Chez Bruno: the restaurant that uses more truffle than any other in the world

I’ve never (yet) been to Chez Bruno in Lorgues, arguably the most famous truffle restaurant in the world, though I got very close when I was doing research for The Truffle Book 14 years ago. This video is an ad, and very slickly shot, but it also contains a fair bit of truffle wisdom. Especially about potatoes… Read more at Winerist. Hat tip to @NZTruffles.

Burgundy comes to Waipara

HillsFirstBurgundy 2web

I nearly tripped over it. I’d just dug up a rotten truffle from the middle of our little patch of oaks and hazels infected with Tuber aestivum syn uncinatum, the Burgundy truffle, and was pretty excited. It was our first Burgundy truffle and it was rotten and I couldn’t eat it, but that didn’t matter. The twelve year old plantation was finally producing truffles. Another long wait was over. And then Rosie pulled me off to another spot a couple of metres away and there was a truffle sitting in a little depression in the soil surface. 53 grammes of fungal goodness — not ripe yet, perhaps not quite fully grown — but I dug it up anyway. Call me impatient.

Ours was one of the first trial plantings of aestivum infected trees in New Zealand — oaks infected with truffle inoculum from Gerard Chevalier in France went into the ground in 2000 ((There’s a picture of Gerard with one of our seedling oaks in The Truffle Book, p131)), followed a couple years later by hazels infected with aestivum supplied by Christina Weden from Sweden. Both this week’s truffles were found close to hazels. Skol, Christina!

These are not the first Burgundy truffles produced in New Zealand. That honour goes to a trial plantation in South Canterbury, where a rotten truffle was found several years ago. But this is our first Burgundy truffle, and even though it may not be ripe we will eat it, and enjoy it for what it is — proof that a little vision goes a very long way, even if it does take a long time…

Five things to eat before you die

I‘ve been tagged for a food blog meme, which is a first (thanks Bron). Not being a proper food blog, but a blog that does food from time, I’m probably a bit of an interloper — and I’m certainly going to find it hard to “tag” five more food blogs (one of the rules). I’ll do my best.

The meme comes from The Traveller’s Lunchbox, and the idea is to come up with five “things you’ve eaten and think that everyone should eat at least once before they die”. It’s an interesting challenge, and over the last couple of days I’ve been remembering all sorts of meals in all sorts of places. And therein lies one of the challenges. I have especially fond memories of a plateau de fruits de mer, eaten in a restaurant on the inner harbour at La Rochelle, but do I remember it because of the excellence of the plateau, or the happy combination of circumstances surrounding that meal? Same thing with a bottle of white vin de savoie that was elevenses at a little restaurant on the slopes at Serre Chevalier. A magic moment to be sure, but worth inflicting that wine on everyone? Probably not. So I have settled on five things that I have eaten and enjoyed and remembered and loved, not simply because of time and place, but on culinary merit (though you may choose to differ). And whakapapa plays a part too.

  1. Andouillete
    Offal sausage, or awful sausage? A specialty of Troyes, and found in every Relais Routiers in France, this is a working man’s saucisse, a sausage of strong flavour and challenging appearance. Cut it open and admire the strips of pork tripe and large intestine, flavoured with onion and parsley. I’ve seen grown women turn away in horror… but with good mustard and some fine pommes frites, the andouillette is something I have to eat at least once when visiting la belle France.
  2. Bara lawr
    Welsh seaweed dish, known to the Sais as laver bread, traditionally eaten fried in oatmeal with bacon for breakfast. The seaweed is quite common around the world (I’ve eaten it in NZ) — there is a Japanese name, but I can’t recall it — and in Wales it’s washed and then boiled for four hours or more until it’s a green glutinous mass, still redolent of the sea. And if the bacon you eat with it is farm-cured and bought in the market at Carmarthen or Cardigan, then you have something simple but wonderful.
  3. Germknodel
    This is pretty close to a time and place thing, because I have only eaten it in restaurants on the slopes at St Anton or Lech, although it is a speciality throughout the Tirol. Consider a dumpling the size of a baby’s head stuffed with stewed plums, topped with poppy seeds and icing sugar and dressed with melted butter, and reflect on the challenge this presents to post-prandial skiing. Delicious, but difficult.
  4. A sun-ripened apricot, warm from the tree
    Looking through other bloggers’ lists of five, there are plenty of exhortations to take freshly picked, sun-ripened or just landed things and apply them to the palate. So I am not being original, but I include my apricot because I planted apricots (and other fruit trees) at Limestone Hills because this was an experience I’d read about (Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, I think) and wanted to try. Every summer I watch the apricots, willing them to ripen, so that I can revel in the sheer apricotness of the fresh, sun-warmed article. This isn’t just worth doing, it’s worth moving to a place where it’s possible in order to do it.
  5. Tuber magnatum, on anything
    No surprises here. The first meal of this truffle set in train a sequence of events that led me to Limestone Hills, and it is one of the tragedies of modern science that no-one has yet worked out how to successfully cultivate this fungus (though there are tantalising hints that it might soon be possible). Not oil — never oil — just the fresh article, shaved thinly on a buttery tagliatelle, or plain risotto, or stirred into and shaved onto an emperor amongst omelettes. So good I wrote a book about it.
    So who to “tag” with this: I can’t do five, but I will suggest that Mark Bernstein — another occasional foodie like me — might like to have a go.

Careful with that spray, Eugene

My views on truffle oil are probably becoming clear to readers of this blog, and I’m always glad to get support in high places — in this case from Joel Robuchon and Alain Passard in France. They’re upset at the increasing use of flavour additives in classical French cuisine, of which arôme de truffe is just one example. Adam Sage covers the issue at The Times Online:

“It is shameful,” said M Passard, who claims to use only natural ingredients at his celebrated Parisian restaurant, l’Arpège. “I don’t know what to call the people who use these chemicals, but they are not cooks. Cooking is about seasons and nature.”

M Robuchon, widely considered to be one of the most talented chefs of the past 20 years, agreed. He said: “I am 200 per cent against the use of artificial flavours and additives.” However, such flavours appear to be an increasingly common ingredient in French cuisine, with chefs looking for quick, cheap recipes.

Many of the arômes come from Chef Simon, a French restaurant supplier. Their site is an eye opener. This, for instance, is how to make oeufs aux truffes sans truffes sans truffes. “Oeufs aux truffes” are truffled eggs (recipe in my book). “Oeufs aux truffes sans truffes” are truffled eggs without truffles — that is, the eggs are truffled by storage with truffles, and absorb a lot of flavour. You can cook them without truffle and still enjoy a good hit of flavour. “Oeufs aux truffes sans truffes sans truffes” are that dish made without any real truffle at all, by using their arôme. And they claim it’s astonishing. I claim it’s fraud.

They also suggest that it’s OK to use cheap Chinese truffles, with a dose of arôme. If there are restaurateurs who think serving that to their customers is acceptable, they should be shot. But there are plenty prepared to overuse truffle oil… Education is the key. They all need to read my book…

Two meals

Two very contrasting meals in two successive nights: one, a truffle dinner in a French home, the other a modern Spanish meal with the chef playing Fat Duck or El Bulli-style tricks.

The truffle dinner was spectacular, both for the quantity of truffle involved and the quality of the food, but the most important factor was – as it should always be at dinner — the warmth of the welcome. As we stood around the kitchen chatting over the Louis Roederer champagne, the canapes of pate de foie gras de canard truffé (hand-made for our hosts with not less than 10% truffle, and generously garnished with same) were being constructed. Meanwhile, thin truffle toasts were heating in the oven: simple, and wonderful. Two thin slices of sourdough pain de campagne sandwiching slices of truffle, buttered and seasoned and slightly crispy from the oven. The most truffly thing I’ve eaten in a long time, and I’ve eaten a lot of truffle recently. Then I helped to stir the truffle into the mashed potatoes: great big, almost crunchy lumps of truffle stirred into potatoes cooked in milk and butter, served with a saucisse de Toulouse, specially prepared for the family with large chunks of truffle inside. Put the two together, and you have an obviously simple but also incredibly luxurious dish. Magnificent. A few bottles of good Cahors red, and a good time was guaranteed for all. My thanks to P-J and B. A meal that will live in the memory for a long time.

The second meal (Manairo Restaurant, Barcelona) was also good: inventive, even exciting food, but it couldn’t help but suffer in comparison. There were moments of surprise, like the little parcel served in a spoon containing a creamy soup, or the squid bits spooned steaming with dry ice into little shot glasses of intensely pea-green soup, and there were moments of pleasure, but I struggled to really get into it all. Perhaps the fact that much of the dishes were reinventions of Catalan classics that I had no reference for made it difficult, or perhaps the waiter’s introductions were losing something because we forced him to do them in English. Either way, fun, expensive and worth eating, but the food will be forgotten long before the previous night’s. Thanks, Heidi, for the meal.

And the really sad thing about both meals? On the last days of the Spanish tour, I picked up the cold doing the rounds of the bus. I spent much of the weekend in France exploding with cold, and I still haven’t recovered my nose or tastebuds. So much to taste, so little to taste it with. Bugger.

Markets, truffles and food

I haven’t got time to post any of the pictures from the last week, or to really do justice to events or meals – not tonight, at least – but I would like to mention vultures. In two truffle expeditions in Spain last week, in the Alto Tajo national park and in the hills not far from Pamplona, vultures were wheeling over head while we watched men and dogs find truffles. I was ready for the truffles, but the birds were something of a shock.

In the latter truffiere, in the unpronounceable but charming village of Ollogoyen, the lead truffle dog was called Lycos – “because she’s a search engine”. Perhaps Peg’s successor will be called Google. Sponsorship possibilities…

Some food highlights: the Spanish take on black pudding – a sort of blood sausage without the skin; the mushroom lunch which finished with a “coffee” made from Trompettes de mort macerated with sweet coffee, with a cappuccino foam made from porcini cream (and the chef looked like Peter Sellers); and a truffle omelette in a modest auberge in Cahors that had more good truffle in it than most five course truffle dinners. It helps when France’s leading truffle wholesaler is sitting at the same table and picking up the tab.

In France, we’ve seen the new truffieres of the Richelieu region just south of the Loire, the famous truffle market of Lalbenque, the Pebeyre truffle operation in Cahors, and been shepherded around local truffieres by top French truffle expert Pierre Sourzat and his dog Bou-Bou. I also have 80gm of truffle in the minibar in my hotel room, by way of a present for my kind hosts in London.

Tonight we dine chez Pebeyre, and I suspect truffle may be involved. Tomorrow we drive to Barcelona, and dinner with an American truffle importer on her yacht in the harbour. Then London and NZ. I have to say that I’m looking forward to getting back to my family and my trees. And losing some weight.