November 25, 2016

Opera, Edible and non-edible stories

Opened in 2011, the restaurant of the Opera Garnier is located where the horse-drawn carriages used to drop off their passengers, coming for a performance. They say the design is modern but it reminds me of the seventies. This white soft cloud formation, floating above the guests like a phantom is disturbing me.
I am seated underneath in a confortable red chair wondering what the architect was thinking  when she got this idea of an undulating mezzanine with such protean curves.

Opera Restaurant

The assassination attempt on Napoleon III by Felice Orsini in 1858 outside the Opera House on Le Peletier Street acts as a trigger for the emperor to launch an architectural design competition for a new Opera House in Paris.
171 plans are competing. The selection of Charles Garnier’s project came as a surprise. The young architect ousts both the empress’s favorite architect and the one who built the original Opera.
Charles Garnier is relatively unknown and does not know much about acoustic matters but his design impresses for its strongly defined spaces, its stunning polychrome and the abundance of Italian references. Cherry on the cake, a secure and direct entrance is built for the Emperor.

Opera Garnier

The architect Garnier had originally planned to install a restaurant in the Opera House but for budgetary reasons, he was not able to complete it. I wonder what he would have thought of the current design.

The Opera is as well a classic French dessert made of layers of almond sponge cake known as Joconde Biscuit and soaked in coffee syrup, layered with chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream.
The paternity of this cake is unclear. Paul Bugat from the Clichy Pastry shop invented the Opera under the name Clichy in 1920. Then in 1955 Cyriaque Gavillon, pastry chef at the French pastry house Dalloyau, claimed the creation of the cake named by his wife after the Opera Garnier stage or maybe after the ballerinas, regularly customers at the pastry shop. In the sixties Gaston Lenotre contested the paternity of the Opera.

Back to my plate… I am curious to try the Revisited Opera cake by the Pastry Chef of the Opera Garnier.

Study case: The additional caramel thin layer is a nice find but it is overpowered by the strong flavor of the coffee butter cream. I think this modern Opera is too heavy. Maybe because it is missing a layer of Joconde biscuit… The classical Opera has three layers of Joconde biscuit.

Classical Opera by Le Cordon Bleu Chef

I have bad memories of the Opera I baked at school. I messed up the coffee butter cream. My batter was still too hot when I incorporated the butter and so… took a disastrous turn. Oui, merde!
And no time to do it again as I was hearing already in the background... « You have 10' to finish the montage and glaze your Opera!... » The butter cream was too thick to be spread smoothly and evenly... « You have 5' to clean your workspace and present your cake!... »
Dawn, I'm not running for Masterchef!... And the background finally shouted: Time's up!

And forget about the chocolate writing. Messed up or messed up, I choose the Queen’s highway. And, I submitted a flat and naked Opera. Oui, not very proud!

Should be versus Actual

However Charles Garnier was very proud of his project and specially the majestic staircase of marble, which divides into two divergent stairs that both lead to the Grand Foyer. The Grand Foyer is like the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. A lot of gold and a lot of mirrors.

Grand Foyer

People come to the Opera Garnier not so much for the performance but to watch people and to be seen. And the seats in the private box of the Emperor are the best seats to watch people but the worst seats to enjoy the show.

Auditorium - Private box of the Empress on the right & Marc Chagall's ceiling

Started in 1871, the construction of the Opera Garnier lasted for 14 years and the inauguration took place in 1875 after the fall of the empire. Napoleon III passed in exile, in England and never got the chance to enjoy the Opera House.

Aside from the big Story there are as well the little stories. 

My grand grand grand father Franz Benque (1841-1921) opened his first photography studio in the old town of Trieste, Italy in 1864 along with his father in law Guglielmo Sebastianutti (1825-1881). My grand grand grand uncle Wilhelm Benque (1843-1903) was the wild one, leading the unsettled life of a globe-trotter in Europe and Asia. 

Grand Grand father Ernst Benque
by Grand Grand Grand father Franz Benque
The history of the photo-house covered four generations of photographers within the family as Franz’s son, Albert (1873-1953) and his granddaughter Lilly (1913-1999) worked as well in the family business. They worked in Europe, South America and Asia and, participated to international photo exhibitions.

Some of their pictures are part of the collection at the Opera museum. Between 1862 and 1890, they were taking pictures of actors, costumes and scenes… I saw some of those pictures at the Opera museum some time ago…

Hum… still seated on the confortable red chair at the Opera Garnier in Paris and thinking about how much History there is here…

November 04, 2016

When stories make great recipes

This week was easy-peasy. Two recipes that I did not find particularly difficult. Do not get me wrong; I did not have them perfectly executed but like we say in French: C’√©tait pas mal, it was not bad.

First was the Passion fruit and Raspberry tart. The recipe is a sweet pastry dough filled with a passion fruit cream and a jellied raspberry coulis. One of the technique to master is the chablonnage. Chablonnage is a French culinary word to describe the action of coating a biscuit in order to keep it waterproof from any moist mixture that might come next.
For example, you may want to apply a thin layer of egg wash on the bottom of your raw pastry dough before to put it into the oven or in this case spread a thin layer of chocolate glaze before pouring in the raspberry coulis. That way, the biscuit keeps its crunch.

Passion Fruit and Raspberry tart

That was not a little mouse that bit into each of our tarts during the practical but a chef with a very sweet tooth. Sixteen tarts in a row to taste, review and give a feedback. The glazing is good but the crust is a bit too thick. Oui chef!

Then we had the Rum Baba. Let me tell you the story of the Rum Baba. The legend tells that Stanislas Leszczynski (1677-1766), fallen king of Poland and Duke of Lorraine would have find his Kugelhopf too dry one day and decided to pour some Malaga wine on it to give it some moist.

Kugelhopf by Chef Danniel

Another version of that story says that Nicolas Stohrer, the duke’s pastry chef invented the Rum Baba. He made that cake out of a dry brioche that was eaten in Poland for centuries at Christmas and Easter time and call Baba, a polish name for “Grand-mother”. The pastry chef got the idea of flavoring the dough with Saffron, of pouring Malaga wine on the cake and of serving it with a cream and dry grapes.
In 1725 Mary, the daughter of the Duke got married with Louis XV. She would not move to the Palace of Versailles without her pastry chef. So Nicolas Stoher came with her. Et voilà, the Baba is introduced to the court.
Five years later Nicolas Stohrer opens his pastry shop on Montorgueil Street, in Paris. His descendants substituted Rum for the Malaga wine and his shop is still open nowadays. What a story!

Mini Rum Baba by Chef Danniel

Back to the kitchen, the chef demonstrated both the Kugelhopf and the Rum Baba. We only did the Rum Baba in practical for the great pleasure of my mother. As I did not mention before, we are taking home the pastries we are making in the kitchen. I usually give them to our lucky neighbors but my mother held on the Rum Baba.

Rum Baba by Chef Sandrine

I thought I had poured too much Rum on my Baba as my thumb is way smaller than the neck of the bottle of Rum but apparently I did not pour enough.
Mum blind tasted my Rum Baba versus the one I got from the pastry shop. With a guilty smile she said she likes the one from the shop better because there is more Rum... She is sharper than the Chef.

Next week is going to be another story for another great recipe… maybe a recipe that you will have at your exam… this recipe comes up regularly at the examReally?