A French Affair

Times Staff Writer

"Is anyone interested in making anything but pasta salads these days?"

Julia Child sat there bemused, contemplating the flood of pastas and other quick and easy upstarts that are competing with the serious food that is her life's work.

Child, the ultimate icon of French cuisine in the United States, had a more immediate reason for concern: She has another book on the way. Titled "The Way to Cook," it will be her thickest volume yet, a compilation of past columns, the recipes from her video cassettes, dishes from the television series, "Dinner at Julia's," and other material. The book is due out in October, 1989. Will anyone care to read it? Child had only to look about her for reassurance on that score.

Crowded on and around the terrace of a bright pink chateau were scores of Southern Californians who had traveled for hours by bus to have lunch with her. On the table was further reassurance: a sumptuous French repast prepared by chefs who also had traveled miles to show off their art. There was, by the way, not a pasta strand in sight.

The occasion was a Bastille Day party at the Brander Vineyard at Los Olivos. The chefs, assembled by Guy J. Gabriele of Cafe Pierre in Manhattan Beach, worked under trying conditions: an improvised outdoor kitchen, an hour's delay in arrival of the buses and a heat wave so intense that it clarified the butter pats as they sat on the tables and took the chill off the wines in seconds.

But these were pros: people like Michel Blanchet of L'Ermitage in Los Angeles; Roland Gibert of Califia in Manhattan Beach; Jean-Luc Chassereau, who recently sold his restaurant, Le Cookery, in Sacramento; Jose Dahan, chef-owner of J'Adore in Palos Verdes; Ramon Cardenas of Cafe Pierre and Guy Bergounhoux of the Chalkboard in Santa Barbara.

Their goal was to show that French cooking is alive and well in the midst of California cuisine. "Just because you do a reduction and put in cilantro does not change the fact that the idea of the reduction comes from France. The basics haven't changed in hundreds of years," Gabriele said.

Nevertheless, French food has been slighted. "There is so much confusion with all these new trends that we forget what French cuisine has done and we ignore it," he said. Designed to reaffirm the French connection, the menu "was more classical than if we were to do a dinner without that topic in mind," Gabriele observed.

The closest to nouvelle was Chassereau's dessert, a terrine of strawberries in aspic made with red wine and Port. "Years ago, it would have been done with cream, like a Bavarian cream, and that would have made it much heavier," said Chassereau, a former executive chef and chef-instructor at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

One dish was so foreign to conventional tastes that its composition was not revealed until after lunch. This was Roland Gibert's specialty, pieds de cochon farcis (boned, stuffed pig's feet). The secret part was the filling--snails and brains. Guests also did not know that the little bundles were tied with caul fat.

"We asked ourselves, what could we do that is so French, that would shock people a little but would start conversation," said Gabriele, explaining why the dish was chosen.

Still another dish might have shocked the health conscious if they had known how it was prepared. This was Bergounhoux's Salade de Confit de Canard, a duck leg accompanied by baby lettuces in oil and vinegar dressing. A confit is meat preserved in fat. For this dish, the duck legs were covered with melted duck fat and baked, then drained, patted dry and grilled. "They do not absorb the grease. Why, I don't know," said Bergounhoux.

The cooking method was devised to preserve meats in days when there was no refrigeration, he explained. Covered with fat, the meat could be stored at room temperature without spoiling. Child liked this dish and lamented the current "period of nutritional fear and danger" that inhibits the enjoyment of such foods.

Lunch started with an assortment of pates and terrines. Cardenas contributed an unctuous pate of duck liver flavored with Port wine and Armagnac and a rabbit terrine that included green peppercorns and hazelnuts. Dahan layered grilled eggplant, basil-flavored tomato sauce and goat cheese for a terrine with sunny flavor. Gibert stuffed cabbage leaves with crayfish, and Blanchet wrapped creamy salmon mousse in smoked salmon for a roll that when sliced revealed two shades of pink.

Next came quenelles-- fluffy poached dumplings of turbot with a bright yellow sauce flavored with saffron and curry powder, another dish from Cardenas.

After the duck salad and pig's feet, Blanchet presented little glasses of jellied, tarragon-flavored chicken consomme, each garnished with a single tarragon leaf. Blanchet had spent hours preparing and clarifying the consomme only to watch the shimmery substance melt into a beverage. "The heat was against us," he sighed.

Blanchet and Dahan collaborated on the meat course. Dahan produced venison with a sweet and sour sauce that included balsamic vinegar and tiny caramelized onions. Blanchet provided the accompaniments--baby vegetables and apple shells stuffed with mango-ginger compote and topped with a cranberry.

The wines that wound up warmer than room temperature were Brander Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Bouchet, which is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot; Maison Deutz sparkling wine, Beaujolais-Villages Gabriel Aligne and a Filhot Sauternes.

The sun also dealt harshly with the dessert, quickly melting the raspberry sorbet that accompanied Chassereau's strawberry terrine and golden fruit coulis.

Recapping later, the chefs said they enjoyed themselves and felt the lunch turned out fairly well despite the problems of weather and location.

Child, who appeared unbowed by the heat, gamely signed autographs, chatted with her admirers and voiced appreciation for the chefs' efforts. "That was fun," she said. "I admired their enthusiasm, and it was lovely to see them all working together."

TERRINE D'AUBERGINE ET FROMAGE DE CHEVRE (Eggplant and Goat Cheese Terrine) Jose Dahan

Olive oil

2 medium eggplant, peeled and very thinly sliced

Salt, pepper

Tomato Sauce

4 (3.5-ounce) logs goat cheese, thinly sliced

Basil Cream Sauce

Oil grill or large skillet with small amount of olive oil. Quickly grill eggplant slices, about 20 seconds on each side, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. In buttered 13x9-inch baking dish, make 2 layers of eggplant slices. Cover with 1 cup Tomato Sauce. Top sauce with half the cheese slices. Make another layer of eggplant slices, 1 cup Tomato Sauce and remaining goat cheese. Finish with layers of remaining eggplant and Tomato Sauce.

Bake uncovered at 425 degrees 35 minutes. Serve warm topped with spoonful of Basil Cream Sauce or cold without sauce. Makes 10 servings.

Tomato Sauce

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon crushed garlic

6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

Salt, pepper

1/2 bunch fresh basil, chopped

Saute onion slowly in olive oil. When onion is almost tender, add garlic and saute. Then add tomatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered over medium heat 30 minutes. Stir in basil toward end of cooking time. Makes about 3 cups.

Basil Cream Sauce

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt

1 cup whipping cream

1 ounce goat cheese

1 tablespoon chopped basil

Freshly ground pepper

Combine wine, garlic and salt to taste in saucepan and simmer until reduced by 1/3. Add cream, goat cheese and basil and simmer until reduced by half. Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Makes about 2/3 cup.

MOUSSE DE FOIE DE CANARD A L'ARMAGNAC (Duck Liver Mousse With Armagnac) Ramon Cardenas

1/2 shallot, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons butter

1/2 pound duck livers

Salt, pepper

1/4 cup Port wine

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon Armagnac

Dash cayenne pepper

Dash lemon juice

Saute shallot in butter until tender. Add livers and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook 3 minutes. Add Port and ignite. When flames die down, simmer 2 minutes. Puree mixture in food processor. Soften gelatin in 1 tablespoon cream. Add to remaining cream and warm until gelatin is dissolved.

Add to livers in food processor and blend. Strain mixture. Add Armagnac, cayenne and lemon juice. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Turn into 6x3-inch loaf pan and refrigerate overnight. To serve, turn out and slice. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

ROULADE DE SAUMON FUME (Smoked Salmon Roll) Michel Blanchet

1 1/2 pounds sliced smoked salmon

1 cup whipping cream

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Overlap 1 pound salmon slices on large sheet wax paper to form rectangle. Grind remaining 1/2 pound salmon with 1/2 cup cream in food processor. Place in bowl and stir in lemon juice. Whip remaining 1/2 cup cream and blend into ground salmon mixture. Spread filling in even layer over salmon rectangle.

With aid of wax paper, roll up from 1 long side. Wrap and freeze 40 minutes, or until firm enough to slice easily. Slice and serve on toast points as canapes. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

QUENELLES DE TURBOT SAUCE AU SAFRAN ET CURRIE (Fish Dumplings With Saffron-Curry Sauce) Ramon Cardenas

1 pound turbot or halibut, diced

3 egg whites

2 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon salt

White pepper

Broth or salted water

Dash saffron

Dash curry powder

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons diced tomato

2 tablespoons diced celery

2 tablespoons fresh corn kernels

2 tablespoons green peas

Combine fish, egg whites, 1/2 cup cream and salt and pepper to taste in food processor. Process to very smooth consistency. Mold mixture into 12 quenelles with tablespoon. Pour broth or salted water 2 inches deep in skillet and heat to barely simmering. Poach quenelles in broth, uncovered, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Turn if necessary to cook each side. Drain and keep warm.

Bring remaining 2 cups cream to boil in saucepan. Reduce heat. Add saffron and curry powder. Simmer sauce until reduced by 1/3. Remove pan from heat and whip in 2 tablespoons butter until smooth. Turn into blender and blend 30 seconds. Strain. Saute tomato, celery, corn and peas in remaining 1 tablespoon butter until tender-crisp. Stir into sauce. For each serving, arrange 2 quenelles on plate. Spoon sauce with vegetables over and around quenelles. Makes 6 servings.

SALADE DE CONFIT DE CANARD (Preserved Duck Salad) Guy Bergounhoux

2 (4- to 5-pound) ducks

Salt, pepper

Assorted baby lettuces or butter lettuce mixed with romaine

Vinaigrette Dressing

Garlic Butter

Remove legs and breast meat from ducks. Trim all fat from ducks and reserve fat. Remove fat from legs but retain skin. Sprinkle legs with salt and pepper to taste, cover and refrigerate overnight. Reserve breast meat for another use and wings and carcass for stock.

Next day, melt duck fat. Place duck legs close together in single layer in baking pan. Add melted fat, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees 1 hour, or until knife penetrates meat easily. Drain legs. Pat dry with clean cloth. Place skin side down on grill and grill about 15 seconds. Do not turn. Dress lettuces with vinaigrette and place on 4 salad plates. Top each with 1 duck leg. Spoon Garlic Butter over leg. Makes 4 servings.

Vinaigrette Dressing

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme or tarragon

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup olive or walnut oil

1/2 cup safflower oil

Combine garlic, shallot, thyme leaves, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste in food processor and process until blended. With processor running, slowly pour in oil through top and process until well blended. Makes about 1 1/3 cups.

Garlic Butter

1/4 cup butter

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Soften butter and combine with garlic and parsley. When ready to use, turn into small skillet and heat until melted.

TERRINE DE FRAISES AU COULIS DU SOLEIL LEVANT (Strawberry Terrine With Apricot-Papaya Coulis) Jean-Luc Chassereau

3 cups Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine

1 cup Port wine

1/2 cup sugar

Peel of 1 orange, in 1 strip

3 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup water

Whole strawberries, about 1 pint

Apricot-Papaya Coulis

Combine wines and sugar in large pan and bring to boil. Ignite to burn off alcohol. Add orange peel, cover pan and let stand off heat.

Meanwhile, soften gelatin in cold water and dissolve over hot water. Add to wine mixture. Cool. Ladle 1/2 inch layer of gelatin in 9x5-inch glass loaf pan. Chill until almost set.

Top with layer of whole strawberries. Add another layer of gelatin. When almost set, add more berries, then top with remaining gelatin. Chill until set. Dip loaf pan in warm water for a few seconds, then invert to unmold.

To serve, place some of coulis on each dessert plate. Top with slice of terrine. If desired, garnish with kiwi slices or raspberries and mint leaves. Or add scoop of raspberry or apricot sherbet. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Apricot-Papaya Coulis

1 papaya, peeled, seeded and diced

1/2 pound apricots, peeled, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons sugar or to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons apricot brandy, optional

Combine papaya, apricots, sugar and lemon juice in blender and blend until pureed. Taste and add more sugar if needed. If too thick, thin to sauce consistency with simple syrup or small amount of water. Strain through fine sieve. If desired, flavor with apricot brandy. Makes about 2 cups.

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