Some people are starstruck by actors, actresses, singers, etc. Me, I get all tongue tied around chefs who I have a deep admiration for. As you can imagine, the mere thought of getting to meet someone as renowned and talented as Chef Joël Robuchon practically sent me into a panic.
Would I say something stupid? Would I even be able to say anything at all? Am I dressed ok? What happened to the five words of French I knew at some point in my life? Will I open my mouth to speak and have food in my teeth?
For days leading up to what could be billed as the greatest dining event each year in Taipei now, I was quite nervous. After missing last year’s gala dinner because we were out of town, I was an excited ball of nerves in the days leading up to this. One of our local foodie friends, Stephanie (@smallching), who we met on Twitter just over a year ago, also joined us for this special event.
We were quite lucky to secure a spot for three at the prized counter for this event on December 3, ensuring we had prime viewing opportunities. Thank you Vincent, the manager at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, who facilitated our reservation just through a status message exchange on Facebook!
Not having any idea what the menu included for the evening, I was excited to unroll it and noticed right away it was personally signed by Chef Robuchon already!
Before I even had much of a chance to peruse the menu, something caught my eye — Chef Angelo Agliano was headed our direction holding several rather large white truffles.
Before we started on the menu, Chef Joël Robuchon and Chef Philippe Braun arrived. We felt quite honored that Benoit brought them over right after their arrival to talk with us. Strangely, all my nerves melted away as Chef Robuchon and Chef Braun were two of the nicest people I’ve met. I’m not sure why, but I expected him to be very formal and reserved, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Right from the start, everyone was joking and the atmosphere was very light-hearted.
l’emulsion mousseuse de courgette sur une royale de dashi tremblotante aux champignons
The emulsion foamy zucchini with mushroom flavor
Pairing: Bruno Paillard Champagne
The zucchini emulsion had a piece of uni (sea urchin) inside — while the combination of flavors on paper may sound a little odd or less than appetizing, they worked well together.
LE FOIE GRAS D’OIE
une symphonie soyeuse sous une fine gelee a la feuille d’or
Foie gras mousse in a white truffle flavor with gold leaf
Pairing: Z007 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Zind
Without a doubt, this was my favorite course. On top of the foie gras was a jelly layer made with chicken juice jelly. The white truffles were so sublime with the foie gras mousse and everything literally just melted in my mouth. This I could’ve probably eaten ten courses of!
On the side of the plate was a small piece of focaccia bread with praline — almond pieces caramelized with red sugar. Benoit said this was a traditional French way of serving the dish.
The Zind wine is a blend of two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Auxerrois. The bright yellow wine had slight aromas of lemon with a hint of sweetness on the palate. A wonderful blend from the Alsace, but cannot be called such because of the addition of Chardonnay, a non-authorized varietal. The vintage is 2007, which is also forbidden given the rules, which is where the unique touch of the “Z007” comes in. See, I did not make a typo in the pairing!
LA NOIX DE SAINT-JACQUES
a la plancha, condiments au kumquat et au caviar
Sea scallop a la plancha with a sauce of kumquat and caviar
Pairing: M. Chapoutier Domaine des Granges de Mirabel 2007
This was quite an interesting course with scallops “a la plancha” (grilled on a stainless steel griddle with olive oil) on top of kumquat sauce and caviar. The red drops are spicy red pepper. With a sauce that has acidity, Benoit paired a wine that was fruit forward, but still respected the delicacy and richness of the scallops. His choice was a M. Chapoutier Domaine des Granges de Mirabel 2007.
LE BLACK COD
avec une mousseline de daikon au yuzu
Black cod filet marinated with sake, mirin, and miso in a yuzu flavored turnip hot soup
Pairing: Bourgogne Hautes -Cotes de Nuits Clos Saint-Philibert Monopole
One of my favorite dishes from Nobu is the legendary miso cod so I was quite interested to try a similar version. There was a small piece of daikon radish in the soup and I was instantly greeted with the sweet aroma from the caramelization on the black cod. I liked the contrast of the tart broth and the bit of spiciness from the pepper sauce against the caramelization and natural sweetness of the black cod.
If you haven’t heard of yuzu, it is prevalent in Japanese cuisine, and is being used more often in western cuisine as well. It typically has a tart flavor, resembling a combination of a grapefruit and mandarin orange. The fruit itself is not commonly consumed, but it is often used for a zest or the juice in a sauce.
The wine Benoit chose was an interesting pairing — Cotes du Nuits is a region in France primarily renowned for its reds, but he had a white wine from Burgundy. He shared that the winemaker was taught by Henri Jayer, one of the most important vintners to the Burgundian region. He brought many innovations to the Burgundy style of winemaking, but passed away in 2006. His Pinot Noir wines are highly sought after and often fetch thousands of dollars for one bottle.
One of Jayer’s most famous statements, which has been adopted by vineyard owners and winemakers around the world, was, “A great wine is crafted in the vineyard; not the cellar.”
During the break between courses, Chef Braun and Chef Robuchon came around so people could take photos with them. Vincent was using a digital camera to take photos of each group of guests, but we also had the staff take a couple photos with my camera. Unfortunately, one shot came out pretty bad, but I was able to crop and salvage Chef Braun and me from it.
cuit en cote au plat avec un gel de mais au curcuma
Roasted pork chop and corn jelly with fresh white truffle and homemade tagliolini
Chateau Duhart-Milion Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) 1998
Casa De La Ermita Jumilla Crianza 2004
The pork chop was roasted with butter, slow cooked for a long time, and then finished on a Teppanyaki grill. The pork was incredibly tender and buttery rich. The homemade tagliolini is easily some of the best pasta I’ve ever had — with Chef Angelo’s Italian roots, this is where he really shines. And more white truffle – enuf said!
Benoit knows we love red wine so he did three pairings for this and the following course and the three of us shared.
All three of these wines were divine and so different, yet each paired so well with the rich pork dish. I am still learning loads about Old World wines through our favorite sommeliers in town, and Benoit has done a marvelous job in introducing me to practically all new wines each visit. Pairing three totally different wines — a Burgundian Pinot Noir, Spanish Rioja, and a Bordeaux — with the same dish proved how hard and fast rules in wine pairing may not always apply. We sat with three vastly different wines ranging from the light Pinot to the bold Cabernet, yet all three were spot on.
My favorite was the 98 Bordeaux blend, Brett was partial to the Spanish Rioja, and Stephanie was enjoying the 05 Pinot Noir.
LA TRUFFE BLANCHE
d’Alba sur un risotto <<mantecato>> au vieux parmesan
White truffle risotto “mantecato” style with parmesan cheese and olive oil DOP
Pairing: Chateau Puech-Haut Saint-Drezery 2007 Coteaux Du Languedoc
More Alba white truffles! The truffle risotto “creamed” with Parmesan cheese and olive oil containing the DOP designation. DOP stands for “Denominazione di Origine Protetta” or Protected Destination of Origin. Olive oils containing DOP have met rigorous standards to earn the right to include that designation. DOP certification ensures that every aspect of making the olive oil occurred in the certified area and followed traditional production processes.
Benoit poured a glass of white to pair with this to see which we preferred. He chose a Chateau Puech Haut Saint Drezery 2007 Coteaux Du Languedoc.
Before starting on the dessert courses, Angelo brought around another white truffle for us to photo. Sadly, I wasn’t able to abscond with it.
doux de <<Tai-nan>> en kirsch-fizz menthole
Tainan produced pomelo with beer flower jelly, kirsch mousse and mint flavored jus
We had been watching Chef Narita, the Executive Pastry Chef, working on prepping the first dessert course earlier in the evening so we were quite curious to see what creations he came up with for this special event.
This was a pomelo from the city of Tainan, which is in the southern part of Taiwan, and made an interesting dessert. It was light, fresh, and definitely cleansed the palate.
onctueux <<Belle Helene>>
Pear souffle with chestnut pudding and pear sorbet, dressing with vanilla-chocolate sauce
Muscat Beaumes de Venise Domaine des Bernardins
2003 Clos du Bourg Vouvray
We had been told earlier in the evening to expect something fun with the dessert course and Chef Narita told us he would be plating ours at the counter. We’ve become rather spoiled by him as he’s prepared some impressive desserts on the fly and incorporates special touches that continue to blow me away each and every visit.
True to his word, Chef Narita brought out our souffles and plated them individually at the counter for each of us. Brett managed to capture the whole thing on video as well.
This main dessert course as you hear in the video is a pear souffle with chestnut pudding and pear sorbet, along with a vanilla-chocolate sauce. Thank you again Chef Narita for the special personal plating!
Benoit paired three different dessert wines for us to try — a 1950 Banyuls (always fun to try anything that is a vintage older than your birthyear!), a Vouvray and a Muscat.
LE CAFE EXPRESS OU LE THE
escorte de macarons
Coffee or Tea
Finished off the night with a cappuccino and a French macaron.
The evening had come to a close and it was time for us to head out — the last ones in the restaurant as usual. Getting to see Chef Robuchon and Chef Braun with Chef Angelo and Benoit was a dream come true. I’ve mentioned in other posts that the synergy with Benoit and Angelo in the kitchen is remarkable and it was an honor to have Chef Robuchon and Chef Braun present to chat with.
During the course of the meal, Robuchon had told me to let him know when I was in Vegas next time as he would make a reservation for me at his restaurant there, which I have been wanting to try. In addition, Chef Braun made a reservation for us at the new Champes Elysees location in Paris for the following week as we were flying out the following day for Europe. Full review to follow on that one — what a memorable night!
When leaving the restaurant, we always end up taking a few photos with Angelo and Benoit — which I have quite a collection of now. Certainly can’t complain having too many photos with such incredibly handsome and talented men! Ooo la la!
On a side note, the next day at the airport I was rushing from the lounge to the plane and I spotted Chef Philippe Braun in an electronics store. I knew he was flying to New York that day, but had no idea he’d be in the airport the same time we were. Turns out, he was taking the long way there, and he was on our flight to Amsterdam! We had not upgraded on the flight as they told us Business Class was full so we were stuck literally in the back of the plane (something like row 60), so imagine my surprise when Chef Braun appeared at our seats to say goodbye and confirm our reservation for the following weekend in Paris as guests of Chef Robuchon himself. Just further confirmation of how down to earth, approachable, and real he and Mr. Robuchon were.
Gala Dinner price $10,000 NT per person, not including wine
Thank you again to Angelo, Benoit, Chef Robuchon, Chef Braun, Chef Narita, Vincent, Grendy, and the rest of the L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon staff that take such good care of us each and every visit.