Words: Caroline Lee Photos: Monica Tindall
The oft-tried but perhaps not quite as often meaningful twinning of film and food could perhaps be attributed to premising it on obvious links between the two – mutual nationalities being one of the most common. As was so with the sixth in a series of charitable dinners – Cinema a la Carte – with French as the bridging relationship between the culinary and cinematic arts – only in this case, the pairing was an unparalleled evening of degustation, entertainment and education, and all for a good cause to boot! (Read about Cinema a la Carte, the concept and its beneficiaries in this article – and do be sure to mark your calendars for the 2017 line up.)
The movie “Vatel” tells the story of the Master of Festivities and Pleasures (i.e. party planner extraordinaire) François Vatel, being tasked by Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, to organise three days of festivities at the Château de Chatilly, solely to impress a visiting Louis XIV. It is easy to be swept away by the pomp and circumstance of the French court which magnificent portrayal won the movie César Awards in Best Production Design and Best Costume Design as well as an Oscar nomination in Best Art Direction- Set Decoration in 2001. That said, and leaving the movie review at the door because we are not here to do that, Vatel speaks in quieter tones of honour, integrity, passion and perfection. The audience is compelled to look beneath the stunning visuals to appreciate what could very well be the essence of French cuisine, so aptly summed up by Vatel, as having “the power to create and to astonish”.
It was now time to turn our attention to the feast that was being prepared and what an absolute treat it was to be hosted by the effervescent Chef Jean-Michel Fraisse. We started with two soups; the first, a velouté de châtaignes à la truffle (chestnut velouté scented with truffle) was a silky, luxurious broth just bursting with flavours reminiscent of a late summer walk in the woods. That additional bit of truffle luxe was, true to French production form, ladled out of a gleaming copper pot, to rest just so on the surface of the soup. Mixed in, it lifted the bar of perfection even higher and it was with much relish that I soaked up the last drop of heaven with the house-baked bread.
We were then served bisque de langoustine et homard en infusion de cèpes (scampi and lobster bisque with porcini infusion) with a little lesson on service etiquette courtesy of the ever-entertaining Jean-Michel. With a flourish and a deft flick of the wrist, we were shown how never to let a drop fall from the ladle when transporting the soup from pot to bowl. Service is always on the left and please don’t forget the hand behind the back! I found this soup surprisingly light albeit fully flavoured by our two favourite crustaceans. Perhaps I was still hankering after that first soup but I have to say I preferred the velouté to the bisque.
Les rots (literally and charmingly translated to mean “the burping”) marked the mains and again there were two. Truite Saumonée a la Chambord (roasted salmon trout with pike mousse and sea urchin sauce) was plated in a rather demure fashion, in an almost deliberate contrast to the Ice Feast of the movie. At the risk of sounding as silly as the wigs in the movie, I found that pointed simplicity quite poetic, given this challenging mix of sea treasures. The pike mousse had a crisp saltiness that lifted and blended magnificently with the gentler character of the salmon while the sea urchin sauce, something which almost always evokes a semi-violent reaction of either pure revulsion or pure ecstasy, was delicately sotto voce. And there it was – the perfect chord.
When baby piggy came out on a plate, it was almost too cute to even contemplate cutting up. Cochon de lait farci aux trompettes de la mort (roasted piglet stuffed with black trumpet, roasted potato), reminiscent of lavish French banquets, was expertly portioned by Jean-Michel, the meat so tender that cleaving it was like putting a hot knife through butter. We were given generous helpings of the pork, with roast potatoes and the best creamed spinach ever… and no wonder – the spinach is from France. I shamelessly took seconds.
Not to take away from the poor little curly-tailed cochon, what really made the dish was the gravy. Made in-house, as with all of French Feast’s stock, the gravy was intensely rich, thick and glistening with all the extracted goodness from a whole stack of bones… 10kg of bones, roasted with onions and carrots then boiled and reduced for TWO days, rendering only one litre of stock – to be precise.
After some additional education on how to clear plates the correct (i.e. the French) way, we arrived at dessert and to my absolute delight, Crêpes Suzette the king of all desserts (in my book anyway), was laid out in preparation. Into a large flat-bottomed copper pan went the neatly folded crêpes, one at a time, and then Grand Marnier (preferred) in the middle (with strict instructions never to skimp on this), orange and lemon liqueur was then added and the fire lit… voila! There was a fleeting moment of analogy recognition at this point when I remembered the spectacular fireworks at the banquet tables in the movie (slightly more dramatic than our crepe bonfire) but fleeting was all I was prepared to spend as I got busy paying homage to each morsel of the alcohol-soaked light-as-a-feather crepes.
The last on the feast list was Fontainebleu (whipped cottage cheese and Chantilly cream with raspberry coulis). Reference: scene in movie where imagination and “an old recipe from Chantilly” saved the day. After all the richness of the previous dishes, this exquisite nugget of lightness and tart was pure genius. I stepped away from the table sated, refreshed and wanting more. And thanking the team at French Feast for not only the sumptuous repast, but for the culinary education and entertainment too.
Reasons to visit French Feast: The uncompromising effort and peerless pride with which each dish is prepared is exactly why the food at French Feast is what it is … it has honour, integrity, passion and is perfection.
Reasons to mark Cinema a la Carte in your diary for next year: a fun and delicious way to combine a love of cinema with a passion for food; all benefits go to charity.
French Feast Restaurant & Bar
20 Tengkat Tong Shin
Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur
+60 3 2110 6283
Hours: Tuesday – Friday: 6.30-10.30 pm
Saturday: 9.30am – 3pm, 6.30-10.30 pm
Sunday : 9.30am – 3pm
Monday : Closed