Cook Like a Frenchman
A Michelin star-quality meal for under 10 bucks? It's possible if you cook it yourself, and Jesta Digital shows you how with the launch of its digital-only publishing group, Alta Editions. The premier title "Laurent Gras: My Provence" features recipes, beautiful photography and social media interaction neatly designed as a Web application for use on iPad, Mac or PC. Also included are instructional videos from Gras himself. The handsome Frenchman will walk you through culinary tasks from emulsifying a vinaigrette to searing garlic-roasted côte de bœuf in an obscene amount of butter. This isn't a cooking guide but food porn.
Mitchell Davis, the book's recipe editor and vice president of the James Beard Foundation, calls Gras "the most famous chef that nobody's ever heard of." Maybe, but those in the know are keenly aware that the former chef of Chicago's L20 - where he earned an unprecedented three Michelin stars in 2010 - is a master of French technique and modern interpretation.
For Alta's first edition, Gras returns to his Provençal roots with a collection of dishes that pay tribute to his childhood on the French Riviera.
"These first experiences taught me how to cook, and they also taught me how to honor the local ingredients that were the inspiration for the recipes of the Riviera," Gras says. "The cuisine of Provence emphasizes freshness and seasonality. Buying ingredients and cooking food is a daily routine that is necessary for the well-being of the locals."
While the dishes may seem rustic, Gras and Davis are meticulous in their instruction. Preparation of a radish salad reminds you, as if you were a child coming in from the playground, to wash the spicy root vegetables before slicing them thinly on a mandolin. Cooking potatoes for gnocchi is a two-step process, involving boiling and baking to ensure light-as-air dough.
Despite his careful approach, Gras says that food should be honest. "You must work with flavors that you know, ingredients that you know, food that you know. Of course to grow you must always experiment, but when it comes to a final dish, you have to really understand what you are doing before you can serve it," he writes.
For those of you who think tinkering a dish into oblivion is a good thing, Gras begs to differ: "When something tastes good, then you must stop. It's not going to get better if you cook it longer or add more. When it is done, it is done. That takes a lot of confidence. Food is about confidence. And that comes with focus." Yes, chef!
"Laurent Gras, My Provence" is available at www.altaeditions.com ($10).
Laurent Gras' Chocolate Mousse
Want to master a classic French dessert? Gras offers EDGE readers a sneak peek with an indulgent, easy-to-make treat that will be the perfect end to your next dinner party.
For the mousse
½ cup water
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup sugar
4 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, a minimum of 70% cocoa, chopped into small pieces
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
For the garnish
¾ cup heavy cream
½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1. Put two inches of water in a large saucepan to create a water bath, set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Combine the water, cognac or brandy, cocoa powder, sugar and chocolate in a small saucepan. Place the small saucepan in the simmering water and let sit for three or four minutes, until the chocolate has begun to melt. Stir with a whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Thoroughly wash and dry the whisk.
2. Transfer the chocolate mixture into a medium mixing bowl to cool. In another bowl, whip the heavy cream until it holds its shape on the whisk, just before stiff peaks form. Beat a couple of spoonfuls of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, and then add the rest. Stir until the cream is totally incorporated into the chocolate. Pour the mousse into a serving bowl and chill for two to three hours.
To make the vanilla-flavored whipped cream, split and scrape the vanilla bean into the heavy cream. Add the sugar and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. In a chilled mixing bowl, whip to form soft peaks. Place in a piping bag fitted with a star tip, if using. Chill.
Once the mousse has set, arrange the raspberries on top of the mousse. Decorate with whipped cream or serve the whipped cream in a bowl on the side. Serves four.