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!
Back to school…studying, upgrading and updating one’s knowledge is crucial. And to do it in the best of the best is exciting. And that too in Paris, the worlds gourmet capital. The second half of our course is in the land of champagne, at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne.
At Hautes Etudes du Goût (Advanced Studies in Taste) multidisciplinary training programme I,m learning from the eminent university professors, researchers, experts, food professionals and even the revered Herve This, the father of Molecular gastronomy. We re focusing on the culture of taste, gastronomy and the art of fine dining. From going at 2 AM (yes!) to the worlds largest fresh produce market Rungis, Paris to paired, tutored food and wine dinners at Michelin restaurants and back-breaking 10 hour lectures on historic, scientific, economic and sociological aspects of gastronomy. There is a written exam tomorrow and a thesis to be submitted. Excuse me as I go back to my studies…
Im on a revisit here. After a fortnight of shooting my TV show (several years ago, for ET Now) in France it was only this stunningly beautiful historic chateau in Epernay that magnetised me back again.
And since I’d already shot at the Michelin starred restaurant here, this time I dine at the resolutely modern setting of the brasserie Le Jardin which dazzles. It is a true emotional break for two Michelin starred Philippe Mille, here he plays the childhood memories card to our delight, casseroles, fancy combinations and the taste of superb local produce accompanied ofcourse by fine champagnes. Along with the charming knowledgable locals Edwige, Romain and Camille we raise a toast in the region of Champagne with champagne to the dynamic owner and many generations of Laurent Gardinier’s family who ensure that Domaine LesCrayeres continues to ooze French charm and character.
Please take a look at the accompanying photograph (shot amid mountains, an hours drive from Paris.) I’ve shot it on this snowy morning after having just taken an invigorating dip in the outdoor hot Norwegian tub. Had a delicious organic breakfast (with the home made jams on freshly baked yeasty bread). It’s all part of “Echo” the philosophy of well-being which runs through it’s beauty and lifestyle organic products and food in Chateau de Sacy, this beautiful castle on a hill in the midst of vineyards. Chef Nicolas Christoforretti, infuses his cuisine with the culinary richness of the Champagne district. And the lovely Tiphaine Brossier ensures a seamless experience. I get high on this whole new aspect of wellness as I do on nature, art, history, culture and ofcourse champagne. After all I’m reporting from France’s Champagne district where not only is the king of wines and the wine of kings made, but where thirty three French kings were crowned in the UNESCO heritage jewel of a gothic cathedral. Sante!
The Parisian night is thick with excitement. I could cut it with a knife and pop it into my champagne glass I raise a toast to this 250 year old historic treasure that has recently been reborn to global applause and been making headlines ever since. We’re dining amid this contemporary palace’s architectural riches of the 18th century which have been transformed into state of the art 21st century modern French art de vivre.
We re at the tiny intimate jewelbox L’Ecrin, Hôtel de Crillon’s gastronomic restaurant. Id met the young and brilliant Chef Christopher Hache several years ago and he is in my book “A vegetarian in Paris” (A Times Group Books publication). Here’s the exciting bit…next day I attended the prestigious Michelin Guide awards and applauded him receiving his very first Michelin star. So once again Crillon is hitting the headlines. Kudos to our very own superstylish, superstar hotelier Radha Arora who as President of the international group has been spearheading this transformation. As we feast on Chef Hache’s masterpieces of flavour and texture, Im delighted that my young friend, entrepreneur and pastry chef Pooja Dhingra could join me at short notice (thanks to Instagram). Pooja has been seamlessly and continuously delivering Parisian styled culinary experiences in India. Inspirational journey… from working out of a tiny kitchen at home, to three stores, a café, two books and the 31 year old has exciting plans ahead. We nibble the night away as chef Hache continues to dazzle and the ever charming Pierre Jung ensures we have the perfect flawless French gastronomic starred experience. After all we’re in the world’s most excitingly luxurious modern day palace with an 18th century soul.
All my senses are being pampered here. If there is paradise on earth, this is it. This is it. Not only is the sun-soaked, glamour drenched south of France, breathtakingly beautiful, the historic Chateau St Martin in the 35 acre park the pinnacle of luxury but even it’s chef conjures up food that is as wickedly delicious as it is wholesomely nutritious.. Like the original detox egg that maestro chef Jean-Luc Lefrançois (please see photo) has innovated and evolved over the years. Infact, as the ever-helpful Geraldine Maiale explains as she translate, he has a whole Detox menu that dazzles, be it Carrots flavoured with lemon balm or Carpaccio of pineapple and kiwi.
All this in the site dating back to Roman times and which a little later played host to the Bishop of Tours in the year 350 A.D. and kept his name from that time on.
In the stylish restaurant I trip out on delicious masterpieces while overlooking the stunning views of the South of France. Every square inch of Chateau St Martin bristles with style and comfort. And chef Jean-Luc Lefrançois’s exciting background, be it in gastronomy or in sport ( champion of triathlon, skiing and biking) has me thrilled. Even more, because he has shared the Recipe for his famous “Detox Egg” should you want it please instagram, tweet @rashmiudaysingh email firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m excited. I’m learning at a very fast pace. I’m also luxuriating in all the deliciousness of the experience. I’m in France, my most favorite country and that too in Picardy (where France was born), right next to Paris. I have so much to share and a space constraint, so am going to serve you, small DID U KNOW bites.
DID YOU KNOW…FRANCE WAS BORN IN PICARDY? And this in 486 when Clovis made Soissons the first capital of the Franks, in 486, and later Hugues Capet, was elected king of France at Senlis and crowned at Noyon in 987.
So you see how this past makes Picardy the original French region?
DID U KNOW… WORLD-FAMOUS CREAM CHANTILLY WAS INVENTED IN THE 17TH CENTURY ? The bowl of cream you see in the photograph is no ordinary cream, it’s the stuff dreams are made of. It’s velvety, it’s silky, its Chantilly. It takes it’s name from the domaine of Chantilly which is part of the regionof Picardy. I not only get a delicious taste of the crème Chantilly in it’s birthplace but also watch it being whipped into the magical snow that it is. It was first created herein the royal banquets centuries ago by the famous ood maestro Vatel. Its in the picturesque cottage-like Restaurant du Hameau (in the grounds of the castle) that I taste the authentic version. Along with Olivier and Lucie not only do we eat up the creme Chantilly (with strawberries) but I also go back In a horse carriage (this is the equestrian capital of France) and in the luxurious yet cozy Auberge du jeu de Paume hotel’s spa, actually have a chantilly cream massage. This is what I call, “having my cream and eating it too” . it sure is the world’s crème de la crème!
DID YOU KNOW… THIS FAIRY TALE LAND IS NEXT TO THE PARIS AIRPORT?
Not only is Picardy a fabulous fairy tale region but (hold your breath) it is located twenty minutes away from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. It’s also within one of the largest most beautiful forests of the Paris region. Im just about getting over these pleasant surprises, when like in a fairy tale, the Chantilly castle seems to rise out of the tranquil lake. I zip through it’s finest French collection of ancient masterpieces, (second only to the Louvre) Picardy has carefully preserved the elements of true French lifestyle – medieval châteaux, typical French villages, spectacular seaside resorts, gourmet food, stunning cathedrals, cultural treasures, champagne routes, romantic gardens, and not to forget a certain French art de vivre…
From taking a boat ride on the Floating Gardens, to riding Europe’s most sensational roller coasters at Park Asterix, I do it all
DID YOU KNOW … DESI FOOD PAIRS WITH FRENCH CHAMPAGNE ?
More suprises…not only does French champagne pair brilliantly with Indian food, but I do an actual tasting of both together. And that too in the historic, medieval cellar of Champagne Pannier. Even though Ive done a lot of TV shoots for my show in the Champagne region I had no idea that the Champagne Tourist Route runs through the Picardy region. A walk through with the champagne expert in the Pannier medieval underground cellar is an amazing trip into history. The guided tasting of the exquisite champagnes is equally amazing. But what blows my mind is how the French not only pair their precious champagne with Indian kababs and curries but also make an effort to do so for us Indian visitors. And this premium champagne is served in the l’Elysée Palace (French President’s house) and Air France Business Class too.
Over centuries, Art in every form has been nurtured in Picardy by kings and queens and llustrious families. Creative geniuses have from Vatel, organiser of extravagant banquets for Louis XIV, to Le Nôtre, creator of magnificent French-style gardens have been celebrated here. Continuing this noble tradition the elegant luxury hotel, Auberge du Jeu de Paume, keeps the flame of this tradition burning with its gourmet restaurant, Michelin starred La Table du Connétable.
Arnaud Faye honed his skills under the superstars of gasronomy fromMichel Roth at the Ritz, Thierry Marx at the Mandarin Oriental and is now a superstar himself. He serves up a mix of innovative ideas and revamped classics, celebrating terroir ingredients and traditional know-how. From Adour salmon façon Bearnaise to crispy ravioli stuffed with green peas.Each dish is a masterpiece. Picardy pampers in every way.
Here, in Paris, the global capital of gastronomy, Michelin-starred chefs dazzle. Each one conjures pleasure. The three-starred maestro, author, Eric Frechon, knighted by President Sarkozy has been on the top of my list of favourites. I’ve been tasting his creations from the time President Sarkozy used to come from across the street for Chef Frechon’s creations. Elysees palace is located diagonally opposite the most exquisite Parisian palace, Le Bristol where Chef Frechon weaves his magic. Celebrating it’s ninetieth year this timeless palace has hosted Charlie Chaplin, Picasso, Ava Gardner, Woody Allen et al.
It embodies the art of French living, offers discretion and luxury. I have an amazing meal at it’s brand new cafe Antonia (dedicated to Marie Antoinette), cant stop pouring over Eric Frechon’s landmark book, but it’s the pure vegetarian five course meal in their three Michelin-starred “Epicure” that dazzles. Gems of wizardry explode with flavour and texture, artichokes with pink garlic chips. Asparagus glazed with walnut oil, powdered egg,black truffle and more. Our meal ends with the priceless Nyangbo chocolate sphere, with it’s gold gilded sorbet. This starred restaurant is worth it’s weight in gold.
PASSION FOR PASTRY
Why would I, a dyed in the drool foodie be doing here in Los Angeles’ famed fashionable Rodeo Drive? This world famous glamorous designer boulevard continues to be the crowning shopping experience. Globally renowned for it’s luxurious high fashion, Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive magnetizes the rich and the famous with its super luxurious clothes, bags, shoes and jewelery in it’s super elegant stores. But in my view, None of that can compare with the luxurious patisserie that is igniting my passion. And this is what brings me here again and again.