“So, you will come to my presentation with Le Squer in Lyon.” It was more of a decision, less a question.
Bruno Verjus, arguably, knows more about food than any other person I know. The bonus is that he’s incredibly passionate about his affections, humble in his station as one of the most well-connected food personalities in Europe, and generous with his knowledge.
Our acquaintance was brokered by a mutual friend, Julien Tort, who, in his absence, encouraged Bruno and me to meet each other for lunch in Paris. So, we did. And I found myself in splendid company at l’Arpege (that post to come).
* * *
* * *
Truth be told, my schedule in Lyon was so tight that I nearly passed on Bruno’s invitation, and not by choice.
But then I bumped into him in that grand concourse at Eurexpo, with hundreds of thousands milling about.
“You’re coming, right?”
How could I not?
The VIP area of Sirha was a tony neighborhood of suites occupied by the biggest names in food. Among the most impressive was the Nespresso suite, a mansion compared to the rest. And, unlike the others, its exclusivity was marked by a receptionist, a gatekeeper to the secret rooms within, hidden from view.
Inside, I discovered a spacious lounge with a bar, where industry bigwigs mingled, coffee in hand. Through a set of sleek, sliding glass doors was a staging area, a horseshoe bar where Le Squer and Verjus were preparing their presentation. I was offered a seat right in front of them, totally unaware of what was about to happen.
The rest of the bar filled with members of the press and, I suppose, buyers. We were offered coffee.
* * *
* * *
Before I proceed further, I must make a disclaimer. This post is not a commercial for Nespresso (and thus, I link not to it or its products). In fact, I had very little knowledge about the presentation – both the sponsor, and the nature of it – until I arrived. You must assume that I came at the invitation of a friend, and not the coffee company.**
The presentation commenced in French, with Bruno at Le Squer’s side.
Le Squer prepared four “bites.” Each one incorporated and showcased Nespresso’s coffee, namely, a product they call “Espresso Leggero.”
I was skeptical. Coffee from a pod I’ve had, and, admittedly, I’ve been surprisingly happy with the results. But to see a Michelin three-starred chef openly embracing and cooking with the stuff was a bit unsettling, and totally unexpected.***
First, was an incredibly light “breakfast macaron” (Macaron du Petit Dejeuner). The meringues were almost like powdery styrofoam; impossibly light and infused with kaffir lime and espresso, each distinct, but together, complete.**** Piped between the meringues was a simple pâté filling: ham, foie gras, and butter. Le Squer chucked these three into a food processor and let it go until a chunky paste formed.
It sounds like a train wreck of flavors. But it was delicious, with the bitterness of the coffee and the fragrance of the kaffir cutting through the rich paste between. The creaminess of the foie gras and butter helped give body to the coffee meringue. It was like a morning cappuccino, with a side of hearty breakfast in one bite. Brilliant, really.
* * *
* * *
Next, little “nougatines” of foie gras topped with a layer of gelatin made from cocoa, coffee, and coconut milk (Nougatine de Foie Gras Chocolat). With a dash of piment d’espelette and sea salt across the top, and a few chips of “wafer-thin biscuits” studded with cocoa nibs, it was like a little, creamy caramel square, with a crunch and a punch. Like the macarons, these walked a fine line between savory and sweet, totally confounding, utterly delicious. It took me a few seconds to register all the flavors, first separating them in my mind, before compromising them in my mouth.
Thereafter, a spicy little blood sausage, dusted with espresso and seared until warm. The blood sausage was nestled in a bowl, with three little cubes of espresso jelly and a spoonful of passion fruit sauce infused with espresso. This was, perhaps, the most well-orchestrated and sophisticated bite of the four. A collage in sight and mind, in taste, nothing seemed out of place – a seamless transition between the bitterness in each of the components – the coffee – sewed everything together naturally. Through it, a bright streak of acid ran to temper the heaviness of it all. It was balanced and beautiful, genius.
* * *
* * *
Dessert was delightful, an unapologetically delicious parfait (“Crumble Leggero“). Layered in martini glasses were coffee gelatin, blackberry coulis, and a tuft of white chocolate mousse out of a siphon. Lastly a “crumble” topping made from toasted almonds (in various forms), coffee, and desiccated yogurt powder.
Like the other dishes, I was impressed that the coffee was assertive enough to show, but not so powerful as to lead. One sensed the coffee, more at the back-end of the flavor rather in the front. Although I was assured of its presence in every one of the four compositions, coffee wouldn’t be the first ingredient I’d use to describe any of them.
This was nuance, unquestioned. This was finesse at its finest. In this presentation, Le Squer demonstrated mastery over flavor, suffusing them unconventionally, yet convincingly.
There was no sales pitch, no message of hope in a product well-placed. Instead, we were made to feel like a part of the research and development of flavor, a playful kitchen aside with a chef who happens to cook with coffee.
Though I was, ostensibly, snacking in a booth at a food expo, I left feeling like I had a three-starred meal.
Actually, I know I did.
Thank you, Bruno, for the invitation.
To see all the photos from this presentation, CLICK HERE.
* My meal at Ledoyen in 2008 I still count among my very best. Given the opportunity to return to Paris, it tops my list for a revisit.
** As we left, we were each given a gift bag containing a press packet; a box set of six cookbooks, each one featuring recipes by a different chef using a different Nespresso product (among them are Christian Le Squer, Jordi Herrera, and Ramon Freixa); and an apron embroidered with Nespresso’s logo and Christian LeSquer’s name.
*** Le Squer is not alone in using Nespresso products at the high end. I have heard that Marc Veyrat, Jacques Genin, and Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur, among others, have partnered with, or use Nespresso products.
**** I later discovered that the meringues were made with powdered egg whites, and contained no nut flour. Is this a new wave of haute macarons? I had something very similar (actually identical, only different color, different flavor) a few days later at l’Arnsbourg.