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Makes 4 Servings
6 large Medjool dates, halved lengthwise, pitted
2 ounces (about) foie gras (goose or duck liver)
Fleur de sel*
6 Chopped fresh parsley
Fill each date half with heaping 1/2 teaspoon foie gras. Arrange filled dates on platter. (Can be prepared 3 hours ahead. Cover and chill.) Sprinkle each date with salt and parsley.
Recipe by Betty Rosbottom
Photos by Pornchai Mittongtare
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FOIE LA-LA LA-LA / For holiday indulgence, buttery-rich duck livers reign supreme -- pricy and smooth as silk
Just a dozen years ago, chefs were smuggling it in from France in fish bellies. Today, they are reveling in a high-quality (and legal) domestic supply. Fresh duck foie gras -- the creamy, oversized liver of a rigorously fattened bird -- is now so popular in high-end restaurants that chefs and diners seem to be making up for lost time.
Nonexistent until the mid- 1980s, American foie gras has hit its stride, thanks to two pioneering producers -- one in Sonoma, the other in New York. Hudson Valley Foie Gras, by far the larger producer, has doubled its sales in the past three years, to about 5,000 livers a week. Sonoma Foie Gras, its sole competitor, accounts for another 600.
Not surprisingly, sales of this luxury item peak in December, when diners are more willing to splurge financially and calorically. The last two weeks of December, chefs just get crazy, says a salesman at Preferred Meats, a local distributor. Everybody wants to use it.
But as many local chefs report, foie gras now has a place on the menu year-round. It may be 125 percent cholesterol -- or so says chef Alan McLennan of San Francisco's Cypress Club -- but fat gram-conscious diners don't seem to be counting. McLennan goes through 25 livers a week -- about 150 portions -- in dishes such as a ballottine of foie gras with warm pepper brioche and roast Sonoma quail stuffed with foie gras.
Rich and sumptuous, with a silken texture that one chef aptly characterizes as sexy, foie gras is to liver what a ripe, runny Brie is to cheese. Even people on a diet will indulge in a slice, says McLennan, as compensation for all the other fat they're not having. "Chocolate and foie gras," confirms Hubert Keller, chef at San Francisco's Fleur de Lys. "People have a weakness and are making an exception."
Thanks to its opening chef George Morrone, Aqua in San Francisco uses more fresh foie gras than any restaurant in the country, cooking about 80 livers a week. Morrone, who is now at One Market, introduced what is still Aqua's signature dish -- a medallion of fresh tuna topped with foie gras -- as well as several innovative pairings of foie gras with seafood. Today, due in part to Aqua's lead, having foie gras on the menu is a mark of sophistication few top-end restaurants would be caught without it.
For establishments with lower tariffs, it's harder to justify. "It's like, how can I lose as much money as quickly as possible," says chef Judy Rodgers of San Francisco's Zuni Cafe. Paying $34 a pound wholesale, the chef says, she can't charge enough to make it worthwhile. Still, she offers it occasionally, as do a handful of other moderately priced San Francisco restaurants such as Fringale and Moose's.
It may be new to American cooks, but foie gras dates back to antiquity. Bas-reliefs in Egyptian tombs from 4,500 years ago depict farmers force-feeding geese, the conventional method of producing an outsized liver. Romans also appreciated the delicacy and fattened their geese with figs.
In modern times, the French have made foie gras into a sizeable industry. It's expensive there, too, but even people of modest means will splurge on foie gras for Christmas or a special occasion. Consequently, France can't meets its own demand livers from Hungary, Israel and other countries fill the gap.
Indeed, Israeli scientists made the technical breakthrough in the 1970s that launched America's foie gras industry. Through artificial insemination, they created the moulard duck, a sterile cross between a Muscovy and a Pekin that grows quickly and is disease-resistant, so it can be raised in large flocks. Spotting opportunity, an American businessman and Israeli farmer launched America's first foie gras farm in upstate New York in 1982, a business that evolved, through partnership splits and buyouts, into Hudson Valley Foie Gras. In 1986, Sonoma Foie Gras leaped into the ring, launched by two Salvadorans who trained at duck farms in France's Perigord region.
The two companies compete for business, but their products aren't the same. The Hudson Valley livers are from the hybrid moulard ducks Sonoma Foie Gras grows the pure Muscovy. By all accounts, the fat in moulard livers has a higher melting point, so the livers release less fat when cooked and thus shrink less. For that reason, most chefs choose the moulards, although some say the Muscovy livers have better flavor.
All fresh foie gras is inspected and assigned a grade of A, B or C. Grade A livers are larger (usually about 1 1/2 pounds), more uniform, with fewer bruises or bloody spots. Many chefs prefer them for hot preparations, reserving the Bs for cold terrines and the Cs for mousses or flavored butters.
At One Market, chef Morrone slowly renders all the fat from Grade C livers, then uses the fat to flavor mashed potatoes. The liver remnants are discarded.
Although butchers don't carry the perishable foie gras regularly, several local merchants will order it for consumers at holiday time. For the adventuresome, cooking foie gras at home can be a rewarding experience, offering a chance to enjoy this delicacy for less than one would pay in a restaurant.
It can also be frightening -- the expensive livers can virtually melt away if not carefully monitored and properly cooked.
For the past 10 years, San Francisco pastry chef Fran Gage and friends have made a fresh foie gras the festive centerpiece of a holiday dinner party. Liver-cooking duties rotate among the friends, who choose a new recipe each year, often turning to a local restaurant chef for advice. They've dined on homemade versions of Hubert Keller's foie gras terrine with black pepper jelly and La Folie chef Roland Passot's foie gras stuffed with figs. This year, it was Gage's turn to deal with the pricey liver. Her choice: foie gras wrapped in cheesecloth and poached in sweet wine, a recipe from Gerald Hirigoyen, who operates Fringale and Pastis in San Francisco.
Apparently, these recipe-sharing French chefs are defying tradition. In the old days in France, recalls San Francisco restaurateur Alain Rondelli, chefs would hide while they prepared their foie gras terrines. Today, at least in San Francisco, chefs willingly share tips for both cold and hot preparations, perhaps because they know how easy it is to ruin these gold- plated livers.
In "Paula Wolfert's World of Food" (recently reissued as "Mostly Mediterranean"), the author recounts the time she was waiting for lunch on the terrace of a restaurant in southwest France when she heard screams coming from the kitchen: "Idiot! Fool! You don't roast it like that! You are costing me a fortune!"
She heard a crash and a slap, then saw the furious, red-faced chef appear briefly in the doorway. He regained his composure, returned to the kitchen and remade a whole foie gras for her lunch.
It's the classic foie gras disaster, says David Gingrass, chef at Hawthorne Lane in San Francisco. "Some dope forgets the terrine in the oven. I've never actually done it, but much more experienced cooks than me have. Because the livers are so high in fat, they can quickly melt into a puddle of expensive grease."
For hot preparations such as sauteed foie gras, chefs recommend slicing the raw livers thickly with a hot, thin knife -- anywhere from
3/8-inch thick (Judy Rodgers) to 1-inch thick (Julian Serrano at Masa's in San Francisco). The slices will shrink as they cook. Season generously with salt and pepper. Sear on both sides in a hot iron skillet with no additional fat. If necessary, put the skillet in a 450 degrees oven for a minute or two to complete the cooking.
Chefs test for doneness by touch. A cooked liver will offer no resistance if it's still hard in the middle, it's not done.
Rodgers says she occasionally grills sliced foie gras over charcoal, serving it with an arugula and hazelnut salad. "It's scary as all heck," she says. "You may as well be grilling a $50 bill. At least in a pan, it doesn't fall through the grill."
WHERE TO BUY, HOW TO PREPARE FOIE GRAS
The following markets can supply fresh duck foie gras during the holiday season. All suggest phoning ahead to place your order. Expect to pay $45 to $55 per pound for Grade A foie gras and $35 to $45 per pound for Grade B foie gras.
-- Andronico's, 1200 Irving St. (near 13th Avenue), San Francisco (415) 661-3060 (also Berkeley and Oakland locations).
-- Bryan's Quality Meats, 3473 California St. (between Spruce and Laurel), San Francisco (415) 752-3430.
-- Draeger's, 1010 University Drive (near Menlo Avenue), Menlo Park (415) 688-0677.
-- Enzo's Meat & Poultry, 5655 College Ave. (Market Hall), Oakland (510) 547-5839.
-- Polarica-Game Exchange, 107 Quint St. (between Third and Army streets), San Francisco (415) 647-1300.
-- Western Foie Gras, P. O. Box 5184, Santa Rosa (707) 573- 0728.
FOIE GRAS LESSONS
-- Noted foie gras authority Ariane Daguin will be at Draeger's Culinary Center in Menlo Park on Friday, January 17, to teach a class on duck cookery. Among the dishes she will prepare is Sauteed Foie Gras with Grape Sauce. Class fee is $50. Call (415) 688- 0688 to reserve.
FOIE GRAS A LA CARTE
-- Alain Rondelli, 126 Clement St., San Francisco (415) 387-0408
Beggar's purse of foie gras and figs, $13
-- Aqua, 252 California St., San Francisco (415) 956-9662
Whole roast liver with caramelized onions (for 4 to 6), $65
-- Babette's Restaurant & Wine Bar/Cafe, 464 First St. East, Sonoma (707) 939-8921
Sauteed foie gras with caramelized quince, $5 surcharge on prix fixe menu
-- Boulevard, 1 Mission St., San Francisco (415) 543-6084
Sauteed foie gras with apple fries, sultana-pignoli-pumpkin seed bread and apple cider sauce, $14.75
-- Campton Place, 340 Stockton St., San Francisco (415) 955-5555 Roasted guinea hen with housemade sauerkraut, foie gras and muscat grapes, $24
-- Cypress Club, 500 Jackson St., San Francisco (415) 296-8555
-- Fleur de Lys, 777 Sutter St., San Francisco (415) 673-7779
Foie gras terrine in herb and black pepper jelly with toasted brioche, $19.50
-- La Folie, 2316 Polk St., San Francisco (415) 776-5577
Sauteed foie gras with poached pears and wild huckleberries, $21
-- French Laundry, 6640 Washington St. (at Creek Street), Yountville (707) 944-2380
Torchon (poached roll) of foie gras with cranberry chutney, on $59 prix fixe dinner menu
-- Fringale, 570 Fourth St., San Francisco (415) 543-0573
Foie gras with Port and Armagnac, $11
-- Hawthorne Lane, 22 Hawthorne St., San Francisco (415) 777-9779 Foie gras terrine with caramelized onions and an apple and endive salad, $14
-- The Heights, 3235 Sacramento St., San Francisco (415) 474-8890 Foie gras and chanterelle tart, $14
-- Masa's, 648 Bush St., San Francisco (415) 989-7154
Sauteed foie gras with spinach, zucchini and black truffles, $20
-- One Market, 1 Market St., San Francisco (415) 777-5577
Washington State steelhead with foie gras mashed potatoes and green apple jus, $21
-- Rubicon, 558 Sacramento St., San Francisco (415) 434-4100
Sauteed foie gras with caramelized apples and cider reduction, $15
HOW TO USE -- AND HOW TO FIX -- A FRESH FOIE GRAS
Cooked fruit is a classic companion for hot foie gras. In autumn and winter, chefs often pair foie gras with sauteed apples, pears, grapes or quince, or another sweet element such as caramelized onions. Others like to serve the hot sliced liver on baby lettuces with a sweet-tart vinaigrette.
Cold preparations require a little more work because the liver must be deveined (see diagram).
Like several other chefs, Roland Passot of La Folie in San Francisco recommends soaking the whole liver first for two to three hours in cold water or a mixture of water and milk to draw out the blood.
Let the liver come to room temperature before deveining, or it will crack like cold butter.
After deveining, it is typically marinated in sweet wine, Port or Cognac with salt and pepper for a day or so, then transferred to a terrine, covered with foil and baked in a water bath. After chilling for a couple of days, it is ready to serve.
Gerald Hirigoyen of Fringale calls his recipe printed here a torchon of foie gras torchon is "dishtowel" in French. The marinated and deveined foie gras is tightly wrapped in cheesecloth (or a dishtowel in some kitchens) until it looks like a fat sausage. Then it's briefly poached in sweet wine and veal stock. After poaching, the liver is nestled in a terrine and the cooled poaching liquid poured over it.
After maturing in the refrigerator for a day or two, it is unwrapped, sliced and served.
DIRECTIONS FOR DEVEINING
These are adapted from those found in "Mostly Mediterranean," by Paula Wolfert (Viking). Remember to work only with foie gras that is at room temperature.
1. Separate the lobes of the foie gras by pulling them apart gently. Set aside any small extra pieces.
2. Remove the large vein running lengthwise down the inside of the small lobe.
3. To devein the larger lobe, grasp the end of any large veins you see and pull gently but firmly to remove them.
4. Slit the liver as necessary to get at the remaining network of larger veins and pull them out.
5. Trim off any greenish parts or large blood spots from both lobes.
6. For sauteing, the liver can be sliced without removing the veins. Visible veins can be removed after cooking.
ZUNI CAFE'S GRILLED FOIE GRAS WITH ARUGULA & HAZELNUTS
Use this method only if your grill has narrowly spaced bars that the foie gras slices can't slip through. You can saute the foie gras in a very hot skillet instead of grilling it, if you prefer. Figure about 30 seconds per side. You will not need to add fat to the skillet.
Govind Armstrong is a rising culinary star who entertains A-list celebrity clientele at his Table 8 restaurants (Los Angles and Miami) and Hollywood hotspots RokBar and L'Scorpion.
A culinary prodigy, Armstrong began his career at the age of thirteen working with Wolfgang Puck at Spago, later perfecting his skills in Europe at three-star Michelin restaurant Arzak. Having enjoyed phenomenal success in the States, Armstrong has made lounge-style dining part of his signature, turning small plates into an art form.
For parties at home, small plates are the perfect way to allow guests to explore, be inventive, enjoy a feast of complementary flavors&mdashand a perfect way to liven up the party. Armstrong is known for his fresh, inventive, and contemporary combinations, and in his debut cookbook, Small Bites, Big Nights: Seductive Little Plates for Intimate Occasions & Lavish Parties, he draws readers into his world with a dynamic collection of recipes hosts can use to create a menu of small, sophisticated, sexy dishes paired with a happening cocktail.
Whether firing up the grill in a relaxed outdoor setting, turning a living room into a late-night lounge or charming a date with breakfast in bed, breaking bread with friends is one of life's pleasures. The menus and recipes in Small Bites, Big Nights were conceived so that hosts can relax and have fun, rather than fussing in the kitchen.
With Small Bites, Big Nights the home host will:
Wow a crowd with hors d'oeuvres
- Arugula, Dates, and Parmesan (a salad that's finger food)
- Rare Tuna Crostini with White Bean Puree and Tapenade
- Seared Kobe Beef on Mini Yorkshire Pudding
- To drink: Black Martinis. (Armstrong always suggests creative signature cocktails rather than an entire open bar.)
Make dinner for 8
- Tender Bean Salad and Prosciutto
- A deceptively simple Foie Gras-Stuffed Quail
- Luscious Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis
Warm up a cool night
- Mini Onion Soup
- Braised Chicken Oysters Piccata
- Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Mousse
Prepare a sexy dinner with the object of your affection
With Small Bites, Big Nights as the party guide, guests wiil never decline. So send out those invitations, pump up the music, bring on the cocktails and prepare for a home kitchen revolution!
About the Author
Govind Armstrong is the executive chef and co-owner of Table 8 Restaurants in Los Angeles and in Miami. He began working at Spago at the age of 13 under the tutelage of Wolfgang Puck. His experience in the kitchen includes a turn at Puck's Postrio restaurant and at L.A.'s famed Campanile learning from Juan Maria Arzak at his three-star Michelin restaurant in Spain and opening Chadwick restaurant with future Table 8 partner Ben Ford (son of Harrison). He served as the celebrity chef for Crystal Cruises and Cunard's Queen Mary II.
He has appeared on The Today Show, Iron Chef America, Simply Ming and Celebrity Cooking Showdown. He has been featured in Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the Los Angeles Times, US Magazine, USA Today, and was chosen as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in People's 2004 issue. Armstrong lives in Los Angeles.
German Cuisine Menu Ideas
The use of venison and wild game meats in German cuisine has a long history. The wonderful, rich flavor of our game meat works well for steaks or heartier fair, such as stews.
|Venison Klops (Meatballs) over Spaetzle|
|Wild Boar Stew|
|Venison Steaks with Mushroom Game Sauce|
For this acclaimed dining group&rsquos annual Beard House sojourn, a talented team of Benchmark chefs will prepare a sumptuous winter feast that highlights an array of tempting game meats. Join us for this spectacular, seasonally driven menu at one of our favorite perennial events.
- Hors d&rsquoOeuvre
- Oregon Elk Tartare with Charred Walla Walla Onion Jam on Lavash
- Humboldt Fog&ndashMedjool Date Jam Grilled Cheese Sandwiches on Brioche with Truffled Butternut Bisque
- Broken Arrow Ranch Dorper Lamb Shoulder Rillette Cigarillos with Brazos Valley Eden Fonduta Cheese and Texas Barbecued Pecans
- Sous Vide Pleasant Meadows Farms Goat Cheeks with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, and Dijonnaise
- Juniper and Pomegranate&ndashMarinated, Spice-Crusted Venison on Rosemary Skewers
- The Manhattan Holiday Signature Cocktails
- Champagne Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial Rosé NV
- Maple and Miso&ndashMarinated Neah Bay Black Cod with Cedar, Whiskey, Brussels Sprouts, Dates, Bacon, and Pears
- Wölffer Estate The Grapes of Roth Dry Riesling 2013
- Forest Fed Tamworth Pig Belly with Byrd Mill Virginia Stone-Ground Grits, Lacinato Kale, Cheddar, Stout, Parsnips, and Huckleberries
- Prince Michel Barrel Select Chardonnay 2010
- Bear Mountain Bison Short Ribs with Parsnip&ndashCelery Root Soup, Quail Egg, Bacon Whipped Cream, Buttery Brioche Crumbs, and Black Truffles
- Mark Ryan Winery Lost Soul Red Willow Vineyard Syrah 2012
- Roasted Mint Creek Farm Veal Loin with Braised Veal Cheek, Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, Charred Leeks, Roasted Garlic Aïoli, Carrot Purée, Pickled Shallots, Mustard Seeds, Veal Jus, and Micro-Herbs
- Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2012
- Pleasant View Farm Foie Gras&ndashStuffed Doughnut Holes with Vanilla Bean Gastrique and Candied Bacon Jam
- Terra d&rsquoOro Zinfandel Port NV
Tickets to events held at the James Beard House cover the cost of food and a unique dining experience. Dinners are prepared by culinary masters from all regions of the United States and around the world. All alcoholic beverages are provided on a complimentary basis and are not included in the ticket price.
Dining review: Solitaire blooms in former Highland’s Garden Cafe space
An old GMC truck sits outside of Solitaire restaurant in north Denver. Solitaire closed at 3927 West 32nd Avenue in August.
Charred octopus with roasted grapes.
When a popular restaurant closes, neighborhood residents and crosstown fans alike are left holding their breath over what will replace it. Will it be wonderful? Worthy? Hey, even baseline decent?
So it was when chef-restaurateur Pat Perry shuttered Highland’s Garden Cafe in August after a 20-year run. The spot at 3927 W. 32nd Ave. drew people for its cozy warren of rooms, first-rate food and, in summer, alfresco dining on a bloom-filled patio.
Naturally, there was some fretting in north Denver and beyond.
Good news for Denver restaurant-goers: Solitaire, its replacement that opened earlier this year, appears on its way to being a worthy heir. Chef Mark Ferguson is co-owner with his wife, Andrea.
Regulars at Perry’s cafe will note that much has changed, save for the brick walls. While still a romantic spot created from two adjoining old houses, the new incarnation has a hipper vibe and an expanded patio to boot. Stopping in is akin to visiting your childhood home decades and several owners later: You recognize the bones of the layout, but some things you can’t quite place. What was where?
The staff is friendly and accommodating, whether you have reservations or are an early-evening walk-up. Waiters know the menu, too, and aren’t afraid of banter.
The wine list is smartly edited, and cocktails are creative. The Smoke on the Water is concocted with Vida mescal, Dulce Vida tequila, lime and a dash of orange bitters.
The menu is seasonal and reads beautifully, with a caveat. The dishes coming to the table sometimes taste out of balance, with ingredients whose flavors should be a plate’s star occasionally overwhelmed by the supporting cast.
Two examples: Chunks of sturgeon smoked over cherry wood arrived atop Yukon potato skins and dolloped with horseradish crema and caviar. The bites tasted great, unless you reminded yourself that, hey, wasn’t I supposed to taste sturgeon here? The spuds and horseradish negated that.
Same thing with foie gras-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon atop a nectarine purée and a balsamic and five-spice sauce. Tasty bites, to be sure, but you’d never know any foie gras was in the fruit. That’s a letdown to diners.
Despite those complaints, the menu does boast some home-run dishes.
The Santa Fe short rib entrée was succulent and tender, with deep dark flavors on a chunk of meat so gleaming it looked lacquered. It came with a chile rojo and masa gnocchi. I loved the corn-flour dusting on the tender gnocch and the luscious, cooling spoonful of avocado aioli on the side.
Copper River salmon with braised pancetta, charred green beans and tomato sauce was also a winner. This Alaskan fish, moist and cooked just through, arrives during a brief window in mid-May.. For fish fans, even those who usually don’t order salmon, it’s one of the high points of the culinary year.
And more adventurous seafood fans should try the chargrilled Portuguese octopus. If you have tentacle aversion, get over it. This is a tender dish, brightened with roasted grapes, chorizo, black garlic, a custardy saffron zabaglione and the zip of Piment d’Esplette, a French red chile pepper.
Kudos, too, for portion control. Plates don’t arrive overburdened with slabs of protein. Squeezing in an extra savory plate, or dessert &mdash say, the dome of dark chocolate mousse with hazelnut pâté and cherry chantilly &mdash doesn’t require a loosened belt.
A couple of gripes aside, I will be back to Solitaire. The place has a nostalgic tug for me. My wife and I went there on dates in its previous incarnation, and it’s where I proposed to her.
Here’s to the new place developing a romance with its neighborhood.
William Porter: 303-954-1877, [email protected] or twitter.com/williamporterdp
3927 W. 32nd Ave. 303-477-4732 solitairerestaurant.com
Atmosphere: Charming spot in the refurbished Highland’s Garden Cafe space.
Service: Friendly, accommodating, knowledgeable
Beverages: Beer, wine, cocktails, including in-house concoctions.
Plates: Small plates, $7-$18 entrees, $19-$23 desserts, $6-$7
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Details: Street parking ample patio dining
Our star system:
Stars reflect the dining reviewer’s overall reaction to the restaurant’s food, service and atmosphere.
- Chefs onstage at Will Rogers Theater Event Center for the John Bennett memorial
The oak that is Oklahoma City’s dining scene and has sprouted and grown sturdy over recent decades lost its roots on July 22 with the passing of chef John Bennett at the age of 77.
Bennett, who counted culinary luminaries James Beard and Julia Child as lifelong friends, helped push Oklahoma City out of the stigma of being the “cafeteria capital of the world” when he took over at The Cellar in the basement of the Hightower Building and used his training at Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and traveling across France after encouragement from Child to make it the city’s first true fine-dining destination in 1964.
More than 20 of the city’s most acclaimed chefs gathered in packed Will Rogers Theatre Aug. 19 with friends and family to honor Bennett’s unique personality and contributions to the city’s dining scene, but to also make sure his legacy continues.
Bennett was born in Ardmore in 1941 and grew up in Healdton and Norman, where he graduated high school and attended the University of Oklahoma but spent more time at Bizzell Memorial Library reading gourmet magazines than textbooks.
His sister Dr. Kaye Sears said that he developed a love for cooking while in school and called the results of his efforts “creations.”
“He would grocery shop and bring food to our house for his creations,” Sears said during the memorial service. “We were glad to have food, and he would cook for several hours. Many of you know what the kitchen looked like when he finished. He said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll be back to finish cleaning up when I’m done with class.’ I should’ve asked which day.”
Bennett left OU for CIA in New Haven, Connecticut, where he began working at Mermaid Tavern in nearby Stratford. Beard worked for the restaurant as a consultant and struck up a friendship with Bennett as he worked on the line.
Bennett invited Beard to speak to his CIA class. Beard agreed, but under the condition that he could invite his friends, Julia and Paul Child. Following their meeting, Beard earned an invitation to the Child home, where he read galley copies of Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which launched Child’s career as the country’s first celebrity chef.
Letters from Child written in French allowed Bennett to tour some of the top restaurants in France and expand his culinary learning experience beyond the classroom. Upon graduation from CIA, Bennett returned to Oklahoma, which surprised even him.
Frank Hightower installed The Cellar in the basement of his family’s building downtown and wanted to create it as a fine-dining experience. He enlisted Beard, with whom he had taken cooking classes, to find him a chef, and Beard recommended Bennett.
“When Jim Beard asked him to come [to The Cellar] in Oklahoma City, he said, ‘Why are you there? No one there knows how to eat,’ said The Oklahoman’s Dave Cathey, who was one of Bennett’s closest friends.
The dining experience at The Cellar was unlike anything Oklahoma City has ever seen. Black-and-white marble floors led to a dining room with red carpet that matched upholstered chairs that sat next to and under crystal chandeliers and under ornate tabletop candelabras.
The menu was the best of French fine dining with plenty of flair, which exemplified two of Bennett’s lifelong mantras: “Everything worth doing is worth overdoing” and “You don’t sell the steak you sell the sizzle.”
“He had influence on Oklahoma City, and some other instances were felt around the nation. For instance, I know of several hotel companies who undoubtedly changed their standard operating procedure after he managed to bring a live, uncaged elephant into a ballroom at a major hotel,” said Kyle Anderson, of Kyle’s 1025 catering, referencing a stunt that Bennett pulled at The Biltmore Hotel. “Who else but John Bennett could pull that off?”
Bennett left The Cellar in 1969 and briefly worked in San Francisco before returning to Oklahoma City to open The Grand Boulevard restaurant in 1975. He also served as chef at Nonna’s Ristorante & Bar and Christopher’s. He continued to travel around the country and frequently served as head chef for James Beard Award ceremonies and events at the James Beard House, entertaining and delighting the world’s preeminent cooking talents.
“All of these people around the country that know John know him as Oklahoma too,” said Kurt Fleischfresser, who said one of his career highlights was having Jacques Pepin introduce him as one of Bennett’s friends at a Beard Award ceremony. “He helped put Oklahoma on the map, so I think you’d have to call him the patriarch of our culinary world here.”
Chef Rick Bayless has built a culinary empire in Chicago, and it’s a journey that started in Oklahoma City with Bennett’s cooking. Bayless saved up money and traveled to The Cellar by himself when he was a preteen.
“There is a good chance that I would not be in the chef world today if were not for John Bennett,” Bayless said in a video message at the memorial. “I had read about this incredible restaurant, and I wanted that experience. In so many ways, I have taken that first experience that John Bennett offered me and turned it into the whole world of great dining that I’ve developed here in Chicago. I can’t say enough about John Bennett and that incredible chocolate mousse that I tasted when I was 12.”
At the memorial service, which included a spread of food with contributions from many of the city’s chefs like foie gras-stuffed prunes and crab cakes with honey Dijon and blue agave, Cathey laid out plans to make sure Bennett’s legacy continues.
He will publish Bennett’s memoirs on an independent blog and wants to work with the city’s chefs to document and keep Bennett’s recipes alive. Cathey also said a fundraising campaign will be started in the coming months to build a rotating scholarship in Bennett’s name for University of Central Oklahoma.
“We can build something together that raises up the entire hospitality industry, that raises awareness to the 405 as a food destination because at the end of the day, that’s what JB wanted,” Cathey said. “He realized that to be the great chef that he wanted to be, he had to come from a better place culinarily, and [Oklahoma City] reflected on him, and he never did anything except try to make the place that he came from a more delicious place.”
Foie Gras-Stuffed Dates - Recipes
By Joe Pollack - Photo by Allyson Mace // June 1, 2005
Waiting for Savor, while not a process as involved or lengthy as waiting for Godot, lasted long enough that many St. Louis diners had almost given up hope that Kirk Warner, who left a wide trail of happy patrons where he previously cooked, would ever get behind a new stove at a new restaurant.
Well, the wait of more than six months is over. Savor is open, and it looks good, and Warner’s dishes seem as solid as ever. It took a lot of work and a major investment by owner Jonathan Schoen to convert the building and to create a kitchen, a parking area and adequate access for the disabled.
Warner, a tall, reserved native of Michigan and a veteran of many restaurants, always has had a global approach to his cuisine, and it certainly shows up at Savor. The menu is divided into four sections – the Americas, Europe, the Near East and the Far East – with each section showing three or four appetizers, main courses and sides influenced by the broad region. Mixing and matching is perfectly acceptable.
Prices are not outlandish, either, with the entrées topping out at $23, plenty of vegetarian choices and a moderately priced list of wines by the glass. If there’s a quibble, it’s that the presentation is not up to the advance hype. The Guru thinks that the taste is far more important than the look, but many who dine in the Central West End think that it’s more important to catch the eye.
The building has dining rooms on several levels and a lovely basement room with a table to seat a dozen or so for special events. There’s a long, rather narrow room on the main floor and a large bar area. It was suggested we have a drink there while our table was being set up, and while it’s lovely and roomy while sitting at the bar, the surrounding space is limited enough to force customers and servers into a few dance steps to avoid collisions.
Speaking of servers, we’ve heard a few complaints here and there, but we noticed no problems on our visit.
More than a dozen wines are available by the glass, with some good choices from France, Germany, Austria and Argentina, plus a sparkling wine from Spain, among the whites. Italy, Australia, Argentina and the United States provide reds. The Spanish sparkler was a superior predinner selection and the ‘03 Pinot Blanc from Hubert Trimbach, the excellent Alsatian winemaker, was delightful, but his wines always are.
Speaking of drinks, the bar also serves a couple of the most deadly cocktails in the Guru’s experience – the Brazilian Caipirinha and the Cuban Mojito. Sip with extreme care.
The four-pronged menu has some interesting combinations. Spring pea soup with truffle croutons offers a lot of promise, and the foie gras-stuffed dates not only promise, but deliver, with the sweet dates rolling up delights with the earthy foie gras (pictured above). A mesclun salad, pasta with asparagus and rabbit sausage, sea scallops served with Spätzle (a German dumpling) and a side of traditional Alsatian choucroute, featuring sauerkraut and slab bacon, provide additional temptations.
Smoked trout from Maine is a highlight of the American section, and it was outstanding, with the trout’s smokiness showing through and wilted spinach and beet curls adding flavor to wilted lettuce with a warm bacon dressing. Warner’s light touch was obvious here in that the disparate flavors worked together and did not battle for leadership. The menu also offers a “Savor Caesar,” but I passed because the menu described both escarole and butter lettuce, but no romaine, which is traditional, and while it discussed roasted cauliflower, there was no mention of anchovies. New names are easy to create, but without romaine and anchovies, I don’t think a salad should wear the name Caesar.
Oaxacan chicken mole, a Mexican dish, was heightened by yellow mole sauce, different from the usual brown but very tasty, dumplings made with Asadero cheese (a Mexican cheese from cow’s milk) and a salsa that led with jícama and chayote. Wonderfully complex flavors blended to create a charming, tasty dish, with flavor highlights popping out here and there in the manner of Pop Rocks. Macaroni and cheese, made with Cheddar, is another highlight of the American menu.
Warner long has been a fan of Far Eastern (Asian) cuisine, and his execution is as strong as his admiration. Vietnamese spring rolls were a powerful temptation, but we went for the green papaya salad, and it was glorious, with tangy ginger and tamarind balanced by sweet pork and the crunch of the papaya strips and a handful of cashew nuts. A brilliant dish. The chef’s fried rice, featuring the sweet Chinese sausage known as lop chong, was another winner, bolstered by the addition of a poached egg, and while the menu noted “soft-poached,” the result was a little too runny. Lacquered duck, with baby bok choy and roasted sweet potatoes, shall be saved for a future visit.
The choices from the Near East (Middle East and India) include a tempting shrimp chowder of coconut milk soup and pickled green mangoes, and a Goan-style seafood curry. We settled for a lamb and olive tajine (the name of the pot it is cooked in or the stew-like dish itself), and it was on an extremely high level, just like everything else we tasted. With artichokes and merguez sausage (made from lamb), and flavors from lemon and the Near Eastern paprika-like spice known as harissa, plus couscous to sop up the juices, it was a tangy joy.
Desserts also are made in-house and a beggar’s purse, like a soft crêpe bunched together at the top, was an elegant finish, with dark chocolate and nuts liberally spread inside the package.
Truffle Lover’s Guide to the Périgord
Known as the land of 1001 castles, the Dordogne-Périgord is not only one of the largest departments in France but also one of the most beautiful. Within this department in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region just 50 miles east of Bordeaux, lies the world renowned Périgord. Arguably, some of France’s best culinary products come from the Périgord. Foie gras, chestnuts, AOC label walnuts, Périgord strawberries and the wines of Monbazillac and Bergerac are all produced locally here. And in winter, black Périgord truffles are ready to be harvested from the roots of the oak, hazelnut, chestnut, popular and birch trees that they grow on. Truffle hunting in the Perigord brings a bounty of the black diamonds to markets and innovative dishes to the tables throughout the department.
1001 castles dot the landscape of the Dordogne, like Château des Bories in the Périgord
From November through April, truffle lovers can enjoy villages virtually empty of tourists and the truffle markets, truffle hunting, truffle-themed cooking classes and the culinary delights of the Dordogne-Périgord.
The truffle is a way of life in the Périgord
One of the best ways to learn about not only Périgord truffles, but all 40 varieties, is at The Ecomusée de la Truffe in Sorges. It’s a museum entirely dedicated to the truffle. The museum opened here in France’s Capital of the Truffle in 1982 and the only of its kind in the world. It’s recently been completely renovated with all new and interactive exhibitions that take you on a journey of discovering the natural cultivation of the truffle, as well as it’s culinary history and association with wealth and the finest things in life.
Second only in value to the rare Alba white truffle from Italy, black Périgord truffles are the most expensive food in the world. Though there are other species of black truffle, they aren’t held in as high regard as the species Tuber Melanosporum, which the Périgord lent its name to.
So how did the Périgord come to be the Capital of the Truffle? Truffles themselves date back to ancient times, and were recorded in Ancient Egypt. Writings indicate that the Pharaoh Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid of Giza and reigned during the 4th Dynasty, offered truffles to dignitaries. France’s own truffle history dates back much further than Sorges’ love affair with the culinary black diamond. We’d previously discovered on our truffle trip to Provence that it was Francois I that brought the truffle to his table, remaking the truffle from a peasant food that was often eaten like boiled potatoes to that a culinary gem worth its weight in gold.
But it was Sorges where trufficulture, or the modern farming of truffles, was born in the 19th century. It really began with Baron Bertrand de Malet planting 60 acres of oak trees between 1837 to 1868. His farming techniques were successful and other truffle farmers followed suit. Truffle farming quickly replaced wine making, which had collapsed due to the spread of phylloxera, as farmers replaced their infected vines with truffle oak plantations. By the end of the 19th century the hamlet of Sorges was recording annual harvests of six tons of truffles. To put things in to perspective, that six tons is equivalent to about the entire truffle harvest annually in all of the Dordogne-Périgord today.
The black Périgord truffle is actually more of a grayish-black or brownish-black on the outside, with white spidery veins on the inside that indicate maturity.
Much as wine is interwoven in to the lives of the Bordelais, truffles became the way of life of the Sorgeais, providing a significant income to the farmers there. The world’s premier truffle experts have come from Sorges within the last two centuries. Sorges, indisputably, earned its legitimacy as the Capital of the Truffle as this culture of all things truffles has been passed down through the families there now for over two centuries.
Other countries have tried to cultivate truffles, though it’s not as easy as planting seeds and waiting for your crop to grow. Even when tree plantations are planted with the proper varieties of “truffle trees,” truffles still grow naturally only under the right conditions. It’s the combination of European red soil, which is prominent here in the southwest of France, along with rainy summer days that produce the earthy, richly flavored black Périgord truffles.
It was only about 100 years ago that France produced around 2000 tons of truffles annually, but today it’s closer to 30 tons. Climate change, wars and disease have changed the French landscape, leaving less trees for truffles to have a symbiotic relationship with.
The Ecomusée de la Truffe is a fascinating visit with explanatory panels, photographs, videos and tools all related to how truffles grow, the various ways that they’re harvested and how they’ve become the world’s culinary treasure. Though the exhibits are in French only, English speaking visitors can request an iPad with all of the exhibitions in English from the reception desk. Guided visits are also available.
The Truffle Discovery Trail winds through truffle farms that are more than 100 years old
Following a visit to the Ecomusée de la Truffe, you can also follow the 3 kilometer long Sentier des Truffières (Truffle Discovery Trail) right through the heart of the truffle farms. The trail winds through a limestone plateau of the Périgord and has 11 points of interest indicated by marked panels. There’s also a picnic area
A truffle farmer shows us his latest harvest at the Marché aux Truffe in Perigueux
The Truffle Markets of Périgord
Shoppers buy foie gras and truffles at the Marché aux Truffes in Perigueux
Marché aux Truffes Périgueux
Périgueux is France’s capital of foie gras, but the winter weekly markets also feature another culinary treasure: the Périgord truffle. Tucked in to the back of tent on Place Saint-Louis, a controlled truffle market takes place every Saturday from 8am.
Unlike the Marché aux Truffe Richerenches in Provence, the Périgueux truffle market is open to both the public and professionals. Périgord truffle producers are lined up, each displaying their recent truffle hunting haul. Truffles in all sizes give off an intoxicating scent.
The Marché aux Truffes on Place Saint-Louis is the spot to buy a truffle in Périgueux, but it’s not the only market happening on a Saturday. There are markets stretching all throughout the old town with delicious Périgourdian delights for sale. You’ll find all things foie gras like fresh foie gras, foie gras stuffed figs and the famous pâté de Périgueux.
Truffle farmers set up their display at the Marché aux Truffe in Sorges
Marché aux Truffe Sorges
The weekly controlled truffle market every Sunday from 10am in Sorges is quite the spectacle. Everyone from professionals to truffle-loving tourists just curious about the whole process begin queuing up at least 30 minutes before the doors even open.
The Fédération Départementale des Trufficulteurs (Federation of Truffle Farmers) checks the quality of the truffles and makes the rounds to each truffle producer before the market opens. Once the doors are finally opened to the queue outside, all the producers stand up like a finely orchestrated ballet as the dance of which truffle is best to buy commences.
Outside, a small market with local winter produce, fish and oysters from the coast and, of course, foie gras is there to entice the truffle market goers with the rest of what they might need to prepare a Sunday afternoon feast.
Chef Pierre passionately teaches guests how to cook with truffles and foie gras at Auberge de la Truffe
Auberge de la Truffe
In the heart of Sorges and just steps away from the truffle market and new Écomusée de la Truffe, there’s a classic French inn aptly named Auberge de la Truffe. It is an essential stop for all truffle loving gourmets. Auberge de la Truffe’s owners, unsurprisingly, are passionate about the truffle, as evidenced in their winter truffle menu dedicated to the culinary diamond and organization of truffle activities in the Périgord for their guests.
Auberge de la Truffe was our own base for our truffle fueled trip to the Périgord, and one of the activities we took part in was a truffle themed cooking lesson with the inn’s chef.
The day begins with a visit to the Marché aux Truffe in Perigueux with Chef Pierre to secure a haul of black truffles that will be used over the next couple of days at Auberge de la Truffe’s restaurant. You also have time to explore the open air market stretching throughout the Old Town, which is the most famous market in the Nouvelle Aquitaine with its’ fruit and vegetable stalls, flower vendors and foie gras producers.
In the afternoon, we once again met Chef Pierre for a cooking lesson preparing all of the dishes on Auberge de la Truffe’s famous truffle menu. As we observed, the restaurant is packed nightly with locals and tourists alike to enjoy the menu boasting 50 grams of truffle per person.
Chef Pierre shows us how to score a duck breast so it cooks and renders the fat
Chef Pierre not only demonstrated how to turn this sought after fungus in to a delicacy, but also important French cooking techniques like how to score a duck breast so it properly renders the fat as it cooks.
The truffle stuffed scallops are drizzled with a truffle and saffron cream sauce
With a folder of the recipes we’d each take home from our cooking lesson, we prepared a portion large enough for everyone in our small group to get a taste of dish on the truffle menu. Scrambled eggs became decadent as truffle was grated in to them, scallops were rich stuffed with truffle and drizzled with a truffle cream sauce, and the duck two-ways and topped with truffles was delectable.
The cooking lesson isn’t merely a tease, though. After being behind the scenes, it’s time to move to the dining room and enjoy the full truffle menu.
Combining two of the Périgord most famous products: truffle and foie gras
What exactly does a menu with 50 grams of truffle per person look like? It begins with a celeriac soup topped with truffle cream and garnished with shaved truffle. Scrambled eggs loaded with grated truffle and garnished with yet another shaved piece of truffle follows, then the plate of truffle stuffed scallops in the rich truffle and saffron cream. It all culminates to the crème-de-la-crème of the meal: the duck breast topped with foie gras and truffle cream sauce.
If a cooking lesson doesn’t tickle your fancy, the truffle menu can still be enjoyed at Auberge de la Truffe’s restaurant during the winter months. We just suggest making a reservation, as people came from far and wide to fill the restaurant nightly.
Know Before You Go
Mention Luxe Adventure Traveler at Auberge de la Truffe and you’ll receive a complimentary glass of champagne with dinner.
Our trip was provided by Dordogne-Perigord Tourisme in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you book on Booking.com, Oui SNCF or RentalCars.com through our affiliate site, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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About Jennifer Dombrowski
Jennifer Dombrowski is an independent travel publisher and an American expat who has lived in Bordeaux, France since 2016. She previously lived in Northern Italy in a small village near Venice for seven years where she fell in love with wine and wine tourism. She is an award-winning travel writer. She is also a travel correspondent on Traveling on the American Forces Radio Network. Luxe Adventure Traveler was named one of the top travel blogs to watch by the Huffington Post and TripAdvisor, and has been featured by top publications such as National Geographic, CNN, Buzzfeed, and Business Insider. Jennifer's photography has also been featured on publications such as USA Today and Travel + Leisure and on the Travel Channel.
Great article! I know absolutely nothing about truffles but this article inspired me to do some research. I’m also looking for a gourmet restaurant near me that serves truffle dishes. Hardest part will be finding the real thing in the US. Keep up the good work.
Wow, this is like taking a course on Truffles. You have not only explained the Perigord truffles but also the other coveted and not so coveted truffles. I remember reading somewhere that they use hunting dogs for spotting truffles in Australia – do you think that is a myth or a real story?
I’m not sure about the dogs, but one of our family members MOF Alain Fabregues has been growing truffles on the West Coast of Australia.
Let me start by saying, your first picture of Château des Bories is so amazing! I’d love to visit the city with 1001 castles (do they really have that many?) because of the castles as well as the mouth-watering truffles. The Perigord truffles look oh-so-good!
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a truffle before but I know that they’re considered to be the height of luxury. I find it interesting that it’s difficult to grow in other parts of the world because they don’t have the right soil and rainfall. I imagine that drives up the price quite a lot because they’re an ’exclusive’ luxury item. The truffle market sounds interesting and I like that officials do a quality test before they allow buyers in to make purchases. It shows the attention to detail and the prestige of truffles in France.
This looks a perfect trip for foodies. Truffles produce such a great flavour when used by a good chef, we will leave the cooking to someone else. We may have a chance to get to Dordogne later this year so it would be great to explore the region and taste the excellent food and wine.
Wow, Périgord really is a foodie capital, thanks so much for putting this on my radar! I’ve never eaten truffle (I don’t think!), but I’ve seen quite a few programmes about wild truffle hunting and always thought it seemed like something I’d like to know more about. Now I do – thanks for such a thoroughly interesting post!
Thanks for this very informative post about truffles! I love the pictures of food, they all looked so scrumptious, seriously mouth–watering foods perfectly infused with truffles. I love also the photo of 1001 castles, landscape of the Dordogne, outstanding view from above!
I think I may need to take a trip to Périgord in France as it looks beautiful and I’m sure all the food and wine taste amazing. You are making my mouth water as I read. I love truffles so a truffle themed cooking lesson with the inn’s chef sounds like a dream.
Your first picture of Château des Bories is just amazing! Firstly the Land of 1000 castles and then the museum dedicated entirely to truffles – that is really interesting.
The black Périgord truffles are so tempting. It is actually a luxurious item. Would love to visit and taste truffles in the future.
I never knew anything about Truffles though I did know that it was one of the most expensive food in the world. Your fascinating post has given me a lot of information and now I realize why Truffles are so expensive and why Perigord Truffles are world renowned. Definitely, a very exhaustive and detailed post which comes as a breath of fresh air.
Hunting truffles now a days is likely becoming a trend not just because of the the variety of culinary use of it but it also comes with a very high price tag. A lot of people would pay extra just to get a hold of a very delicious, delicate, and hard to find truffles.
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Meet Jennifer & Tim
We’re Jennifer and Tim. We’re professional travel writers and photographers who love adventure and wine, so we often try to combine the two. By day, you’ll find us out on some crazy adventure like snorkeling in Iceland in winter or on a long distance hut-to-hut hike in the Dolomites, but by night, we’re creatures of comfort. If you’re looking for a travel blog about a long-term around-the-world journey, how to travel on $50 a day or less or traveling with kids, Luxe Adventure Traveler isn’t it. Our award-winning travel blog is all about heart pumping adventures, world class accommodations and luxury experiences. Read more.
Foie Gras-Stuffed Dates - Recipes
Whether he’s setting the scene at his acclaimed restaurant Table 8 in Los Angeles, entertaining the audience on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, or designing the menus for Hollywood hot-spots RokBar and L’Scorpion, chef Govind Armstrong knows how to create spectacular menus for occasions of all sizes. As Govind says, small plates encourage people to be more adventurous, to share food, and to enjoy the mélange of flavors and textures. In his first cookbook, Small Bites, Big Nights, he shows you how to put together a menu of small, sophisticated, sexy dishes and pair them with the perfect cocktail. The result? Guests get to enjoy a feast of flavors, and as the host, you’ll be able to relax and have fun, instead of spending the whole night in the kitchen.
Wow a crowd with hors d’oeuvres like Arugula, Dates, and Parmesan (a salad that’s finger food Rare Tuna Crostini with White Bean Puree and Tapenade or Seared Kobe Beef on Mini Yorkshire Pudding. To drink: Black Martinis. Barbecue sizzling treats like Grilled Endive with Serrano Ham New Zealand Scampi with Heirloom Tomatoes and Summer Truffle Vinaigrette or Grilled Chicken Thighs with Wood-Roasted Gazpacho and Avocado Salsa.
Make dinner for 8 unforgettable with Tender Bean Salad and Prosciutto a deceptively simple Foie Gras–Stuffed Quail and luscious Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis.
Warm up a cool night with bite-size comfort foods: Mini Onion Soup Braised Chicken Oysters Piccata and Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Mousse.
“[This] is everything you’re looking for in a cookbook.”
—Tyler Florence, from the foreword
“Govind Armstrong’s unique cooking style is reflected in every page of this compelling book. The vitality of his recipes ensures that your party will be successful and memorable.”
—Drew Nieporent, restaurateur / owner of Tribeca Grill, Nobu,
Rubicon, Centrico, and Mai House
“Chef Govind Armstrong’s cooking is sensual and understated.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Govind toiled in our City Restaurant kitchen with the serious
exuberance his high school mates reserved for playing soccer
and spin the bottle. . . . It’s no wonder his cooking and his recipes are such a joy! His food is simple yet innovative, deeply satisfying, and beckons you to the stove.”
—Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, owners of Border Grill and Ciudad restaurants
“Govind Armstrong embodies all the admirable qualities of a
modern chef: A passion for great products, outstanding culinary skill, and a zeal for life that winds up on every plate and in every heart he touches.”
—Richard Coraine, chief operating officer, Union Square
Hospitality Group, New York