Posts Tagged ‘san francisco’

#Pray for Paris. I am currently in the city of lights, Paris  and was dining out with close relatives and watching France-Germany soccer match when the phones started ringing informing us about the sad events of the Paris attacks that were taking place just 2 miles away. Paris is currently extremely quiet with a heavy military presence, especially around the 10th/11th arrondissements. Pray for Paris.

With the recent addition of Manresa, California  has now 5 triple  Michelin starred restaurants  (Benu in  San Francisco, The French Laundry in  Yountville, Manresa in  Los Gatos, The Restaurant at Meadowood in St Helena as well as Saison in San Francisco), which makes it the most triple- starred Michelin  state in the US. With its exceptional wines, superb weather and enviable terroir , SF keeps positioning itself as a true, not just marketed as such (hein Montreal?), world class foodie destination. Here is a list of Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco (quite impressive, I have to say).

Visiting   Rome and Sicily – As with any popular foodie destinations, Italy has its shares of misses and hits when it comes to  food. Do some search, lots of it ..or else, you may end up …like me….with your share of really  ordinary (just Ok)  meals.

ROME1Rome – In ancient times, the saying “all roads lead to Rome” basically meant that whatever you do, only the Roman way mattered. Rome may not be the so-called “centre of the world” that it was once dubbed, but  its glorious past  still resonates nowadays in the hearts of  the impressive mass of tourists that it keeps attracting even in November, a period  when tourism frequentation  is at its lowest level  anywhere else around the world. One of this globe’s most touristicky cities,  as one would expect, and deservedly so….though, for the food, I am not fully sold about Rome’s position among world’s best foodie destinations. Perhaps I should have done better searches, perhaps…but I recall that  cities lile Tokyo or San Sebastian  dazzled more with no specific planning. I have to say, I am frustrated by the level of the food in Rome. Of course it is a good food city, but its better food is as tasty as any fine Italian food eaten in  America. The food here is victim of something called GLOBALIZATION…and between you and me…it is a  shame because what you generally eat in Rome could have been served to you in New York…and the difference is not that huge anymore.On Rome, during this visit, Vecchia Roma led the pack of the eateries I have tried. I also ate at: Ciampini, Baia Chia, L’Angelo Ai Musei. Just make sure that you are really familiar with Roman cuisine and do enjoy it, or else I  can foresee some serious inaccurate opinions.

PALERMO - MONREALE Palermo, Sicily, was no love at first sight for me. But the more I got to wander in its streets, the better it fared. Quattro Canti, the Norman palace, their beautiful old town, the unique blend of Christian and Muslim architectures and arts…Palermo kept fighting back. In the end, I had no other choice but to surrender: yes, some  parts of Palermo was destroyed during the second world war and little of that was  renovated since then, but this city has way more to offer than its first impressions,  which is not a surprise when you start digging in its past: Phoenicians, Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs…where else can you find such ecclectic influence?? Outside of Palermo, I had time to visit Monreale (sorry, I did not get the fuss.Yes, they have a beautiful church and a nice view over Palermo, but I had nothing more to bite into) and the very pretty seaside city of Cefalu. An island with such varied historical and cultural richness (few places in the world did themselves proud by proving to the world that Muslims and Christians can coexist together in such harmony…no  wonder Palermo, their capital city,  is a UNESCO  world heritage city) needs to be taken seriously (5 days in just Palermo, Monreale and Cefalu is clearly not enough). On the aspect of the food, with the surrounding Mediterranean sea in the picture, I was expecting the usual dazzling seafood I came to expect from  well, … the Mediterannea. But nah, that was not going to happen. Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera, which I visited two years ago, offered seafood and vegetables of far better quality than what I kept sampling in Sicily.

L’Oxygene (Paris) – is an African restaurant in Bois Colombes, with a Senegalese young Chef at the helm. To some, going to Paris is the opportunity to eat French food and that is obviously what I would recommend to the most. But the best African cooking outside of Africa is in Paris.  As   I “breath”/eat/cook French classic food since age 6,   it goes without saying that I do not need to eat solely French food in Paris. Given my familiarity with African cuisines, I do also eat at African restaurants whenever in Paris. On a first visit, I had the braised chicken which was as flawless as it could have been as well as their braised bass – nicely braised, but I was annoyed by the fact that the fish was not marinated for a long time. Furthermore, I ordered the braised fish for take out and it was mixed with a brunoise of tomatoes which diminished the flavor of the fish.  All dishes (there are just 4 or 5 items from what I recall) cost eur 15.  (My verdict: Very good>Good>Ok>Bad ): Good.  The best Senegalese restaurants in Montreal get  nowhere near  what you will find here.  Eventhough  I still prefer how ppl from the Carribean and the Indian Ocean do marinate and grill their fish (marinated longer, the seasoning a bit more elaborate ) —normal, as one tends to prefer the flavors he grew up with — , what you need to know is that the Senegalese do it a bit differently so consider than  when reading the aforementioned account. As for the brunoise of tomatoes altering the flavor of the fish..well, just ask to have your  brunoise served separately /  not mixed with the fish, if you order it for takeout. At the end of the day,  regardless of my personal taste, their talented young Senegalese Chef  is cooking good food.  Restaurant L’Oxyene, Addr:  241 Avenue d’Argenteuil 92270 Bois-Colombes Phone: 06 06 57 85 86

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris – As explained elsewhere, on this blog, I am not a fan of visiting plenty of high end restaurants. Most upscale restaurants have kitchen brigades capable of  offering a  good standard of food, but no more. At the high end dining level,  it is rare, nowadays, to eat food that tastes “personal”  in the way the food of Chefs like Jacques Maximin or even, on my last meal at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud, to name those two Chefs, could taste like (certainly food that could only come from an “artisan Chef”). In other words, most upscale restaurants cook food that can be easily replicated by many kitchen brigades because their food  just taste “impersonal”. Impersonal cooking is obviously the best way  to  run a restaurant successfully, nowadays, and I can certainly see why, but I am not moved by such evidence. PG is a big business, but at least it can’t be accused of playing it safe. The  review of my meal at 3 star Michelin Pierre Gagnaire can be found here.

Interview with: Chef Corey Lee,
Three Michelin star *** Chef
Ex Chef @ The French Laundry, Yountville, Napa Valley, California

Needless to introduce this monument of World fine dining, but for starters, Chef Corey Lee is a Three Michelin Star Chef who was — till recently — at the head of The French Laundry’s cuisine.
The French Laundry is at the Very top of the Elite best fine dining cuisines of the World:
-Awarded best  restaurant  in the world in 2003, 2004
-Was awarded it’s 3 Star Michelin in 2006
-No 12 Best restaurant of the world (2009)
This past August 2009, Chef Lee stepped out of his position of Chef at the French Laundry with the intent to open (very soon) his own new restaurant, named Benu that will open in San Francisco’s SOMA.

Chef Lee kindly accepted an interview via email (very kind from his part, considering how busy he is currently with the upcoming opening of his restaurant):

from    Corey Lee
date    Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 11:31 AM
subject    answers
Dear M,

Thank you for your interest.  The answers are below.

Best Regards,
Corey Lee


Question #1: Chef Corey Lee, your latest approach of cooking at the French Laundry was undeniably moving, daring and mostly different from what we commonly see at most upscale fine dining restaurants. It was daringly modern and fun. Unarguably, I believe that it would make no sense to reproduce the exact same trend at your new restaurant — Chef Keller would surely not appreciate that — but still: do you think that it is possible to push the French Laundry trend/spirit to newer unseen levels?

I think it’s more about a natural and inspired evolution than pushing a trend. I certainly directed that evolution during my time as the chef, but I felt it was important to make sure it was still a style that reflected Thomas Keller and French Laundry.  Part of my decision to open a new restaurant was because my personal development and evolution was getting to a point that I felt I was holding back.
Question #2: As you might suspect, hordes of foodies around the world are curious about what will be cooked at your upcoming restaurant. Naturally, I won’t go there (I love surprises ;p) … But I perceive you as one of those very unique Chefs who are well placed to cover a huge repertoire of ecclectic gastronomic trends: your oriental origins, your ease with modern and classic fares, your familiarity with occidental cooking fares, your enthusiasm for oriental cuisine…all of that make me think of this -> what about the next American version of Oud Sluis (as you know, Chef Sergio Herman is about daring modern ecclectic fusion fares)? Of course, we are not talking about mimicking Oud Sluis, but as an inspiration? I know that in an article of SFGate in 2006 you stated that you were not into fusion, but that was in 2006. So who knows, you may have changed your mind by now. And also: the type of fusion at Oud Sluis might be one you would perhaps perceive as acceptable, subtle enough.
I don’t know too much about Oud Sluis. I’ve never eaten there or met Sergio.  I’ve only looked through his book.  And I think we have very little in common. Being Asian is a big part of who I am.  And doing a blend of eastern and western food does not always have to be fusion. Fusion is a name that belongs to science.  In cooking it is a relative term.  But for me, fusion is a conscious act of taking heat to break things down and bring them together.  So when applied to food, it’s a process that’s too contrived or unnatural, or doing something just to fit the label/genre.  That I’m not into. But being inspired to put an Asian touch or using flavors you grew up on are different things altogether.
Question #3: Naturally, Keller has inspired you a lot. But what other great Chefs have inspired you in becoming a Chef? Were you, once, inspired by more classical approaches of haute cuisine like Ducasse? Robuchon? Savoy?
Absolutely. My background is almost all classical.  I’ve attached a bio.
Question #4: At the French Laundry, you were a 3 Michelin star Chef. Some Chefs could see this as a huge pressure, fearing to one day losing those stars.  Was that an additional pressure to you? Are you the type who would have taken the loss of a Michelin Star badly? Is this one reason among other that could explain your departure from the French Laundry?
It is an enormous amount of pressure.  I think the pressure is even more because I don’t own the French Laundry.  When someone like Thomas Keller entrusts his restaurant to you, you take that responsibility and trust more seriously than if it were your own. I would have taken the loss very badly, and would have stayed there to get it back. But my decision to leave had nothing to do with the pressure or fear of losing a star.  Have you ever been part of a restaurant opening?  It’s not something you do because you were afraid of a guide.
Question #5: You have South Korean origins and my last question goes naturally to your roots. Do you keep yourself informed about what is happening on the South Korean gastronomic scene? If Yes, is Seoul on the right track on becoming a gastronomic destination like Tokyo for ie? Any form of South Korean haute fine dining emerging?
Yes. I’ve been visiting regularly and we’ve done a few events there. Actually, I’m a goodwill ambassador to Seoul City for cuisine. Seoul has definitely taken the right first step which is identifying gastronomy as an important and viable thing.  The interest in food and cooking in Korea right now is very high.  I think the foundation is there already for a great culinary destination. Korea has some of the best products in the world, an economy to sustain restaurants, and a captive audience. Now, it’s about building upon that and fostering young chefs and restaurateurs. But we’re still not at the Tokyo or HK level in terms of having a restaurant scene that is easily navigable to foreigners. There are some forms of haute cuisine emerging and it’s exciting to see, but there’s still a lot work to be done.
Thanks so much,
Food, restaurant reporter

Here is the attached Bio he sent to me (mentionned in his reply to Question #3):

Corey Lee was born in Seoul, Korea in 1977. The son of an engineer, he moved to the
U.S. in 1983 when his father’s work relocated him to New York City.
Being an immigrant, the food his mother cooked became the most important and tangible link to
Corey’s native culture. And so at an early age, he realized that food occupied an
important role in society, one more significant than just sustenance, and he became
acutely interested in the different kinds of cuisine he encountered.
At age 17, in need of a job and at the random suggestion of a friend, he applied for work
at the Bromberg brothers’ popular restaurant, Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York’s SOHO
area. He was hired for the dining room but immediately became fascinated by the unique
world of the professional kitchen, an environment he found to challenge and gratify both
the mind and body on many different levels. He quickly started working in the kitchen
and soon realized that cooking would be his profession.
Since that almost accidental beginning to Corey’s career, he has gone on to work for
some of the most acclaimed restaurants and chefs in the world. In 1997, he moved to
London where he spent time working and staging in the kitchens of Interlude, Pied à
Terre, Savoy Grill, Pierre Koffman’s La Tante Claire, and Marco Pierre White’s Oak
Room. He later went on to work with many other venerable chefs including Christian
Delouvrier at Lespinasse, Daniel Boulud, Montreal based chef Normand Laprise, and
Parisian 3 star Michelin chefs Guy Savoy and Alain Senderens.

In 2001, Corey started what would be his 8 year working relationship with Thomas
Keller at his restaurant, The French Laundry, in Yountville, California. He also spent a
year opening per se, Thomas’ acclaimed restaurant in New York City. The latter half of
Corey’s time with Thomas was spent as the head chef of The French Laundry. During his
tenure, the restaurant was recognized as the “Best Restaurant in America” by Restaurant
Magazine and received the highest rating from both the San Francisco Chronicle and
Mobil Guide. In 2006, French Laundry was the only restaurant recognized with 3 stars in
the launch of the prestigious Guide Michelin for California. In that same year, Corey was
the recipient of the “Rising Star Chef” award from the James Beard Foundation. In 2008,
Corey co-authored Under Pressure which was released to critical acclaim and
documented many of the techniques and recipes Corey developed during his time at
French Landry and per se.
Corey left The French Laundry in the summer of 2009 to prepare for the opening of
Benu, his highly anticipated restaurant in San Francisco. Most recently, he has been
honored by being appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for Seoul, Korea. He has also
collaborated with iconic Korean porcelain manufacturer, KwangJuYo, to design and
produce a custom line of porcelain that will be used at Benu. The restaurant is slated to
be open in the summer of 2010