Someone’s in the Kitchen with Daniel*

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.

Chefs Humm and Pourcel

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.

Chefs Humm and Pourcel

Chefs Humm and Pourcel

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.

Peekytoe Crab

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.

Peekytoe Crab

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:

Hors d’Oeuvres

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

Fromage
Wine: Quinta do Noval, 20 Year Tawny Port

Vacherin (Pourcel)
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

Mignardises

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.

John Dory

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!

Sweet Corn

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.

Black Angus Beef

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.

St. Canut Farm Cochon de Lait

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.

Araguani Chocolate

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.

Vacherin

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.”

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5 Responses to “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Daniel*”

  1. ulterior epicure Says:

    Brava. Incroyable. Magnifique. Finalement.

    *le nuage neuvième *

  2. thewizardofroz Says:

    Merci, u.e.! 🙂

  3. Jim Says:

    Bravo! This experience sounds magnificent.

    We experienced our first “11” menu at EMP this past Saturday night (17-Apr) and are still coping with the single disappointment of the evening – having to eventually leave that shrine and return to reality. Robert’s warm welcome at the door and escort to the “lounge” for Champagne and hors d’oeuvres was only the start of a 4.5-hour experience to follow, with each step of the way being graced by those fabulous dishes and warm, genuine, interactions with the staff. Your earlier advice to me on simply voicing our wine “boundary conditions” was followed, and Chris Baggetta took over from there, flawlessly transforming a previous uncertainty into a confident success.

    It’s hard for us to continue classifying this as a restaurant when everyone there seems to be purveyors of memories.

    Thanks for your earlier suggestions,
    Jim
    Springfield, VA

  4. thewizardofroz Says:

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the compliment! 🙂

    I’m thrilled that you loved the “11,” and that the advice I gave you with regard to ordering wine worked out well.

    Your poetical description of EMP’s staff staff as “purveyors of memories” is spot on.

    It truly is a very special place.

  5. Tweets that mention Someone’s in the Kitchen with Daniel* « The Wizard of Roz -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ulterior epicure. ulterior epicure said: My dear friend Wizard of Roz reports from her dinner at Eleven Madison Park with chefs Pourcel and Humm. Magnifique. http://is.gd/byLxK […]

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