12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas: couillon… (2017)

– Alexandre Couillon lives on a small island off the west coast of France called Noirmoutier.  For decades, there was only one road on and off the island called the Passage du Gois.  But it’s only passable at low tide, when the seawater recedes enough to expose the two-lane road to traffic.  I know this, […]


Alexandre Couillon lives on a small island off the west coast of France called Noirmoutier.  For decades, there was only one road on and off the island called the Passage du Gois.  But it’s only passable at low tide, when the seawater recedes enough to expose the two-lane road to traffic.  I know this, because, when I arrived at its shores earlier this year in October, an electronic sign at the entrance to the passage was flashing a warning. Although I could see the road stretching, unobstructed, toward the island in the distance, the tide was coming in.  And according to locals, the water floods the low-lying flats between the island and the mainland so quickly that many have died trying to cheat it.  Depending on who I asked, at high tide, the road is covered by three to four meters of water, which is hard to believe when you see the area at low tide, as I did on my way off the island.  Fully receded, the sea is not visible from the road at all.  Locals and visitors alike park alongside the Passage du Gois, and fan out over the vast expanse to collect cockles, mussels, and clams.

I turned around and took the bridge, which was constructed a few decades ago.

I loved my very short stay in Noirmoutier, where I was welcomed warmly by the Couillons.  Despite my misgivings about Couillon’s cooking based on his plating style and some of the chefs and restaurants that frequently appear in the same paragraphs and lists as he does (yes, how superficial of me), he impressed me.  His food was not only beautiful and meaningful (especially so if you have the time to explore the island before dinner, as I did), owing to excellent produce and technique, it was immensely delicious.  So I was thrilled to find his name on the eleventh night of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

Born and raised by French parents in the francophonic country of Senegal in West Africa, Couillon and his family moved to Noirmoutier when he was a child.  Having always lived on coastal waters (his father had been a shrimper in Dakar), cooking from the sea has been integral to Couillon’s career as a chef.  So, it was only appropriate that he and his wife Celine opened their restaurant on the harbor at l’Herbaudière, a village in the upper left corner of Noirmoutier.  It was 1999. He was 22. And they named it La Marine.

Just a few months after opening, in December of that year, a Maltese oil tanker – the ERIKA – sank off the coast of the island, spilling 20,000 tons of oil into local waters. The contamination devastated the island’s fishing industry, Noirmoutier’s lifeline, and crippled Couillon’s fledgling, seaside restaurant. To memorialize this inauspicious start, he created a dish that he serves at La Marine: “Huitre Noir ‘ERIKA'” (“Black Oyster, ERIKA”).  This is a single, large oyster coated in a sauce made of squid ink and topped with a thin, iridescent sugar chip mimicking mother of pearl.  Strangely, it is the sugary crisp that saves the dish for me, the sweetness helping to offset the rich flavors and texture.

Like Huitre Noir “ERIKA,” most of the dishes that I had at La Marine and the ones Couillon presented at the Twelve Days of Christmas, were highly personal conveyances.

“Au Bord de Mer” is a collection of seafood you might find “on a stroll along the coast.”  At The Restaurant at Meadowood, this included crab, lobster, shrimp, and clams, along with a variety of seaweed.

Smoked mackerel he rolls into a croquette and coats with a thin layer of finely ground coffee.  The smoke, the fish, the coffee are evocative of the smells of the open-air, Senegalese markets of Couillon’s childhood.

And le Bois de la Chaize – a coastal forest on his island – finds its way into a dessert of pine, mint, and chocolatey “pebbles”.

4th Course: Parsnip

2nd Course: Black Oyster

Two dishes from this dinner were particularly memorable to me.

Couillon’s parsnip dish was a surprise.  One wouldn’t expect parsnip, blueberries, and trout roe to keep good company.  But Couillon made them work together wonderfully.  (His mushroom and celery root dessert, however, I found as challenging as it sounds.)

Christopher Kostow’s cheese courses are usually crowd pleasers.  But his Brillat Savarin is a personal favorite: giant cakes of the triple-cream cheese generously layered with white truffle butter.  It was served with a fermented honey and a stack of buttery, fried bread from The Charter Oak.

8th Course: Champignon et Céleri-Rave

End of service.

Below, you’ll find the menu from the eleventh night of the Twelve Days of Christmas with Alexandre Couillon.  To see all of the photos from this dinner, CLICK HERE.



Pumpkin Tartlettes

Smoked Mackerel


Butter Clams

(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

First Course 
“au Bord de Mer”

Second Course
Huitre Noir “Erika”

Third Course 
Dungeness Crab
Local almond.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Fourth Course 
Avec oeuf de poisson.

Fifth Course 
Pork Smoked in Seaweed
Rye, wild mustard.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Sixth Course
White truffle, fermented honey.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Seventh Course
“Bois de la Chaize”

Eighth Course
Champignon et Céleri-Rave

Modelo Joven
Ribeira Sacra, 2013

Napa Valley, 2013

Roche de Bellene
1er Cru
Les Champeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin

Paul Jaboulet
Hermitage la Chapelle

Ungsteiner Harrenberg Scheurebe Auslese
Pfalz, 2016

A walk in the garden.

Below are links to my posts and photos from all of the Twelve Days of Christmas dinners I have attended over the past four years at the Restaurant at Meadowood. Each chef is listed with the restaurant with which they were cooking at the time they participated in the event (some have moved on to other projects and restaurants).


Scott Anderson (Elements; Princeton, New Jersey)
John & Karen Shields (Formerly of Townhouse; Chilhowie, Virginia)
Phillip Foss (EL Ideas; Chicago, Illinois)
Stuart Brioza & Nicole Krasinski (State Bird Provisions; San Francisco, California)
Jason Franey (Canlis Restaurant; Seattle, Washinton)
Matthias Merges (Yusho; Chicago, Illinois)
Mori Onodera (Formerly of Mori Sushi; Los Angeles, California)
James Syhabout (Commis; Oakland, California)
Nick Anderer (Maialino; New York, New York)
David Toutain (Agapé Substance; Paris, France)
Josh Habiger & Erik Anderson (The Catbird Seat; Nashville Tennessee)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Portland, Oregon & New York, New York)
Rodolfo Guzman (Boragó; Santiago, Chile)
Carlo Mirarchi (Blanca and Roberta’s; Brooklyn, New York)
Tim Cushman (O Ya; Boston, Massachusetts)
Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner; Raleigh, North Carolina)
David Chang (Momofuku; New York, New York)
Matthew Accarrino (SPQR; San Francisco, California)
Mark Ladner & Brooks Headley (Del Posto; New York, New York)
Rasmus Kofoed (Geranium; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Nicolaus Balla & Cortney Burns (Bar Tartine; San Francisco, California)
David Kinch (Manresa; Los Gatos, California)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Matthew Orlando (Amass; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Frank Castranovo & Frank Falcinelli (Frankies 457, Prime Meats; New York, New York)
Kobe Desramaults (In de Wulf; Dranouter, Belgium)
Alexandre Gauthier (La Grenouillère; La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France)
Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn; Lummi Island, Washington)
Joshua McFadden (Ava Gene’s; Portland, Oregon)
Virgilio Martinez (Central; Lima, Peru)
Grant Achatz (Alinea; Chicago, Illinois)
Corey Lee (Benu; San Francisco, California)
Esben Holmboe Bang (Maaemo; Oslo, Norway)
Ignacio Mattos (Estela; New York, New York)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, NoMad; New York, New York)
Nenad Mlinarevic (Focus; Vitznau, Switzerland)
Christian Puglisi (relæ; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil; Mexico City, Mexico)
Joshua Skenes (Saison; San Francisco, California)
Matthew Wilkinson (Pope Joan; Melbourne, Australia)
Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan ([One]; Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
Isaac McHale (The Clove Club; London, The United Kingdom)
Kyle Connaughton (Single Thread; Healdsburg, California)
Atsushi Tanaka (A.T. Restaurant; Paris, France)
Justin Yu (Oxheart; Houston, Texas)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Mark Lundgaard Nielsen (Kong Hans Kælder; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Manish Mehrotra (Indian Accents; New Dehli, India; New York, New York; London, U.K.)
Jeremiah Stone & Fabián von Hauske Valtierra (Contra & Wildair; New York, New York)
Jeremy Fox (Rustic Canyon & Tallula’s; Santa Monica, California)
Ben Sukle (birch & Oberlin; Providence, Rhode Island)
Sean Brock (McCrady’s, McCrady’s Tavern, Husk, & Minero; Charleston, South Carolina)
Yoshiaki Takazawa (Takazawa; Tokyo, Japan)
Thomas Keller (The French Laundry; Yountville, California)
Eric Werner (Hartwood; Tulum, Mexico)
Jock Zonfrillo (Orana; Adelaide, Australia)
Alexandre Couillon (La Marine; Noirmoutier, France)

Photos: Ready for service; Alexandre Couillon with a lobster; Christopher Kostow plating; pumpkin tartlettes, a canapé; Couillon’s “au Bords de Mer,” finishing Couillon’s parsnip dish; Couillon’s oyster dish “Erika,” Couillon’s parsnip dessert; Couillon and Kostow at the end of service; Kostow and Couillon at the Culinary Farm.


Categories 12 days 2017

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