You'd think Michel Guerard, the father of cuisine minceur (the slim cuisine), was having a change of heart.
He was in town plugging something fattening--chocolates. His own line of chocolates. Chocolates so precise and perfectly formed you'd think they were made of wax. But they're not. They're double-dipped bonbons, some as thin as paper, others poufs filled with cream. Sweet nothings.
Actually, the chocolates are slimmed-down calorically too. Coatings are paper thin but finely milled for extra strength. Sugar is cut at least 25% to make the cream fillings super-light. Cost is $18 for 14 ounces.
Chocolate Box Signing
"You are buying my chocolates?" asked Guerard, with surprise in his voice. He was standing before the chocolate counter at Robinson's department store in Beverly Hills at a chocolate box signing adjacent to the cooking demonstration area where he and his sous chef had been demonstrating a chocolate charlotte.
He seemed pleased, this mini De Gaulle, with a face that switches radically at will from wise man to jester.
"I weel explain you why. Eet ees verry, verry dan-gerous if you add all the cocoa at once," said the chef, the top of his toque reflecting in the overhead demonstration mirror before a larger-than-usual department store audience. Then waiting for the giggly response that often comes at such events he added with a twinkly eye, "I speak verry good English, no?"
Well, no, not really, but who cares?
Watching Guerard at work is a privilege. He prepared the chocolate charlotte with surgical precision, insisting on whipping cream with a whisk, folding chocolate deftly into cream, cutting lady fingers to fit precisely like a star in the charlotte pan.
That was in the morning. At 6 p.m. he was at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Robert J. Feder, who had talked Guerard into cooking the dinner benefiting voice research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The chefs traveling with Guerard had been busy since 8 a.m. at L'Orangerie kitchens made available to them by owner, Gerard Ferry. The chefs were whipping up an extraordinary cuisine minceur meal of three courses similar to that served at special functions at Guerard's luxurious health spa, Eugenie Les Bains, in southern France. And while the chefs and Guerard, who was limping slightly from an ankle sprained that morning, put the finishing touches on dishes, the guests (among them Robert Wagner and Jill St. John, David and Gladyce Begelman, David and Suzanne Horowitz), filed in.
"Ees ze photo-grapher ready to take ze picture?" asked Guerard, standing before the table set sumptuously for 40 guests in the patio area of the Feder home.
One the dishes, Le homard a la poire au Fumet de Cabernet Sauvignon, was a version of lobster thermidor of sorts in a pool of Cabernet Sauvignon and cassis sauce. Under the lobster shell was a cluster of chopped pears with red sweet pepper.
Second Course Like Abstract Painting
The second course, le gigot de poulette a la vapeur de marjolaine sauce creme de ciboulette (steamed boned leg of chicken stuffed with sweetbreads), looked like an abstract painting by Dufy. Sticks of carrot, haricots verts, truffles and morelles were placed around the stuffed leg of chicken garnished with a single sprig of fresh rosemary.
La grande assiette de fruits et sorbets du temps was the dessert. Fruit sorbets shaped like eggs lay in a pool of raspberry sauce and served with a frilly lace cookie.
If you are curious about Guerard's cuisine, you will find recipes in his books "Michel Guerard's Cuisine, (William Morrow, $12.95) and "Cuisine for Home Cooks," (William Morrow, $15.95). But desserts have been the passion of Guerard, who started his career as pastry chef. And no dish better epitomizes the simplicity and delicacy of Guerard's approach than:
GUERARD'S CHOCOLATE CHARLOTTE WITH COFFEE SAUCE
5 ounces semisweet chocolate
7 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup plus 5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/3 cups unsweetened Dutch cocoa
1/2 cup cold black coffee, about
Melt chocolate in top of double boiler or in saucepan in oven heated to 350 degrees. Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Beat until light and pale in color. Fold chocolate into egg yolk mixture.
Beat butter in another bowl with wooden spoon until creamy and smooth. Gradually add cocoa, beating well after each addition. Beat until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Pour into chocolate-egg mixture, stirring until smooth. Add Whipped Cream and beat in vigorously until well mixed.
Cut 7 ladyfingers in halves diagonally from corner to corner. Cut each one diagonally in other direction, forming 2 triangles. Place ladyfinger triangles in bottom of charlotte (straight-sided) mold, with pointed ends meeting in center. Cut and shape ladyfingers as necessary so that they fit perfectly in a geometric star pattern.
Line sides of mold with ladyfingers, placing them as close together as possible. Using pastry brush, brush all the ladyfingers with cold black coffee, lightly soaking them. Pour chocolate filling into mold. Cut off ladyfingers that are higher than the rim of the mold. Place charlotte in refrigerator 2 to 3 hours to set before serving.
Unmold charlotte. Spoon some of the Coffee Sauce around charlotte. Serve with remaining sauce in sauceboat.
2 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
Chill cream in refrigerator 1 hour before using. Combine cream, powdered and vanilla sugar in chilled metal bowl. Beat until soft peaks form. Continue to beat until stiff. Makes 4 cups.
1 cup milk
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons ground coffee
3 egg yolks
Place milk and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Just when milk begins to rise in pan, add coffee grounds. Cover pan and remove from heat. Leave to infuse 15 minutes.
Place egg yolks and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in bowl. Beat vigorously with wire whisk 1 minute or until mixture lightens and becomes pale yellow in color. Pour coffee-milk mixture into a bowl with egg yolks, whisking constantly and vigorously.
Pour back into pan, cook over low heat (do not allow to come to a boil) until sauce thickens, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring constantly with wooden spoon. To test for doneness, stir sauce with wooden spoon, lift and hold at a sharp angle. Draw a line down middle of spoon with fingertip. Sauce is done if line will remain clean. Pour sauce into another bowl and stir until it cools. Or place bowl over another bowl of ice. Sauce keeps up to 3 days in refrigerator.