By Sourish Bhattacharyya
IT'S NOT hard to recognise a creative chef. She turns the simplest of dishes into a gastronomic experience. Choux farcis is peasant food -- it's an unpretentious cabbage roll, as old as civilisation. But not in the hands of Marie Monmousseau, younger daughter of Patrice Monmousseau, the charismatic CEO of Bouvet Ladubay, the Loire Valley cremant (sparkling wine) brand that Vijay Mallya's United Spirits Limited had acquired from Starwood Capital in 2006 after the French government scuttled his bid for Champagne Taittinger.
|Marie Monmousseau (left), formerly with Zuma, Le|
Petite Maison and Locanda Locatelli in London, with
her sister Juliette at the Bouvet Ladubay dinner
at ITC Gardenia in Bangalore earlier in the week
She has worked in London as a chef for ten years, working up the kitchen hierarchy at Zuma, Le Petite Maison and Locanda Locatelli, whose Dubai restaurant she opened and ran for a couple of years, but Marie Monmousseau believes a good chef must have the talent to turn around an everyday dish into a gourmet sensation. She left her six-month-old son back home for her week-long cooking tour of Mumbai and Bangalore, where she cooked up little storms with her gourmet re-interpretations of home food.
Accompanied by her multi-talented sister Juliette (a film distributor and graphics designer who's now helping her father with the wine business), Marie reinvented choux farcis by replacing the traditional filling of pork with duck mince and adding foie gras, which is strategically positioned at the centre, dried ceps (or porcini), black truffles from picturesque Perigord, in the region of Aquitaine between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees, and onions. It was to be the main course at a Bouvet Ladubay dinner that was being hosted later in the evening at the ITC Grand Central in Lower Parel, Mumbai. Marie treated me to a sneak preview -- and it was enough to convince me that she had the talent to turn the everyday into the exceptional.
I was sharing the table at Shanghai Club, where the young chef from Chengdu served us a hearty 'working lunch', with Abhay Kewadkar, the force behind the UB Group's foray into wine with the Four Seasons brand, and Kuldeep Bhartee, the hotel's general manager and a world traveller who has been even to Hungary and Turkey in search of new wines. It was a conversation that skimmed many topics -- from the horror of the 26/11 attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai, to the silken beauty of the Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Shiraz 2009, which followed the sparkler from Loire Valley, to my observation that Shanghai Club has got to emerge out of the shadow of its hugely famous big brother, Kebabs & Kurries. Shanghai Club has opened at the WelcomHotel Dwarka in New Delhi and you'll soon be reading about it, but I can guarantee, without having gone there yet, that it wouldn't disappoint you.
The lunch started with canapes with two different toppings -- black olives and capers, and duck liver -- that were so perfectly executed that I wondered why even our finest establishments haven't nourished the culture of serving canapes that stir up the appetite and not just quell hunger pangs. The canapes were just right for the bubbles of Bouvet, which incidentally is the pouring sparkling wine at Cannes, and is exported to more than 40 countries. Sufficiently lubricated with alcohol, our lunch ended with what is known in the Monmousseau family as Le Gateau du Marie and Creme Anglaise (the understated custard was the perfect accompaniment to the cake, which disappeared without a trace!). Le Gateau du Marie is a chocolate fudge cake, but what makes it strikingly different is that it is dusted with sesame seeds along its outer perimeter. That gives the slightly gooey cake a crunchy finish. It's an inspired juxtaposition of textures, which only a six-year-old (which is how old Marie was when she first made this cake) could have done without caring for the consequences!
Marie is all set to launch her own restaurant, Le Route du Sel, at the Bouvet Ladubay estate in February on the banks of the Loire. Le Route du Sel, Marie explained, allude to the old trade route used by salt merchants to transport the commodity across the river. The name couldn't have been more appropriate -- salt, after all, is at the base of most food (and is now even being used increasingly in desserts). From the pictures Marie showed, Le Route du Sel is a cosy 40-seater (the seating will be raised to 120 in the summer so that diner can soak up the mellow sun) with warm Mediterranean colours. Just what you'd expect out of a restaurant showcasing Marie's brand of home-style gastronomy.
Juliette has been talking to Indian travel agents who organise bespoke tours to put the Bouvet Ladubay estate in Saumur on their map. It already attracts more than 40,000 tourists every year. They go to see 'The Sunken Cathedral' in the wine cellars in the depths of the quarried-out tunnels and caves from where monks in the 11th century took out white stones to build the powerful La Belle d'Anjou Abbey. The Sunken Cathedral is a contemporary sculptor's tribute to the architecture of the abbey enhanced with music and light, turning the walk down the wine cellars into a spiritual experience.
The Bouvet Ladubay tourist experience also includes a visit to the Full Metal, the 14,000-sq-m, state-of-the-art winery run in parts by robots, which was inaugurated in 2008 by the then Indian ambassador to France (and later the country's foreign secretary) Ranjan Mathai and Vijay Mallya. Kewadkar said you can see the whole of the winery only if you bicycle around it! After quenching their thirst for wine knowledge, tourists move on to the Contemporary Art Centre, which houses the work of some of the foremost European artists, and the private theatre, which is also popular today for business meetings. Juliette said Marie's restaurant will complete this experience, giving tourists yet another reason to visit Bouvet Ladubay. Wine, food and art -- could one ask for more?