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Food

The Way to a Woman's Heart...

Posted by Amie / November 11, 2013

Chef Louis-Francois Marcotte at La Guilde Culinaire for Samsung Canada's Passion for Fresh EventI recently had an "intimate cooking experience with top chef Louis-François Marcotte." If you're Anglo you don't know who that is. If you're francophone, you do. If you're over the age of 40 you're in love with him. You might be in love with him if you were younger, but he's married with kid, so don't admit it if you are still in love with him, because you'll never win. So at a media event called Passion for Fresh put on by Samsung Canada to show off their new fancy cooking range that lets you cook at two different temperatures at once, and warms dishes in the drawer below, I didn't plan to be seduced by Marcotte, the guest chef for the evening.

If seduction's your thing, though, considerate chef Marcotte gives you the opportunity to seduce someone else in his most popular cookbook, «Sexy: Cuisiner pour deux», which came out in 2009. It's a little risqué for the grandmas who love Ricardo, with chapters entitled "First Date," "Tonight, you score," and "Breakfast the morning after," but according to Marcotte it's his best seller. He has five cookbooks, by the way. And a couple of restaurants. Well, he used to, before the TV shows and cookbooks. Now he just has one out at the airport, where he goes maybe once or a twice a week.

Actually, I'd never even seen an entire one of his shows, bad Anglo that I am. He's probably not about to hire me to be a researcher. But at least I knew who he was, at least. I have been in Quebec long enough to a) speak pretty good French, and b) recognize French chefs that are my gluten-free bread and lactose-free butter--writing-wise, that is.

So I get to La Guilde Culinaire in the Old Port and the dining room and kitchen are all set up to have us media types chopping away followed by elegantly enjoying our treats. The menu: coconut squash soup with curry paste, green apple, and cilantro, followed by seared duck breast on bulgur and squash risotto with baked Parmesan tuiles. Homestyle and gourmet. Quick and easy.

He seemed harsh and efficient straight off, Marcotte. He wasn't buttering us up. He wasn't going to suffer the fool next to me who was busy slugging complimentary Prosecco and joking with a knife in his hand. You never joke with a knife...

"Who wants to cut the squash for the soup?" asked Marcotte. Needing to get away from the guy who should never have been given a knife or an annoying smile, I volunteered. I can handle a squash. The catering kitchen helper in me kicked in and I kept my head down and my mouth shut for awhile while he showed me how he wanted the squash cut. And I did it. That is, I kept my mouth shut until I had to pipe in. Someone asked about curry paste. Marcotte was explaining that there are a bunch of brands you can buy in cans and jars. I bit my lip to keep my tongue from flapping. It wasn't my place to say how easy it was to make your own. It was Marcotte's show.

I started cubing the squash, figuring it'd be a puréed squash soup. Ah ah ah...Marcotte needed them diced small. He did a good job of not getting angry, but I could see that I'd been working for him in a kitchen I would have been in big trouble. Now I had to make everything painstakingly smaller. "Oui chef," I thought but didn't say, nodding seriously on the inside, trying not to flush on the outside.

Somehow the tables had turned. Wasn't he the one supposed to impress me? Suck it up. Don't be intimidated. Just cut the squash.

He started chopping the cilantro, saying you can use the stems too, no problem. Just cut them really small. Speaking up is hard enough in English. Harder in French, but I had to. "You can also use them to make your own green curry paste. So simple. Just toss everything in the blender." A surprised but respectful nod. He didn't hate me. Back to chopping.

The man with too much booze was chopping an onion for chef. Chef showed him how to do it but the man ignored him and did it his way. Chef ridiculed him. I focused on my butternut. It was slow going because of the fix to the size. Head down. Fingers curled under.

"Your knife skills you need to work on," said chef to the onion chopper. "Not like Mademoiselle with the squash."

Don't blush. You know, I like this guy. Compliment a girl's knife skills and you've got it made. Maybe he did know how to sweet-talk media after all. Harsh exterior. Careful compliments.

Needless to say, the soup worked well. Add a can of full-fat coconut milk to squash and organic chicken broth and butternut will taste delicious whether your curry paste from a tin or a freeze-dried package. The only reason I had to chop the squash that small was so it would cook faster, turns out. It was also prettier. And any extra small diced pieces went into the risotto. There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing the fruits of your knife labour on a plate. Knowing you didn't end up with asymmetrical cubes because you rushed. It's a perfectionist's art, and most of the time I can't be bothered. But it's something I appreciate at a restaurant. I still remember a perfectly chopped fruit soup at Kitchen Galerie three years ago. Someone put a lot of love into that soup.

So, Marcotte, he's a good guy. By my fourth or fifth question (I have a problem with excessive piping up sometimes) he was even smiling, tickled that this little girl was making him do less work to keep the room's energy up. He didn't have to carry the presentation alone.

He didn't hire me for his TV show or anything, but he probably wouldn't have said no if, say, his producer hired me or something...

And the duck breast? I don't usually love duck breast because it's so tough and overly chewy, but he peeled that fat off like the pro he is, seasoned with (more than) enough salt, and grilled them perfectly. Then let them rest while his team assembled us lucky media peoples' soup course, before slicing them over the risotto for the main (in my gluten-free case, a very thoughtful squash purée).

What I took away from the meal is that Samsung is really pushing this oven. It ain't cheap, it ain't convection, and it isn't a combi oven, but come on, two temperatures at once in a home unit ain't bad. And there's this neat feature where you can use two burners at once to create a rectangular cook surface. So when you have a long grill pan or something too big for a long burner (or something rectangular) you can set it up on top and ensure even heating. I'm thinking of my family's gravy made in the roasting pan where it takes ages and ages to cook because the turkey pan is too big for the large burner. The heavy grill pan is how Marcotte did the duck breasts. That alone convinced me of its value.

I also took away the fact that tart green apples julienned on top of a green squash curry are awesome. They add this hint of sour and the tiniest bit of sweet, like a key lime, but local. then it was my turn to forgive Marcotte's mini-mistake. Sometimes even a well-intentioned, food-intolerance-conscious chef who gives me a special plate without bulgur and Parmesan risotto can still mess up by putting Parmesan bits on top of my squash purée. I'm just crossing my fingers it wasn't butter in the purée. Something didn't sit right after the meal. It wasn't the oven's fault, at least. And I didn't have to talk to the loud guy any more, so things weren't all bad.

But, come on, give the guy a break. To err is human, to forgive, divine. Besides, he complimented my knife skills. In my books, he's golden.

Discussion

17 Comments

Piyush / February 4, 2015 at 04:06 am
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This sounds great. I made an awomese stock but have not gotten into making soup yet. I was sorry to see that it was only about 5 cups. Soups will come but for now the stock is frozen.
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