Friday, July 17, 2009

Alain Passard - Arpege Restaurant, Paris

Tonight on Masterchef Australia, George will be preparing a tomato dessert. For many people that will be a revelation, but for those fortunate enough to have eaten at Arpege Restaurant in Paris over the past 25 years, it may not seem so strange.

Alain Passard has been presenting his tomate confit farcie aux douze saveurs for over 25 years. An article in the American Express Centurion Magazine from January gives a little more insight into the chef and shows his tomato dessert.

The first time that I was fortunate enough to try the dessert was May 1988. It was an amazing finale to a superb lunch that began with another Masterchef favourite, the chaud-froid eggs that the contestants enjoyed, and then tried to recreate, when they were treated to lunch at Mark Best's Surry Hills restaurant Marque.

Arpege is a three star Michelin restaurant in the Invalides district of Paris near the Rodin Museum. In 1988 when I visited it was still only a two star restaurant, but Passard was winning praise and attracting much attention. Christine Manfield and partner margie visited in July 1989 to celebrate Margie's birthday and had a memorable meal, as recounted in Christine's book "Fire".

The restaurant attracted Mark Best, who worked there in 1998. It seems from the report in Australian Gourmet Traveller from August 1999, that it was a tough time and M. Passard was not of much assistance during his stay. Despite the apparent lack of interaction with M. Passard, Mark brought back two recipes in particular that have stood the test of time and appeared on his menus. The chaud-froid egg and the tomato dessert.

The tomato dessert became legendary and versions have appeared in many restaurants. At the Melbourne Food and Wine Masterclass in 1998, Alain Verzeroli, who had worked with M.Passard, presented his version of the dish, Confit of Tomato stuffed with dried and fresh fruit flavoured with star anise and vanilla, served with an orange syrup.

In 1999, while on a cheese tour of Italy and France, I returned to Arpege with a chef from Sydney. We had a fantastic meal that included a fondant of Perigord truffles and reggiano parmigiano. It was a memorable meal and of course finished with the tomate confit, finished at the table au geuridon. After the lunch, M.Passard took my partner on a guided tour of the small kitchen and explained their philosophy on food.

Earlier this year I returned for my sixth visit, and unfortunately, due to it being spring time, tomatoes were not on the menu. Still, we had the chaud-froid eggs and a superb meal, with the vegetables grown on M.Passard's three farms. The first asparagus of the season had just arrived and it was served simply with some olive oil and shavings of parmesan. Simple, but delicious. The meal was full of fresh, light vegetable combinations. With all the talk of restaurant kitchen gardens, M'Passard has really taken it to a higher level, with three potagers (farms).

The apple tart (Tarte aux pommes Bouquet de Roses©)
--> has been made with long strips of apple that have been rolled up to give the appearance of a bouquet of roses. It is of work of art.

Cheeses were of course good, including a 4 year old Salers.

It was a memorable meal and M.Passard spent 10 minutes with us discussing his food and farms. A true gentleman and a quiet achiever.

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