Chef Jacques Pourcel was in NYC in February, and for one Saturday night, he cooked in EMP’s kitchen with Chef Daniel Humm. Chef Pourcel and his twin brother, Laurent, own Jardin de Sens, the famous 2-star Michelin restaurant in Montpellier, France. When we were in France in 1999, we visited our French friends who live in Montpellier, and they took us to lunch at Jardin de Sens. So, we were really excited about having the chance to eat Chef Pourcel’s cuisine again – but only having to walk a mere three blocks instead of traveling across the Atlantic to do so.
Little did we know that the evening would turn out to be an over-the-top special one for us though we should have suspected something was afoot when, just after we were seated, our captain Kevin Browne “warned” us with a huge grin that “this would be an evening you will never forget!”
Just after we had finished our amuse, Dining Room Manager Robert Kihlstrom danced over to our table with that devilish twinkle in his eye and told us that we were “invited – no, commanded!” to come to the kitchen “toute de suite!” We’ve been in the kitchen before but, again, we should have realized something extraordinary was about to happen when Robert told me to bring my camera because photos are usually not permitted.
So, in we went and what we experienced was beyond amazing! There at the end of the long service station standing side-by-side were Chefs Humm and Pourcel. How exciting to meet Chef Pourcel! As introductions were made, we told him we’d been to his restaurant and were thrilled to be having his cuisine again. Then, we were told that Chef Pourcel was going to prepare a dish for us right there with Chef Humm acting as his sous chef! OMG! Two Michelin-starred chefs were going to prepare a dish for us — AND — we were going to eat it right there. (There were two place settings set up in front of them.) How unbelievable was that! I still don’t know how I managed not to faint from excitement. M and I couldn’t have felt more honored and more special.
The dish they prepared was Peekytoe Crab Salad with Sea Urchin and Royal Sterling Caviar.
First, Chef Pourcel spooned the crab salad into the little bowls.
Chef Humm stood at the ready with a container filled with sea urchin, picked them up with a little tongs, and layered them atop the salad.
Next, Chef Pourcel fashioned what I think was crème fraïche lightly flecked with caviar into small quenelles and placed them on top of the sea urchin.
Finally, he added a very generous swath of caviar to M’s bowl. I don’t like caviar straight but in the cream, its flavor was very subtle.
Michael was poured some sake while I received a delightful non-alcoholic cucumber tonic. As we ate, we conversed with both chefs as well as with other members of the kitchen staff. At the time, I didn’t realize that Chef Pourcel’s command of English was quite limited. But to be honest, though I can get by in French, given my stupefied state, I don’t think I could have put a French sentence together. Fortunately, Chef Humm was acting as translator, but even if Chef Pourcel were not able to understand our words, I’m sure he could tell just by our “oohing” and “aahing” and the ear-to-ear smiles on our faces exactly how we felt.
After profuse thanks to Chefs Pourcel and Humm and telling the entire kitchen staff how much we always appreciate what they do for us, we took the Cloud 9 shuttle back to the dining room.
Seated again, we eagerly looked forward to the courses we had ordered. Each section of the 3-course prix fixe contained one dish from Chef Pourcel and a couple from Chef Humm’s regular menu. There was also a tasting menu composed of dishes from both chefs. Since we dine so often at EMP, we’d previously had all of Chef Humm’s savory dishes listed on the tasting menu. Therefore, we went with the 3-course option because there were two of his dishes on that menu we’d not had. (**See menu below.) There was no question, of course, about ordering all of Chef Pourcel’s savory dishes. One of the two desserts was from the regular EMP menu. The other dessert was a Pourcel creation, as was the amuse. We also added a cheese course. M did wine pairings.
Click here to view the entire set of photos from this meal.
Here’s our menu:
Sweet Corn (Pourcel)
Gazpacho with Black Truffles
Wine: Pouillon, Brut Vigneron, Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne
Peekytoe Crab (Poucel)
Salad with Sea Urchin and Sterling Royal Caviar
Wine: Dewazakura, Dewasansan Namagenshu, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata, Japan
Diver Scallop (Pourcel)
Seared with Watercress, Tapioca and Truffle Vinaigrette
Hirsch, Lamm, Kamptal, Austria 2003
Canadian Lobster (Pourcel)
Grilled with Sweet Onion Chutney, Thyme and Potato Emulsion
Wine: Château Grillet, Rhône Valley, France 2001
**John Dory (Humm)
Slow Cooked with Pickled Daikon Radish and Winter Citrus
**St. Canut Farm Cochon de Lait (Humm)
Variations with Butternut Squash, Plums and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
Wine: Château Redortier, Beaumes-de-Venise, Rhône Valley, France 2001
Black Angus Beef (Pourcel)
Roasted with Sweet Potato Blinis, Forest Mushrooms, Sour Cherries and Liquorice
Wine: Fantino, Vigna dei Dardi, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy 2000
Wine: Quinta do Noval, 20 Year Tawny Port
Mango and Passion Fruit with Raspberry and Vanilla
Wine: Domain des Schistes, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Southwest France 2008
Araguani Chocolate (Humm)
Ganache with Sweet Potato Dauphine and Chestnut Honey
Wine: Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 1998
I probably should digress here and talk briefly about the food we had at the Pourcel brothers’ restaurant. Well, I wish I could, but I can’t because I don’t have a clue. I know it sounds very weird, but I have not a scintilla of a memory of anything we ate at Jardin de Sens. Not one single dish. And neither does M. The only thing he remembers is the wine. Since we do remember many other things we ate on that trip to France, we’ve tried to figure out why that meal remains a total blank. Did we not see a menu? We do recall that our friends did the ordering. And we are dead certain that we had a tasting menu, and that the food was sublime. So, why we can’t remember anything specific about the meal remains a mystery.
Well, this time, happily, there would be a souvenir menu and photographic reminders of Chef Pourcel’s cuisine.
What struck me about Chef Pourcel’s style of cuisine was how simpatico it was with that of Chef Humm’s. If not for the fact that the menu indicated the chef’s name alongside each dish, I doubt I could have guessed while eating them which dishes belonged to which chef.
Obviously, the star dish of the evening was the Peekytoe Crab Salad. However, there was another dish which rocked both of us back in amazement: Chef Humm’s John Dory. This flavorful piece of fish was slow-cooked to succulent perfection, and the daikon radish, beans, and dried citrus provided a stunning range of textures and flavors.
Another dish that stood out for me was Pourcel’s amuse. I would never have expected a Sweet Corn Gazpacho in February. What a treat! The corn flavor was intense and, indeed, sweet. When combined with the truffles and whipped cream – Divine!
The man certainly has a way with seafood as both the diver scallop and lobster dishes were excellent. Not surprising since Montpellier is not far from the southern coast of Franc. But he’s not exactly a slouch when it comes to meat. I ordered his Black Angus Beef. Roasted medium rare, the meat was tender and juicy. I particularly liked the tasty sweet potato blini and the sauce enhanced with the liquorice flavor.
M chose Chef Humm’s Cochon de Lait and loved everything about the dish. I tasted a piece of the chop and a piece of the sausage. I have to be honest and say they didn’t strike my fancy.
Following the always excellent cheese course, closing out the meal were two desserts. We had not had the Araguani Chocolate on EMP’s dessert menu before. It was fine.
However, my preference is generally for fruity desserts, and Pourcel’s Vacherin was exactly the kind I love. The combination of the cold, crisp vanilla-scented meringue, the mango and passion fruit, and the raspberry coulis was light, refreshing, and delicious.
We hope one day to make another visit to Jardin de Sens. Until then, Kevin Browne was so right! This was an evening we will never forget! We will revel in the memories of this dinner and, of course, that dish prepared especially for us by “Someone” special cooking in the kitchen with Chef Humm.
*Note: The title of this post is a reference to a line in the American folk song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”