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What I wrote the day after this dinner:
Allow me to try and find the words to explain the day and night I had yesterday. It started out a beautiful spring morning in Lyon, with an espresso and lite breakfast of smoked salmon rillettes and toast points at a small cafe next to a park.
While at breakfast I was staring at a flower shop across the street and it got me thinking. So I hurried back to my hotel to send someone who needed a smile a special delivery. Not before stopping at a local flea market and buying the very first LP I had as a child. Quiet Riot, Mental Health. Before I went back out, I had the concierge call Chef Paul Bocuse restaurant to see if a reservation was possible. At first they said no, but after telling them it was a dream of mine to eat there and I was a world traveling Chef, they accepted. Lucky me!!
Then off I went to explore the culinary capital of the world. Lyon is a simply gorgeous city in every sense of the word. Cobble stone streets, classic French architecture, breath taking cathedrals including one spectacular castle like example perched high on a hill looking down over us all and a labyrinth of hidden alley ways dotted by small boutique shops and cafes all separated by 2 rivers and suspension bridges.
After a few hours walking and keeping a promise to get some pictures of a cathedral with stained glass, I found myself hungry again. So I wandered into into a tiny nondescript cafe along one of the many alleys. 4 tables in the place ran by a lovely family. The menu of day written on a small chalk board in French explained in great detail by my waiter. It seems like every person in the food industry here is passionate about what they do. None of this "ahhh, it's fish, grilled, in some kind of butter sauce". No no, no. Every single waiter or waitress knows the specials and menu by heart and will go over each dish, damn near down to all the ingredients. It makes the whole dining experience much more comforting and enjoyable. Not sure why Americans think we have such great customer service only because of tips when they don't get tips here and the service is on par and most of the time exceeding that back home.
For lunch I had baked Sole in a Beurre blanc sauce with ratatouille. The dish was executed to perfection and I could taste the love in every bite. Fully satisfied I again went off exploring stopping in a few churches, doing some shopping and popping my head in every artisan food shop I saw. My first experience in a French butchery was a magical and incredibly informative experience where I sampled a multitude of various charcuterie from across the region.
I stopped for a haircut and a shave to prepare for the most anticipated meal of my life. A few hours later with just the right buzz on, I was off in a taxi to Chef Paul Bocuse's L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges. Paul Bocuse is basically the most renound living Chef in the world. Not a "celebrity Chef" a Chef who has been awarded the highest honors of the culinary world. He is simply in a category all his own. The movie Ratatouille is based off him and this restaurant. If youre intersted in more detail about him, just Google it.
As soon as you pull up to the large pastel colored building you know you are somewhere special. Paul's smiling face is there to greet you everywhere you look. From the moment you walk in the door you have a feeling a sheer elegance and prestige. You are treated as royalty by the overwhelmingly helpful staff downed in black suits and white linen jackets who beckon to your every desire. The room decorated in simple classic French charm with lite pastel pink trimmed with impressive white crown molding, large ornate vases and beautiful silk curtains. Just next to me was a large intricately carved China cabinet that was holding the crystal glassware and obviously centuries old.
I was first to arrive for the nights one and only seating and got to chat with the Mattrie d'. He had heard about the conversation yesterday to get the reservation and was impressed with my persistence. We spoke of food, travel, Chef Paul, even love... He was even so kind as to invite me into the kitchen for a tour. I can't explain the honor I felt to be the presence of such amazing Chefs. Even THE chef hung up from a phone call just to shake my hand. The smells permeating the air were intoxicating and it was a pleasure stepping foot in my first Michelin star kitchen.
I ordered Champagne to start because well, it's a celebration bitches! And I'm in France... The first course was complimentary and consisted of a single bite of seared Toro (bluefin tuna belly), a split pea gazpacho and a foie gras pate with truffle foam. Each one a compliment to the next and an explosion of flavor. My starter was what I came there for and one of top 3 prestigious dishes in the world. Chef Paul's white truffle soup which he created for the president of France in 1975. It was paired with a Chardonnay. It's hard to put into words such an incredible dish. All I can say, is it tasted like if it we're possible to bottle up the true essence of the earth, the trees, the leaves and flowers. Then concentrate them all and combine them with the freshest parts of a prize winning pig who's sole purpose of it's pampered life was to end up in this soup, then top with the most perfectly cooked puff pastry imaginable and you get the nearly impossible to achieve 6th flavor dimension, Umami. Wow, just wow.
The main course was equally pleasing. Veal sweetbreads with cured pork lard, garden pea puree and lite cream sauce that was to die for but the flavors were actually new to me. The texture of the sweetbreads melted in your mouth. Nothing gamey or off putting, simply a magical dish balanced in every possible way or what the Japanese would call Shibui. It was paired with a Pinot Noir.
I skipped the cheese course and went right to dessert. The selections were amazing and seemlingly endless. Every type of chocolate, cake, pastry, and exotic delight you could imagine. I chose a raspberry tart to keep things lite and picked on the individual artisan chocolates sitting within arms reach. Each one painstakingly decorated with love love and care.
To cap the night off I chose a 12 year Appleton XO Rum from of course, Jamaica! And a Hoyo de Monterrey #2 cigar. Its easy to say certain moments are life changing but those changes rarely stick as I've found out. Though as I sat outside smoking, I reflected on the meal, my life and the path I took to get here. Here I was, just a blue collar guy from Baltimore who dropped out of school at 15. Doesn't pray, believe in God or heaven and hell. Never tried hard or worked hard at anything really, always took the easy way out and chased the easy life. Yet here I am, at one of the finest restaurants in the world, dinning next to a woman wearing a necklace worth more than most people's homes. I am their equal, nothing more, nothing less. For the first time in the longest time, I truly am proud to be who I am, come from where I come from, done what I have done to get here. Because I did it my way, never compromising or backing down. Doing whatever I had to do to live this incredible life.
The night was also a humbling experience. I used to call myself a Chef. For many years this was true, I would come home dirty, greasy, stinking, sore and fall asleep to nightmares of hearing that goddamn printer pushing me deeper into the weeds! That was a Chef, the men and women who prepared one of the greatest meals of my life last night, they are Chefs. People who have dedicated their lives to the culinary arts. Men and women at the absolute top of their game, I have a tremendous respect for them. It is for this reason that I will no longer refer to myself as a Chef. I'm a damm good cook and have a love and relationship with food that only a select few understand. One day when I finally settle down and open my own place, I'll be a Chef again. For now, I'm just John.