxury drips in 10,000 Swarovski pendant-like chandeliers and it is here that I’ve had the most fabulous meals coddled by immaculate service and brilliant attention to detail.
On this recent trip I not only had the most exceptional was fixated on Ducasse’s brand new book on vegetarian cooking (which the gifted Chef Romain Meder is holding along with the dynamic chief of the Dorchester group Francois Delahaye).
GOD HAS COME TO LONDON…Dorchester
“God has come to London” swooned critics when Ducasse set up in London’s legendary landmark The Dorchester. I’d first dined at Ducasse’s newly opened restaurant and went back several times again. Here reality is more luxurious than fantasy. Amid the cloud, surrounded by a luminiscient oval curtain, Id gotten high on the classic French-driven menu I still remember the tastes and textures of the “delicate soft Royale of greens” a glorious medley of vegetables with an ever enlarging circle of freshness. And of course that cookpot, heady and perfect.And I still marvel at how the grand hotel continues to tango with high octane young energy.
BREAKING NEWS…On the River Seine
Its making international waves. It’s an unrivalled Parisian experience. And its has just been launched. It’s a floating masterpiece of Paris history and landmarks. It’s been overbooked since it opened and it took planning ahead to get a table here.
I’m on board the brand new super luxurious restaurant “Ducasse sur seinne” that has just opened and is making international waves. As the Eiffel tower sparkles on the hour of eight, Captain Ulysee Boar and Ines Ioudidi flag off our luxurious meal. Luxurious dining gets redefined. Sailing & Feasting on Parisian landmarks and emblematic French food too. Serenditpitiously we are sailing past my favorite Alexanders bridge when my favorite vegetarian Cookpot is served up. The specially-created, single-serving cocotte, delicious with spelt and violet artichokes is memorable. All created in the bespoke kitchens which sprawl on the lower deck Champagne sparkled the beginning of the dinner. And a parade of dishes sashay in as the silent electric boat glides to music. The meal meanders from the delicate Foie gras pâté to the Chocolate crispy praline accompanied by the finest wines, a symphony of the best French Crus. All this amid lighting by Franck Franjoy from lunar cold to candle warm, a coddling of music and sound and uberfab interiors. And ooh! that cookpot…and yes! the maestro has very generously shared the recipe with me, should you need it, please do mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Please take a look at the photograph, shot with France’s most revered Michelin-starred maestro Alain Ducasse in his iconic restaurant’s gleaming kitchen. The focus is their brand new book on vegetarian cooking which the gifted Chef Romain Meder is holding. When I researched and wrote the Worlds first vegetarian guide to Paris (published by The Times of India) this gleaming glittering Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee took center stage. It has the gardener’s name on the menu and serves only vegetables, grain and fish. Aptly ensconced in Paris’ most stylish address Plaza Athenee, it continues to offer the best of the best. Including the most luxurious breakfast in the French capital, which is what the dynamic chief of the Dorchester group Francois Delahaye, St Petersburg’s brilliant restaurateur and ballerina Matilda Shnurova and I were luxuriating in when we got to know that Alain Ducasse was in the kitchen. He is unstoppable, his brand new restaurant in a super luxurious electric boat was even more exciting than dining on the Eiffel tower. But that’s another story!
SUPERFOODS & SUPERSTARS
It’s a dream come true. Contradictions are getting reconciled,What invaluable combinations!!! Gourmet food with health. Luxury with medical facilities. I’ve been there, done that, but very rarely found these amazing pairings. But, here they are: in the throbbing heart of Europe’s fashion capital of Dusseldorf ( rivalling Paris & Milan ). And that too in it’s iconic two century old landmark , Breidenbacherhof . No! it’s not a medical spa, but one of Europe’s oldest most beautiful heritage landmark hotels, beloved of royalty and superstars from Prince Albert to George Clooney and it has it’s very own state of the art medical “Preventicum” and Pearl of the Aesthetic too
CHEF AND DOCTOR
No! it’s not a health restaurant.. It’s a landmark gourmet destination. My discovery begins with The “Superfoods” menu and a chat with the dapper dynamo Cyrus Heydarian (who helms Breidenbacherhof, ever since it reopened ten years ago.) I learn at a rapid pace as I eat slowly, relishing every morsel. The committed Chef Philipp Ferber who apprenticed in the Black Forest area (known for it’s gourmet cuisine) works in tandem for many of his dishes with the brilliant Dr Baumgart of the medical Preventicum (also housed in the stately Breidenbacherhof). He creates dishes which are good forthe heart, for etox, for diabetes et al and general well-being too.. And in the gourmet restaurant he offers 20 dishes made out of superfoods.
Ofcourse, we all know what superfoods are: well-tried natural products with a high content of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which have a positive health effect due to their nutrient density. But, did you know that? Pomegranate good for detox, can also keep blood sugar levels stable?
Or that watercress in combination with jogging or physical exercise causes the sweet hunger to diminish? Chia seeds Goji berries Honey Mulberries and many other superfoods are used in many of the dishes here.
Please take a look at the photo of the accompanying dish. It is a miracle package for detox (pomegranate) , for the kidney (beetroot) , and heart (watercress) and the chickpea has excellent protein. And ofcourse the starcast of vegetables has invaluable vitamins and nutrients. Not only do all these work together but taste good too. I request Chef Ferber for the recipe here it is…
Recipe for 4 people
- 250g chickpeas • 80g sesame paste (Tahini) • 60ml lemon juice • 60ml olive oil • 2 garlic cloves, pressed • 2 liters of water • 1⁄2EL salt • 3EL beetroot granules
- 8 baby carrots • 8 small white turnips • 2 pcs. beetroot boiled and diced • 50g pistachio kernels • 25g dried pomegranate seeds • 1 bunch of watercress • sea salt • smoked oil
Soak chickpeas, in water. Overnight. Then simmer chickpeas in a pot of fresh water for an hour. When soft, put into food processor with the sesame paste, lemon juice, olive oil, water, beetroot granules, salt and the two pressed garlic cloves. Until a smooth puree is produced. Rest puree in fridge. For the topping baby carrots and turnips (cleaned and boiled in salt water) and tossed in smoked oil. Arrange as shown in photo.
STATE OF THE ART AND HEART
Not only are the dishes state of the art, the service state of the heart, but their medical Preventicum, is both and is presided over by the highly respected and internationally recognized cardiologist Dr Dietrich Baumgart. Cyrus Heydarian not only hails from a doctors family but was brought up on the finest gourmet food. And to top it all, he also worked for more than a decade with the owner of the largest most prestigious chain of medical clinics.. and once again my learning continues.
At Preventicum you can have cardio check-ups, medical examinations, Performance Diagnostics to measure the overall endurance and performance, energy metabolism during physical stress et al.
And the highly experienced Dr Baumgart advises that while nutrition is very individual, as one grows older, one should not snack thru the day, but should drink lots of water, reduce animal protein, eat more vegetables and look after the mind and soul too. .
Not only has Dr Baumgart been to an Ayurvedic retreat in Kerala but recommends it along with all his high tech state of the art metabolic balance and blood and body composition analysis. Cyrus Heydarian makes time to do his regular checks at Preventicum in the midst of his high-profile job and travel. He not only always insists on biological ingredients being used in his hotel and home but also seasonal ones. Skiing, swimming jogging and most importantly eating right help keep this superstar hotelier and doctor stay ahead of the curve. Superfoods make superstars.
Its a treat to watch culinary history in the making and to get a taste of it too. Here in Berlin, in the large historic hall, high tech sound and light shows are spinning magic and the heart of it all is revolutionary excellence, a dialog oven that is not only being unveiled but also cooking for us. Food forward thinking is being celebrated by the superstars of gastronomy who have flown in to congratulate Dr. Markus Miele. Hélène Pietrini, Director of the prestigious World’s 50 Best, Ana Roš, The World’s Best Female Chef 2017 sparkle the landmark gastronomic event. Oh! The joys of being a food writer!
Here in Vienna, I’m in sweet heaven. I am eating the worlds most famous cake, the Sacher torte for breakfast in the magnificent Hotel Sacher where it was invented. The original Sacher Torte’s (celebrated since 1832) recipe remains a well-kept secret. A chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with the finest apricot jam, sublime with whipped cream. It was Eduard Sacher’s (founder of the Hotel Sacher) father Franz Sacher who invented the Sacher Torte, the rest is yummy history. I dine in Austria’s best restaurant “Steirereck”, attend a Mozart Opera, learn Viennese waltz, soak in the coffee culture and raise a toast to beautiful Vienna…with a Mozart coffee of course.
This is it. It doesn’t get more mind-blowingly creative than this. Or more exciting. Or more international. I’m with a wild bunch of globally acknowledged geniuses in the breathtakingly beautiful Upper Austria mountains. The superstar chefs have flown in from all over the world, be it Rene Redzepi of Noma (Copenhagen) David Chang of Momofuku (New York) Virgilio Martinez ( Of central, Lima) May Chow of Little Bao Hong Kong, and a dozen more. Equally renowned artists, musicians, scientists, thinkers have flown in from all parts of the world. And we’re about to get a taste of innovation and creativity.
Is it about food? Is it about music? Art? It’s all this and more. Its “Gelinaz.” The curators Andrea Petrini & Alexandra Swenden are, in essence, ’agit pop’ curators of a culinary hub that is pushing boundaries.
It’s a world wide think tank of avantgarde chefs performing food and remixing each other’s dishes like in a DJ set giving form to culinary happenings where art, music and cuisine fusion in unexpected and improvisational ways.
Its an amazing space, where food is not just cooked but performed, boundaries pushed, new cultures discovered and knowledge exchanged. All this while zooming in on the beauty of nature.
P.S. The dress code is an unusual one, “Leave your high heels behind but bikinis and bathing trunks could come in handy, since being an outdoor event, it’s advisable to drape some cashmere too.” I’m all set. Oh! The joy of being a food writer..
Russia surprises. And how. Firstly, it is glamorous and rocking and young. And the young modern Russian cuisine is equally vibrant. Even the so called Russian food has distinct French influences (during the Tsarist regimes). Here comes the biggest surprise…there are plenty of options for vegetarians. I research these threadbare in Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi (Caucasian Riveria). Would you believe there is a sattvik, no-onion, no-garlic restaurant in St Petersburg? Its ten years old and run by a Russian woman.
And yet another surprise…due to the prevalence of Russian orthodox Christianity, Russians do not eat meat for six months a year. And remain mainly vegetarian.
But most of all, it’s Russia’s dashing, brilliant young chef Vladimir Mukhin who symbolises the sign of the times. The dynamo multi-talented 5th generation chef creates delicious original masterpieces he makes magic. White Rabbit, his aptly named restaurant is the first restaurant in Russia to make it to the World 50best restaurant list for 3 years. I absolutely love the way his dishes look like food from the future, but have traditional tastes of the past and are made of only local products. I love his young, provocative, experimental contemporary Russian cuisine. And yes he not only has a vegetarian menu but also a vegan option!
Its an amazing opportunity. I’m not only in the home-country of this supreme epicurean pleasure, but also in Russia’s only caviar restaurant where Russia’s only full-time vodka sommelier and most knowledgeable caviar master Alexander Dmitriev offers caviar master-classes.
I learn it all.. the very basics.. only fish eggs produced by the sturgeon fish (a prehistoric huge fish) can be called caviar to the types, preservation, history, telling fake from real. etc.
I taste the finest Beluga (made from the Beluga fish of the sturgeon family) caviar, it has the largest grains, is creamy, has a fishy flavour, of seaweed and even walnuts. I do a vodka and champagne pairing. I sip and taste Russia’s history in its 142 year old grandest historic landmark…Belmond Grand Hotel Europe.
I serve you a taste of Russia’s magnificent history and cuisine and with it a peek into our Prime Minister Modi’s most recent abode in the stunning St Petersburg. It’s awesome. It is Russia’s largest most beautiful Presidential suite and this is where our very own Prime Minister Modi stayed last month. It sprawls under a dramatic domed gold-leaf ceiling, has its own grand lobby and antique Carl Schroeder grand piano too. Two bedrooms, a private fitness centre, kitchen and this antique rosewood dining table under the magnificent handblown crystal chandeliers where we shot the photograph. In the past 142 years of it’s history, it has played host to global superstars, Hollywood movie moghuls, presidents and royalty. Bill Clinton, Whitney Houston, George Bernard Shaw and many more. The great Russian composer Tchaikovsky (my all time favourite) honeymooned here in the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe. This most iconic landmark has been witness to the history of the stunning St Petersburg. Its Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau building is now classified as a historical monument.
RUSSIAN VEGGIE WOWS
It is here in this icon that I get a taste of Russian history, art, culture and food. Here is the surprise…also vegetarian food. Which of course would please our very vegetarian Prime Minister to no end. The multi-talented Chef Ian Christopher Minnis ensures the finest gourmet dinners here. He also oversees the amazing plethora of restaurants here. From St Petersburg’s most gastronomique L Europe restaurant (serving authentic Russian masterpieces) to the legendary caviar bar to the new Asian restaurant Azia which also serves some Indian dishes and has an Indian chef Dev Kathait. I do a tasting of their Asian vegetarian (including delicious dal, kababs and tandoori) in Azia. And request them for a second taste of the most amazing creation of pumpkin dimsum and he is kind enough to share the recipe of the very traditional Russian Borscht soup (pure vegetarian). Chef de Cuisine Larisa Kordik conjures superb dishes (tandoor, steam and wok cooking techniques) and Ekaterina Vasiljeva not only helps translate but also coordinates everything seamlessly.
Beetroot 160 gms/ Cabbage 120 gms/ Onion 20 gms/ Carrot 30 gms/ Vegetable Oil 50 gms/ Vegetable Broth 800 gms/ Tomato Paste 15 gms/ White Wine vinegar 5 gr/ Sugar 25 gr/ Black Pepper 0.5 gr/ Bayleaf 0.5 gr/ Lemon 5 gr/ Garlic 10 gr
- Clean & cut carrots, onions ( julienne ) and sauté in vegetable oil.
- Add cabbage as well, ( the cabbage should be cut into julienne the same way as the carrots and onions. Gently sautewithout color to the vegetables.
- Add tomato paste to the mixture, and gently saute a little further until it is not bitter.
- Blanch the beet root in the skin until it is fully tender
- Peel the beet skin and shred through a food processor, or Slice in thin long strips, (Keep beet juice and add to soup just before serving.
- Add vinegar,vegetable broth, stir and stew. Add the bayleaf& shredded beet root. mix
- In 5-10 min till ready, add salt, sugar and spices.( lemon and garlic)
- Do Not boil hard as the color will disappear.
What better place to learn about and do a caviar tasting than in the home-country of this supreme epicurean pleasure? And even better in Russia’s only caviar restaurant, Caviar Bar & Restaurant, which serves only the best caviar with ice cold vodkas you won’t find anywhere else in the world. And I am fortunate to do so under the tutelage of Russia’s only full-time vodka sommelier and most knowledgeable caviar master Alexander Dmitriev.
Their menu boasts 15 types of caviar, 12 Dom Perignon vintages, 35 types of vodka and 15 varieties of distillate.
What is caviar? Interestingly, like only sparkling wine made in France’s district of Champagne can be called champagne, only fish eggs produced by the sturgeon fish can be called caviar. Russia’s been eating caviar since before the 14th century. The real black caviar comes from the sturgeons ystick. And this large fish (the biggest is Beluga) lives in the Caspian sea, Siberia and Sakhalin .
Caviar differs in colour texture and size depending on fish AND how it is produced. I learnt all about the production methods of production and preservation(which determine the taste and price of caviar)
Am dazzled by the types of caviar black caviar…sturgeon/ albino caviar from an albino sturgeon. Sturgeon fish family…Beluga fish is the biggest (oldest prehistoric fish) and has the biggest grains. Oscietra fish (16 types) Sevruga Sterlet (smallest grains) and Bester are the main varieties.
I taste the finest caviar, it is creamy, has a fishy flavour, of seaweed and even walnuts. It is intense creamy and not too salty. Is non pasteurised and made by the traditional method. I do a vodka and champagne pairing with it too and end up sipping and tasting Russia’s history in its grandest historic landmark…Belmond Grand hotel Europe.