Wed, 05 Mar 2003

Experience a French gastronomic tour locally

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It would not come as a surprise if France's culinary scene was depicted as a delicious combination of old traditions and the arts.

The country is home to some of the world's most famous sumptuous dishes and desserts, all meticulously served in artistic presentations, making any culinary experience there a feast for the eyes as well.

The century-old traditions in making regional cheeses, wines and other famous French fare are still preserved for the sake of consistency and the tradition itself.

Every region in France also has its own distinctive cuisine as a result of the use of fresh local produce, spices, herbs or wines, thus putting its local flavors and culinary aromas in the spotlight.

"The locals and chefs in each region create something very specific by using cooking traditions, materials and ingredients that are abundantly available in their respective areas," said executive chef Eric Guilbert from Park Lane's Riva Bistro and Bar.

This is the reason why French's long culinary history and diversity have made it a famous destination among gourmets and gastronomic travelers.

Eric, who recently participated as a delegate in the World Pastry Cup and the prestigious Bocuse d'Or world cuisine contest in Lyon, France, was inspired to indulge local French food lovers in various regional dishes from his home country.

Eric plans to hold a gastronomic tour of four regions in France at the Riva Bistro and Bar during which famous dishes from each region will be prepared and served in the first week of the next four months.

The four regions are: Brittany from March 7 to March 14, Alsace from April 4 to April 11, Bordeaux from May 2 to May 9 and Provence from June 6 to June 13. Regional wines or beers will also be served to accompany the meals.

And to maintain consistency in flavor, the main ingredients will be imported directly from France.

For the event, Eric will highlight Brittany's mainly rich seafood dishes by using popular items, such as oysters, mussels, clams, Saint Pierre fish (or John Dory fish), turbot, Bretagne lobster and artichokes.

"The weather is cold and the regional dishes tend to be rich and heavy to warm the body," he explained.

From the Alsace region, Eric will prepare various dishes, including a local popular treat, choucroute, a thinly sliced cabbage, fermented in white wine for four months and then seasoned with garlic, whole baie de genievre (a sort of white pepper) and cloves.

"After fermentation, the dish takes another six hours to prepare. It is a casual dish eaten with sausages or bacon and Alsatians usually eat it with beer," Eric said, explaining the long cooking process of the dish, which used to be standard fare for the poor.

His next stop is Bordeaux, a famous region known for its red wines.

"Wine is an important ingredient in Bordeaux and it is used in many dishes and desserts to make the sauces," Eric said.

Boef Bourguignon is among the region's specialties on the menu. The dish consists of slow-cooked beef cubes, seasoned in red wine with carrots, onions, herbs and garlic. The process takes about 48 hours and the meat will turn purplish in color because of the red wine. "The final dish has a tender texture and you don't even need a knife to eat it," he said.

Apart from canneler de Bordeaux (a soft sponge cake), Eric will also prepare other typical deserts, such as pears or figs, slowly crystallized in wine and served with ice cream and a dash of cinnamon.

For the final stop of the gastronomic tour, the chef will bring the palatable aromas and colorful Provence style cuisine to Riva.

"Fresh vegetables, such as red tomato or purple eggplants and herbs, like tarragon and thyme, are widely used to make local dishes," he said.

Featured on his menu of Provence food is the mild, but fresh tang of pan-fried red mullet fillet with a tomato rosette, zucchini and Parmesan and a salad with a balsamic vinegar dressing. The chef balances the strong fish flavor of red mullet with a lemon sauce and sliced tomatoes, while the colorful rosette is refreshingly tasty.