Blaine Wetzel – Epicurea BVLGARI Milan

When I heard that Blaine Wetzel was taking part at one of the Epicurea events hosted at The Bulgari Hotel in Milan, I knew I had to attend. Blaine Wetzel was the sixth chef out of seven other chefs from around the world who are part of Epicurea events which is a unique collaboration with The Bulgari Hotel Milan and food expert Andrea Petrini.

Blaine has been on my list of chefs whose food I would like to eat for a while now. However, because his kitchen is situated in The Willows Inn on Lummi Island which lies at the Southwest corner of Whatcom County, Washington, USA, getting there requires some planning. The drive to Milan from Zürich is only three hours!

Blaine Wetzel is from the state of Washington. In 2011, at the age of 24, Blaine started cooking at Willows Inn and is now a partner in the business. Before that he worked for 2 years at Noma. Blaine is a Locavore: “Fished, Foraged & Farmed – Only Here Only Now”.

Upon my arrival an hour or so before the event was going to start, I was warmly greeted by Fabio Serafini, the Bulgari’s F & B manager & his staff, who then introduced me to the Bulgari’s Executive Chef Andrea Ferrero & Blaine Wetzel. Andrea, the host chef for all of the seven Epicurea events, happily organised a kitchen tour for me.

After my visit of Andrea’s kitchen I couldn’t help thinking how different this environment must be for Blaine – in a large city, a long way from the sea.

Stand-out dishes for me this evening were Grilled Squid & Radicchio – the bitterness of the Radicchio worked well with the Squid – and Jerusalem Artichokes with sweet Onion & Fennel. My Favourite dish by far was Goat Tartare with Smoked Eggs & Rye. This was a first for me, and the goat meat was very tender even though it came from the leg. After my meal I spoke with Blaine about this dish and surprisingly he told me he usually makes it with aged venison. So this was really “Here & Now”! The steamed Rhubarb with Green Juniper & Bay Leaves brought it all to an excellent end.

When I return to Milan I will be sure to visit the Bulgari again – an oasis in the city – and I look forward to eating Andrea Ferrero’s menu which is heavily influenced by his love for the Mediterranean & creating new combinations and fresh takes on fish.

During my evening I also spoke to Blaine’s girlfriend Raquel Ruiz Diaz who runs FOH at Willows Inn. We talked about life on Lummi Island and the Willows Inn. I am planning my visit now and I can’t wait to taste Blaine’s cooking on his home ground!

For Bulgari’s website click hereFor Willows Inn website click here (Click on a photo to start slideshow)

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Today I had lunch in SALTIMP ORTEN CANTEEN in Malmö, Sweden. It’s open for lunch, just One Dish & Bread is served which changes daily and it costs an unbelievable 85SEK – 12CHF – £8 – 10€. Vegetarians are looked after.

The Canteen is situated by Malmö harbour within walking distance from Malmö’s main station. Today the dish I had was – Veal / Onion / Browned Butter / Sea Buckthorn. The Veal was slow cooked and just melted in my mouth. SALTIMP ORTEN CANTEEN is a perfect “Canteen”.

SALTIMP ORTEN CANTEEN website – for more information click here. (Click on a photo to start slideshow)

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La Grenouillère & Photos

I visited La Grenouillère for the first time last July, and I can’t wait to return this Spring with my wife. Head Chef Alexandre Gauthier took the business over from his father in 2003. La Grenouillère is set in beautiful gardens by the Canche river. Some of the accommodation are environmentally friendly built Huts – you can hardly see them at a distance.

It was a hot summer’s evening when I dined there alone. I remember the excellent menu I had very well and even more so now because I took photos and as a blogger I know that some people visiting my site want to see those photos. However, I always put them at the end of my posts now – for those who prefer not to look.

In a recent article in The Guardian (link below) Alexandre Gauthier talks about how he dislikes people taking photos of the food he serves and then posting it to social media before they eat it – I couldn’t agree more.

Eating the food a restaurant serves me comes first. I do sometimes forget to take a photo of a course, because I am thinking so much about the wonderful dish I have just been served! I have heard of stories where customers have set up tripods and moved tables etc. This is just stupid and disrespectful to the restaurant and its diners, just like using your phone while in a restaurant.

In other articles relating to people taking photos during their time spent in a restaurant, chefs even speak of their dishes being “stolen” – I wonder how many of those chefs have recreated Michel Bras’ Le Gargouillou or Thomas Keller’s Oysters & Pearls?! It reminds me of this saying: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I sometimes get inspired by a dish that I have had in a restaurant and try to recreate it at home. I have just about nailed Magnus Nilsson’s Langoustine & Almost Burnt Cream.

Jay Rayner’s reviews get published with photos of the food now, but I have heard that a photographer returns to the restaurant at a later date arranged with the kitchen to take photos of the dishes Jay had, lucky for some! Bloggers are a big part of a restaurant’s PR resources & some are just as important as the newspaper reviewers.

If you must take photos in a restaurant, there should be an etiquette however, here is mine: Use a small camera without a flash, with its sound turned off & be fast. If you are going to post photos after you have left the restaurant, don’t post crap ones!

I chatted with Monsieur Gauthier after my meal. He is a chef with a great passion for creating dishes that revolve around the seasons and local ingredients. He also has a fantastic sense of humour and is not at all grumpy! If you are lucky enough to visit La Grenouillère, seize the moment when it happens, not after you have taken a photo and posted it to Instagram – in my opinion that is all Alexandre Gauthier is asking for.

My 11 course meal cost €115. La Grenouillère presently has 1 Michelin star and is number 54 in “The World’s 100 Best Restaurants”. I will let the photos speak for themselves with no captions. La Grenouillère’s website for more information click here. (Click on a photo to start slideshow) Link to Guardian article.

This post is dedicated to John Lanchester – ex restaurant reviewer of The Guardian.

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Auberge de Chassignolles

Auberge de Chassignolles in the Auvergne Region of France has just recently changed hands from Harry Lester to Peter Taylor. Twelve years ago Harry was one of three people who started the Gastro-Pub movement with the Anchor & Hope in London. Peter Taylor’s pedigree is a little different, but both men are on the same track when it comes to food & wine.

About 35 years ago John Payne made his first brew of Smiles Real Ale behind Bell’s Diner in Bristol. When John moved the brewery to a permanent site, Peter joined him as delivery driver, then brewer, but after 7 years realised his passion lay, not in the cellar, but in the kitchen. In 1989 he teamed up with Shirley Anne Bell and began his cooking career at Bell’s, the restaurant she had founded 12 years earlier.

I first met Peter & Shirley Anne in 1993 , when I was a waiter at Bell’s. My passion for good food and cooking started then. Shirley Anne & Peter became my first mentors. I fondly remember staff trips visiting restaurants such as Kensington Place in London when Rowley Leigh was at the helm, or Rick Stein’s restaurants in Padstow when he was in the kitchen!

Peter, John & Shirley Anne went on to open the hugely successful riverstation restaurant and café in Bristol which they still own.

Auberge de Chassignolles will be open from May until October. Peter will of course be in the Kitchen and his son Henry will help run FOH. In the evenings a 5 course “no choice” menu which will use locally sourced & seasonal ingredients will be available for a very reasonable price of €25 (with a little notice vegetarians will be looked after).

Peter has a great knowledge of wine and aims to keep the list 75% Natural. In past years Harry has hosted a fête du vin at the Auberge. This year will be no different with the fête taking place in the 3rd weekend of July.

The simple rooms with parquet floors & beds made up with pure white linen will cost no more than €65 per night. Kids of all ages are welcome.

I visited Chassignolles with Peter & Henry just recently. The Auberge is situated in a very special place of France – I love its remoteness. It’s a walker’s paradise & a forager’s dream. It’s a great base to explore the region with its many markets. If you just want to find a  place to have lunch I can personally recommend Harry Lester’s Le Saint Eutrope in Clermont, Xavier Beaudiment’s Le Pré in Durtol, Jacques Decoret’s Maison Decoret in Vichy or Jean Luc Mouty’s Castle Hôtel 1904 in St Gervais d’ Auvergne. These places offer something for everyone.

Auberge de Chassignolles dates back to the 1930’s when it was popular with people from Paris and Marseille seeking pure air and peace and quiet – not much has changed since. Auberge de Chassignolles’s website for more information click here. (Click on a photo to start slideshow)

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Le Pré – Autumn

Auvergne was one of the first regions I visited when I started travelling in France back in 1994. When I first heard of Xavier Beaudiment’s restaurant Le Pré (The Field) earlier in 2013, I did some research and couldn’t wait to visit. Le Pré was the perfect stop for lunch on our way home from our usual autumn holidays in the region Tarn.

My research revealed that Xavier Beaudiment who is from Clermont-Ferrand (Le Pré is in Durtol which is just outside Clermont-Ferrand) had taken the bold move to offer just one menu in his restaurant Le Pré. The menu is based & inspired by the ingredients available from local producers & hunters alike. He himself also forages on most days – Auvergne is famed for its cheeses & wild produce.

From start to finish it was indeed as if each dish had a strong connection with “The Fields” in the nearby countryside. Stand out dishes were: Veal Tartare, Lemon & Purple Woodsorrel, you could tell that the veal used in this dish had spent time outside – Scallop, Cep & Raw Apple, a perfect balance of taste & texture – Poached Trout, Mushroom & Sabayon Acidulé, Xavier also cooked a children’s version of this for Kate (10) & Eva (7) (see the photo below, it was cooked to perfection, look at that colour) – Suprême de Pigeon, Girolles & Young Grilled Leeks, once again perfectly cooked – Apple, Caramel & Peanuts, wonderful!

The Foie Gras dish was one of the best Foie Gras dishes I have tasted, served with Beetroot & Black Fruit. Personally I would be happy if it wasn’t on the menu, but I get the feeling it is on Le Pré’s menu because of the very traditional region that the restaurant is situated in. The Michelin Guide was born in Clermont-Ferrand just like the Tires – old habits die hard.

After dreaming about it as a child Xavier gained his first Michelin star in 2012. It’s taken the Michelin Guide too long to recognise the talents and passions of chefs such as Xavier Beaudiment. Sure, we have had Michel Bras & Marc Veyrat who blazed the trail with this type of kitchen, but who has really followed in their footsteps in France? Monsieur Beaudiment certainly has, that’s for sure.

People who read my blog know I have spent time in Scandinavia where a lot of chefs have gone along the route of only using locally sourced & foraged produce in their kitchens. Most of those chefs have “done time” in France or worked under a chef that has, ie. René Redzepi. Xavier Beaudiment has decided to stay close to his roots & cook the way he does, keeping things simple by using the ingredients he has on hand on the day he cooks them. I get the feeling that regions like Auvergne in France have been producing & cooking food like this long before we had “The 100 Best Restaurants”!

One “Menu” costs a very reasonable 75€. The region of Auvergne also has good local wines and the list reflects this. We had a bottle of Saint Pourçain Blanc – Tressaille – 2012 Domaine des Bérioles for 35€, FOH service was excellent. Le Pré’s website for more information click here. (Click on a photo to start slideshow)

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Bror & Relæ

“They called us the seal fuckers,” he said, glancing back at his boys for support. “They called us the stinking whale. They asked us if we had braised whale’s penis on the menu.” He grinned. “Look who’s laughing now.” René Redzepi.

In my last post I spoke about Noma having family, not staff – Some of this family have branched out to open their own restaurants. Bror & Relæ are perfect examples of what happens when Seal Fuckers leave home and go their own way. Back in the summer I didn’t have enough time to  eat at both Bror & Relæ on separate evenings, so there was only one thing to do: eat at both in one evening.

Bror is situated near the center of Copenhagen. My table was reserved for 17:30. Bror is owned and operated by two ex Seal Fuckers, Samuel Nutter & Victor Wågman. Samuel is from England & Victor is from Sweden.

They keep things simple with deep fried Bulls Balls & Catfish Cheeks – Great use of ingredients we don’t normally think to eat. On the other hand, they have delicate plates of food such as Pike Perch with Grilled Cucumbers & Pine. Their Boned Chicken Wings are one of their  signature dishes & Seal the Deal that they are not just an after thought from Mr Redzepi – I imagine staff meals at Noma were involved here. All the food that I ate was excellent, the wine list is mostly Natural & the service is good. Bror in Danish means Brother.

Relæ is situated in the Copenhagen district of the once-shady Nørrebro – Seal Fuckers Christian F. Puglisi & Kim Rossen (Kim was a chef but is now FOH) opened Relæ in August 2010. As I was eating alone I had reserved a place at the “Bar” for 21:00 which overlooks the open kitchen where the old gas Stove from Noma has found a new home. Upon entering Relæ I felt immediately welcome and sensed a feeling of customers & staff alike enjoying themselves in an unpretentious atmosphere.

I ordered the very reasonably priced 7 course menu for 675 kr. & Wine Menu for 385 kr. (together about €150, £120 & CHF180). The Deep Fried Potato Bread is great – I loved the Raw Beef, Anchovies & Wild GarlicPork from Hindsholm with Nettles & Cucumber was excellent (look at the colour of the perfectly cooked Pink Pork in the photo) & Steamed Danish Enoki & Sand Leek. The wine I had was all fantastically natural.

Christian F. Puglisi is known for his sharp and unshakeable position on questions regarding his field and concerns of organics and sustainability. Both Relæ and sister restaurant Manfreds & Vin have achieved the Danish organic certification and therefore making Relæ the only Michelin starred restaurant with an organic certification in the world. Relæ is also number 56th in the World’s 100 Best. Relæ in Danish means Relay – An act of passing something along from one person, group, or station to another……..Please keep passing boys.

Bror’s website for more information click here.Relæ’s website for more information click here. (Click on a photo to start slideshow – Some photos have captions, Bror’s are first)

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When I told Karin and our two daughters that we were going to Noma, Eva, the youngest, asked “what’s a Noma?”. Most people reading my blog will know what “a” Noma is. The name Noma comes from two Danish words – Nordisk (Nordic) & Mad (Food). It opened in 2004 with René Redzepi in the Kitchen.

Once I had secured my table for lunch for four people I made sure that it would not be a problem bringing our two girls. We arrived at 12:30 to be greeted very warmly by René and his team. I gave them some cheese that I had brought from Switzerland and my Noma “Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine” book with its red wine stains – for anyone that was working at Noma that day to write something on its pages.

Noma is more than just a restaurant – in my mind it’s an experiment – more on that later. We were shown to our spacious table with a view over the harbour – and Lunch began. We had some champagne first, and then I gave the sommelier, Norwegian Mads Kleppe, our budget for wine. He sorted us out perfectly with a mad natural White from Burgundy.

We started with a Potato Colada (Nordic Coconut) which was warm, and my mind was sent into “Escapism”. Other dishes that still stand out in my mind now include: Pickled and Smoked Quails Eggs, the girls had fun with those – Caramelised Milk & Cod Liver (Foie Gras from the sea), Skagen Shrimps and Ramsoms (loved the way Nasturtiums were used to create a Ravioli) – this was my favourite dish – and White & Green Asparagus served with fresh Pine Shoots which was also a great dish.

The service was excellent and unobtrusive.

After lunch we went on a tour of the kitchen and food preparation areas. It was then I realised that there is more to Noma than a 45 seat restaurant with its 10 tables which include the numbers of 20 & 154 and exclude the numbers 1 & 13. It’s unbelievable how much work goes on behind the scenes. There are test kitchens, not to mention the nearby Nordic Food Lab which Claus Meyer is a director of & also a co-founder of Noma. The people at Nordic Food Lab say food should be Delicious, Healthy & Sustainable – I can’t argue with that.

Noma is not just a restaurant, it’s a place where cooks try to find ways how we can use the produce we grow and forage for locally to its best and fullest advantage. To me it’s like a Formula One or America’s Cup team – it might cost a lot to get a great result, but in the end everyone wins, for example F1 helps develop cars to make them lighter which in turn makes them use less fuel. Sure some people would say we could stop using cars but try telling that to someone who lives in Jämtland, Sweden.

As we were leaving René gave Kate & Eva a Danish Pastry each from the Staff Meal that he and the staff were about to have before the evening service. Everyone was smiling and I could sense that this was not going to be just a staff meal, it was going to be a family one.

I am sure Noma is a restaurant that makes us think about what we eat, how we cook it, if we cook it at all and more importantly how we source the produce that we eat and where it comes from. This can only have a knock on effect to the greater public, just like F1. Noma’s website for more information click here. (Click on a photo to start slideshow) PS: Escapism (“I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne”)

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