This week I’ve become aware of two fairly fundamental shifts in my life.
Flat fish are my fish of the moment. Fluke, Brill, Sole, Turbot. I wholly expect Hugh and his campaigners to take me out with a giant mackerel when I leave the house this afternoon. My apologies but any species, which has a metamorphosis eye migration from one side of its head to the other during adolescence, is just odd enough to capture my attention. That, and the delicacy of the fillet, the contrast in their aesthetic by sea and on plate (I love a good make-over) and the constantly interesting approaches different chefs find to interpret them have stolen my heart from the rambunctious game.
Fortuitous timing then that is is now I meet Eric Ripert, executive chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York. Fortune again swung my way when I had the pleasure of dining at his seafood Mecca on West 51st Street last week.
But I would suggest to anyone about to dine at Le Bernardin, if you have not yet read Medium Raw, the latest book by Anthony Bourdain, do. Now. Start at the chapter devoted to Justo, the man responsible for all fish cut, filleted and portioned at New York’s Le Bernardin. Bourdain’s reverent and detailed narrative of Justo’s skill and dedication is both kind and threaded with utmost respect. I have to say, I headed to the market and bought fish for dinner the night I read that…I stopped short of cling filming my kitchen, perhaps overkill for a meal for two.
This story was constantly in my mind as the Chef’s Menu unfolded for the pleasure of our palettes and eyes. As was the intelligence, subtlety and elegance of Chef Ripert’s interpretation of and respect for my new friends…and even my old friends, a perfectly spiced squab jus accompanying the poached turbot was a classic Miss Devour squealing moment. To be more appropriate seafood has been his friend longer than mine, I don't want to friendship jump here.
Now back in London, my housemates are slightly bemused with my request that we playfully wine/sake/beer and cider pair all home meals, describe perfect sauces before serving them and categorise our dishes 'almost raw, 'barely touched' and 'lightly cooked'. Oh well, “We got no troubles life is the bubbles, under the sea, under the sea” (Sebastian The Crab, 1989).
The first, and least welcome, is a shift in my awareness such that now my physique and appetite, both well trained in the lascivious art of consumption, in fact say: “Enough!” after just two weeks of indulgence. It is a sad day when you must acknowledge as improbable your long-held belief that you were in fact a feasting Roman emperor in a past life. This also renders my toga selection fairly useless outside Olympic themed parties or weekend jaunts in Santorini.
|The loss of a past life is a cruel matter...|
The second shift is far less troubling to both my wardrobe and dining future. I’m now a fish person. The world provides us with a few dichotomous sign posts on our travels: blond or brunette, pessimist or optimist, extrovert or introvert, heels or flats, fish or meat. I am sure Myers Briggs may suggest some addendum to my categorisation, but for an extroverted brunette pessimist in heels with a penchant for rib eye, the advent of blond locks and optimistic musings with a setting of fish knives is quite enough for now.
I noticed The Change gradually nudging my menu perusing away from game and meat and onto the Poisson page about six months ago. Perhaps it was the excess of game season in Paris’s restaurants, perhaps it was too many repressed memories of The Little Mermaid surfacing as I entered my thirties: “We what the land folks love to cook, under the sea we off the hook” (Sebastian The Crab, 1989). Either way, I’m now buying more, cooking more and ordering more seafood.
I think a year of filleting daily and experimenting with cooking techniques at Le Cordon Bleu and throughout my Stages has given me the confidence to be playful with these creatures which can be quite intimidating or physiologically off-limits if you have not grown up in a seafood home (both my parents at historically brunette, extroverts of the carnivorous variety).
|After the make over: Spiced fluke sashimi, fresh green almonds |
and spring onion slivers, citrus-white soy nage (Le Bernardin)
|Langoustine seared, mache and wild mushroom salad, |
shaved foie gras white balsamic vinaigrette (Le Bernardin)
I don’t quite know what I can contribute to any discussion about Le Bernardin that 3 Michelin Stars, 4 stars from The New York Times, Zagat, the James Beard Foundation or the panel at the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants have not already said.
|Lobster baked, red wine braised sun chokes and wilted fava |
sprout bergamot emulsion (Le Bernardin)
|Bread crusted red snapper, saffron “Fideos”, |
Chorizo – Smoked sweet paprika sauce...this sauce!!!
|Turbot poached, wild mushrooms, affilla cress, |
spiced squab jus...um, again, this sauce!!
Thank you Chef. Again.