Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Weekend Lunch and Pommes Souffle

I was not sure what Chef Fabrice thought when I actually took up his offer to teach me to cook in his kitchen, but I was pretty excited. A few months ago I was at his restaurant Caprice at the Four Seasons Hong Kong when a bowl of Pommes Souffle appeared as the side dish to our main course, and I was fascinated by the taste and texture.

He might have been caught by surprise when I complimented on this seemingly straight-forward nibbles, out of all the wonderful dishes that were served that evening. After all Pommes Souffle is just sliced potatoes deep-fried and turned into a puff-shape "snack", probably not the most glamorous dish in French cuisine. "Just come to my kitchen some time and I can show you how it's done", he half-jokingly told me then. So just as the festive season was approaching, I decided to hold true to his "offer" and asked whether I could drop by one weekend morning to learn, coinciding with our lunch plan at the restaurant with a couple friends.

So here I was, on a Saturday morning, barging into what I think is one of the most beautiful restaurant kitchens, and Chef Fabrice was there already waiting for me with the mis en place set up and ready to go for my impromptu cooking class. I did my little due diligence the night before by reading through the article by the legendary Herve This, who explained the science behind this classic dish in one of his books - something to do with the starch content and the repeated deep frying created this interesting phenomena, turning a flat slice of potato into a puff.

The preparation steps for Pommes Souffle were known to be tricky and time-consuming, though it's not evident when Chef Fabrice showed me the first time. Just peel, cut and slice the potatoes into oblong shape, deep-frying in two pots of oil in different temperature while shaking and stirring, and in a few minutes they were mysteriously turned into perfect golden color, crisp and puffed like a balloon. They can be made in advance and freeze well - just need a quick re-fry before serving.

When it's my turn to put on the apron and try doing it, I realized it's not as easy as it seems. At first trial I could't even work the mandolin right and made a mess! Then one of the key steps was to shake or stir the pot rigorously to keep the potato slices moving constantly inside the deep-frying oil - that required a bit of skills as well, especially I don't wanna burn yourself with hot oil. At the end with a lot of guidance from Chef Fabrice (and Jonas his sous chef) I did manage to make a few decent ones out of the batch, but just like everything, it will definitely take me many more rounds of trials to make them consistently presentable on my own.

That's only the beginning of my fun day at Caprice that morning. I left the kitchen just on time for the restaurant kitchen team to get on with the final preparation for the lunch service, and a few moments later, returned for our lunch at the familiar dining room. And the meal was nothing short of being magnificent. When I picked my dishes from their winter weekend lunch menu, I was reminded that my main course choice of wild boar parmentier was extra rich, and it's delivered as promised, exactly the way I wanted with the strong gamey flavor from the well-stewed meat matched with soft and creamy celery root mousseline served on top.

We also loved a few off-menu dishes that were brought our way throughout the meal, much to our delight. That included the small bites of gnocchi served with plentiful black truffles shaved on top by Chef Fabrice himself, and of course, a bowl of Pommes Souffle which I thought was extra tasty in my biased mind. Plus we had a good time catching up with friends in a leisure setting over delicious food.

Thanks chefs and the Caprice team for this nice cooking experience, and I promise I will show you what I have learned one day - just give me a few more months to practice, and you can hold me true to this.

When? December 19 2015
Where? Caprice, Four Seasons Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Braised Wild Boar Parmentier, Celery Root
Champagne Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs Prestige Brut NV (magnum)
M. Chapoutier Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche 2014

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