Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Star quality cooking

I always enjoy spending time with my favorite French hedonist Annie Poussielgues. She is full of ideas, loves to travel (she and I once went to Japan together and share a special fondness for southern India) and has that innate French sense of style that I admire. The other night she invited me to try a new way of eating that perfectly reflects the modern Parisian lifestyle. Première Etoile, which opened a few months ago in the Marais, is designed for those who yearn to cook but don't have time to shop. Chefs do the work of writing the recipes and assembling the ingredients, which customers take home in a kit. The key lies in the quality of the ingredients: Première Etoile uses the same suppliers as top Paris chefs.
The chalkboard menu offered two sets of dishes: one by guest chef Gilles Choukroun of the contemporary restaurant L'Angl'Opéra and the other by young in-house chef Raphaël Berland. We opted for a Choukroun creation of sesame-crusted perch with a cucumber-soy condiment and roasted eggplant. Main courses cost €8.50 to €11.50 per person, about half of what the equivalent dish might cost in a restaurant. The catch is that you have to prepare it yourself. For this we enlisted the help of Annie's talented companion Olivier, who is also a photographer. Nothing in the bag had been prepped: the eggplant needed dicing and sautéeing ("roasted" was a bit of a misnomer), the cucumber slicing. Though there was nothing too technical about the recipe, it did seem to have a lot of steps. "You have to like cooking to do this," said Olivier, as Annie and I lounged hedonistically on the sofa sipping wine. Within about half an hour he had turned out a restaurant quality dish that would have been perfect except for the fish, which we all deemed to be an unexciting species (either tuna or salmon would probably work better with the Asian elements in this dish). Première Etoile supplied the ready-made desserts of cherry tiramisu — like a cross with a Black Forest cake — chestnut cake and fig tart, all of which were worthy of a good pâtisserie.
I still cling to the idea(l) of lining up to buy each ingredient for a meal from a different small shop or market stall, but if you lack time or find the French way of food shopping overwhelming, Première Etoile could provide just the boost you need to feel like a chef.
Première Etoile
2 rue de l'Hôtel Saint Paul, 4th, 01 42 71 67 78.

No comments: