lundi 8 novembre 2010

Noses profiled in the kitchen... and beyond: La Cuisine des Nez

This is going to be one of those times when you really hate not reading French, because a truly excellent book on that elusive breed, perfumers working for the Big 5, is coming out in France on November 15th.  
La Cuisine des Nez is sold as a recipe book – and recipes chosen by 26 top perfumers, plus an artistic director and an evaluator, at that – but it goes way beyond the kitchen. In fact, the gorgeously photographed cuisine is almost a pretext to get to know the noses better. Seasoned beauty industry journalist Sabine Chabbert, formerly of Cosmetics News and currently the chief editor of Beyond Beauty Mag has thrown 25 years’ experience into the pot to whip up in-depth profiles of her “chefs”. The result is a series of bios stuffed with insider information and anecdotes, and a real feel for her subjects’ personalities, as well as a very thorough overview of the profession – Sabbine feels that too often, perfumers are presented as artists isolated in their lofty ivory towers, whereas, as she says, they’re part of the staff of a composition house, work with teams, get in at 9 AM and leave at 7 PM like any other working stiff. For all the poetry of the job, it’s also a career, with its successes and limitations, and that comes out between the lines, perhaps more so than in any other perfume book I’ve read. For instance, we learn that most perfumers have done an often frustrating stint in the American perfume industry; that several started off working on production sites, where they learned about raw materials through direct contact with tons of the stuff… That Maurice Roucel forewent a five-pack, five-whiskies-a-day habit in 1986 by taking up the triathlon – he almost went pro –, got his start in the business by setting up the chromatography lab for Chanel where he got all his training, and took up cooking at the ripe old age of 58 because he was sick of eating in restaurants (his “Momelette” is a two-hour kitchen marathon). We learn that Françoise Caron and Olivier Cresp, who are brother and sister, never talk shop at family reunions, have never seen each other’s formulas, and consider their styles to be radically different – while Olivier of Angel and Light Blue fame is a perfectionist, Françoise, who authored the classic Eau d’Orange Verte for Hermès, calls herself an “imperfectionist” who wants “everything to be good straight away” (they offer their “Fettucine al Crespo” as a variant of the Alfredo). We learn that Jean-Claude Ellena offered a tea composition he’d been working on by himself to Dior for the future Fahrenheit: they turned it down. Bulgari bought it as is, and L’Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert went on to launch a thousand imitations, and we got two classics instead of one as a result (he and his daughter Céline offer a “Filet mignon de porc en croûte” in a recipe clearly and amusingly penned by Céline.)
On browsing the recipes, I’ve been wondering whether they reflect in any way their author’s perfume composition styles and tastes for specific aromas, in which case they would shed an interesting light… I must say this line of investigation hasn’t been entirely conclusive: perfumers don’t really have to be any more consistent than us mere mortals, do they?
The book is completed by an extra 46 aromatic recipes… None of which I’ve tried yet, because, as you would expect, this isn’t cooking 101: these guys are French, and they’re gourmets.

Meanwhile, to give you an advance taste, here’s the table of contents:
Carlos Benaïm, Artichoke salad with bitter orange
Anne Flipo, Pilgrim’s soup
Jacques Cavallier, Courgettes stuffed “à la grassoise”
Nathalie Feitshauer, Three salads, colors and flavors
Francis Kurkdjian, Golden cheese triangles
Olivier Polge, Smoked tea scallops
Antoine Lie, Seared goose foie gras, orange blossom mousseline and pastis salad
Thierry Wasser and Jean-Paul Guerlain, Crawfish Poularde
Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Saffron and chick-pea chicken
Nathalie Lorson, Eggplant gratin
Maurice Roucel, the “Momomelette”
Michel Almairac, Croustade of veal with green olives
Françoise Caron and Olivier Cresp, Fettucine “al Crespo”
François Demachy, Stuffed cabbage “à la grassoise”
Jean-Claude and Céline Ellena, Pork filet mignon en croûte
Jean-Michel Duriez, Gingerbread and saffron cod fillet and mini-vegetables with orange blossom water
Christine Nagel and Benoist Lapouza, Zarzuela
Antoine and Shyamala Maisondieu, Red curry
Sophie Labbé, Jeanne and Louise’s chocolate cake
Patricia de Nicolaï, Berry tiramisu
Pierre Aulas, Almond and apricot cake
Luc Berriet, Gingerbread with orange peels

Now tell me: who would you like to have dinner most, based on those dishes? Drop a comment and I’ll do a draw: the winner will get a photocopy of the recipe he/she picked. It’s not quite dinner en tête-à-tête with a famous nose, but it’s a whiff…

Illustration: Anne Flipo's Pilgrim's Soup, photographed by Jean-Marc Anglès

36 commentaires:

  1. Oh, just one? :) There are several I'd wish to be able to dine with.
    But perhaps the most with Antoine Lie or Jean-Michel Duriez.

  2. oh , it would have to be Antoine and Shyamala Maisondieu, Red curry .
    I have a total weakness for curry , especially Thai style , and have been working on my own curry paste recipe for years...

  3. I want! Will this book be available in the US?

    My choice would be Jean-Michel Duriez.

  4. Well, this neatly combines my two obsessions (scent and food). Olivier Polge's tea-smoked scallops certainly look interesting, and be curious about what makes François Demachy's stuffed cabbage "grassoise". But at the top of my list, I'd have to say, is dinner with Jean Claude and Céline Ellena.

  5. I would like to try:

    Jean-Michel Duriez, Gingerbread and saffron cod fillet and mini-vegetables with orange blossom water.

    It sounds like a rainbow of aromas and colors.

  6. All these recipes sound delicious and it's very difficult to chose just one, but I have a really sweet tooth so I can't help opting for Sophie Labbé, Jeanne and Louise’s chocolate cake. Yummy!

  7. Well, for my eyes, the greeeeen Pilgrim's soup by Anne Flipo is most tempting.
    For its wording, Maurice Roucel's "Momomelette" just sounds so cozy.
    For the tastebuds, I'd choose the Zarzuela from Christine Nagel.

    To choose just one, it would have to be the Pilgrim's soup.

  8. Ines, I'm like you, there are several recipes I'd love to sample in the company of their authors! But judging from the character based on him in the novel Quai des Enfers, I'd say Jean-Michel was a terrific choice.

  9. Carol, the Maisondieu's recipe is a blend of Shyamala's Malaysian roots and Antoine's French touch: he replaced the meat with scallops.

  10. Lisa, they're looking for an English-language publisher for the moment, so hopefully...

  11. Jarvis, I'm planning to try Olivier's smoked tea scallops myself -- certainly dovetails with his latest scent Midnight in Paris. Smoked tea is evidently a popular note with perfumers.

  12. Tara, I'd give it a whirl, but it's one of those long-winded affairs where you have to prepare things the day before... So only for special occasions.

  13. Isa, the Jeanne and Louise are Sophie Labbé's daughter. Apparently it's a favorite at their home!

  14. Stephan, with watercress, courgettes, parsley and various herbs on top of goat cheese, I'm sure it's as flavorful as it is colorful.

  15. I know it's supposed to be based on the dishes... but I'd love to meet Francis Kurkdjian based on his perfume creations. Golden cheese triangles? Well...

    For their dishes, then berry tiramisu by Patricia de Nicolai. Great nose, great dessert.

  16. Normand, somehow that berry tiramisu works well with those sweet notes Patricia de Nicolaï likes to work into her scents, doesn't it?

  17. I know Patricia more by reputation than having tried her perfumes. There is only one small boutique in Westmount that I know carries a small sample of her work. I wear New York at least once a week and I loved Vie de Chateau when I tried it. I'm not a cook, so... I thought that maybe a berry tiramisu may not be too difficult.

    Thanks for bringing this up because if I hadn't known there was information about the perfumers, I wouldn't have bought it solely for the recipes.

  18. Normand, that's why the brunt of my post was on the profiles. I'm pretty lazy in the kitchen but I'm a voracious reader and was very pleasantly surprised there was so much original material in the book.

  19. eleven european mystics8 novembre 2010 à 20:46

    smoked tea scallop: it sounds like a very,indeed marvellous concoction, and feel almost angry for not having thought of it myself. All other recipes sound lovely and enticing: nothing wrong with curries, colourful salads, artichokes and oranges, filet de porc en croute or crawfish, but the combination of smoked tea and scallops is a winner.
    I also love the idea of a berry tiramisu, something that reminds me of an english summer trifle,but with loead of vanilla.I do find Patricia de Nicolai in this culinary suggestion as I find Polge in those divine scallops.
    Lovely post. I envy, simply do, the sophistication of the french market, which allows for such a subtle discourse and inter-course.

  20. I must say i am torn between Jean-Claude and Céline Ellena's pork filet mignon en croûte and Antoine and Shyamala Maisondieu's Red be honest I want to try everything, so I'll buy the book as soon as it is available in English...although I might give my basic French a chance and order it online now! :) Regarding the choice...mmmm...I'll go with the Ellenas' recipe, as I think it's more likely that I'll be able to find the elements to actually prepare it in my local market. Also, I can't help but imagine how wonderful it would be to dine with them both! sigh :)
    Lots of love and thank you for this wonderful, savoury post!

  21. EEM, well, perfume and cuisine are two of the things France gave the world in particularly elaborate form... Though I'd say the only haute cuisine recipe seems to me to be the "Poularde aux écrevisses". You're right that Olivier Polge's and P. de Nicolaï's recipes are perhaps the ones that echo their perfumery the most: I'd add JM Duriez...

  22. Melina, you can add cardamom chick peas to the recipe... Which is quite the Ellena touch!

  23. Yes, come to think of it, a berry tiramisu or some sort of dessert concoction with a creamy vanilla custard and a spicy fruit compote with berries would absolutely capture my mental picture of Sacrebleu...

  24. Cheese triangles from Francis K? Thank God I do read French! I will order this book. The recipe that most intrigues me is the tea scallops from Olivier Polge...

  25. This sounds like a fun book... although it's yet another instance of the rising prominence of perfumers, a phenomenon which, as you've said yourself, may be a cause for concern.

    But as for the recipes, it's going to have to be de Nicolai for me too: a rich dessert with a descendant of a family that has been making us spray rich desserts on our skins for decades.

  26. Jarvis, it works, doesn't it? And like PdN's perfumes, it seems to be a classic with a twist...

  27. Carla, I'm sure you'll enjoy the book, the profiles as much as the recipes...

  28. Persolaise, in this particular case I find that the way the perfumers are profiled in the book is substantially different from the star-struck coverage we've been seeing develop.
    Sabine Chabbert is a journalist who's been writing about different aspects of perfume for industry publications. She presents her subjects both as artists and as people with careers; she places that career, and their products, within a context, so that they get the recognition they amply deserve without coming off as "celebrities".
    My concern, such as it is, is that brands base their marketing strategy solely on the exposure of the perfumers to all and sundry, which turns them into fodder for the hungry media.
    I think it's a good and positive thing for perfumers to be able to explain the way they work, and they are certainly more legitimate spokespeople for their products than models or celebrities. Raising their profile may strengthen their position vis-à-vis their clients. It's the degree and context of the exposure that could be spinning out of control: it shouldn't be a substitute for a clear vision of what a brand must do, its artistic direction and the image it projects. Ultimately, what speaks to people is the perfume...

  29. no need for a copy, I'll buy the book asap!

  30. Before I get the book... I will try some of these recipes. Perhaps I will try them all. The Pilgrim's soup, it's the very first time I hear this but probably it is a well known recipe in other countries. I love exotic cooking so curry is going to be tried for sure.

  31. But of course, the berry tiramisu from Patricia de Nicolai! I can wear Balkis, one of my all-time favorites, while I prepare it.

    Although, I have to admit being intrigued by Nathalie Feisthauer's, "three salads, colors and flavors" because there is just so much left to the imagination after that spare description.

  32. I do hope they find a publisher for the English version - this book sounds delightful!

    They all sound yummy! If I had more of a sweet tooth, I would certainly pick Patricia de Nicolai and her berry Tiramisu, based on how impressive she is and also the beautiful raspberry-violet Violette in Love (already on my list for spring).

    Based on what I MIGHT actually manage to prepare, I'd go with Françoise Caron and Olivier Cresp and their Fettucine “al Crespo.” ~~nozknoz

  33. Bee, it's going on sale on Nov. 15 so you can probably find it on Amazon France.

  34. Vintage Lady, I've never heard of the soup. It might just be a local specialty...

  35. Galileosdaughter, the tiramisu does really conjure Balkis, doesn't it?

  36. Nozknoz, that's probably all I could manage too... although I'll try and make efforts!