Paris, Cooking with Chiles at Le Cordon Bleu
There is a Paris in Texas, but I visited that other one.
I was delighted to learn new insights and techniques from Chef Frédéric Lesourd during his class, re-visiting French technique, and doing so while recalling Julia Child a graduate of this world-renowned Parisian school. I am grateful for the generosity of chefs, especially Chef Lesourd: never withholding information about those special ways to highlight flavor and add complexity. For example, Chef Lesourd demonstrated adding just a tad of finely zested lemon to scrambled eggs. It is so tiny that you would never be able to prove it was there, but your mouth and brain tell you that you are eating something special. How to zest it, how much to add, when to add, these are the fine points that make French cuisine so marvelous.
France officially sanctioned the explorations of Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (native of Rouen, France) along the Texas coast in the late 1680’s and continued to claim Texas until 1803. La Salle fought bitterly with the Karankawas of the Texas coast who were intent on defending their homeland where they had lived for thousands of years. As late as 1844 a group from Alsace travelled through Galveston, past San Antonio to start a community in Castroville, Texas. As I cook and write about our indigenous cuisine that existed before and after the French arrived, I encounter taste connections and the marriage of foreign with native ingredients.
Ingredients native to Mexico and taken to Europe in the 16th century now form an important part of French cuisine. They include tomato, haricot vert, courgette, chocolate and chiles (piment).
One of the more interesting ingredient connections that popped up during the class was the chile, which they call “piment.” The appetizer he prepared, “Piperade Basquaise,” is made with onions, garlic, tomato and three different chiles: red chile dulce (bell pepper), bird’s eye, and Piment d’Espelette.
The name ascribed to this Mexican chile comes from Espelette, the town in the Basque region of Spain that adopted the little Mexican chile in the 16th century when Christopher Columbus and others started to bring Mexican ingredients into Spain and into all of Europe. The townspeople of Espelette now proudly consider this chile their own native product.
The chef made it a point that the importance of the chile is the flavor, not the heat as in Texas. So here are two influences at play:
1. the olive oil sautéing ingredients over time, adding French creamy eggs and garnishing with Arugula– so French.
2. the sumptuous blending of chiles selected for the creative interaction of flavor, and the slow cooking of chiles, tomate, with onions– so Texas Mexican.
Chef Lesourd and I discussed these ideas briefly after the class. Thank you, Chef and Le Cordon Bleu, for a delicious learning moment.