Sent on November 10, 2022, 6:01 am
It is an evolution of the palate: in the realm of the vine, white, rosé or red wines are losing their privilege on the French table. Of course, they remain, by far and for a long time, the favorite companions of the dishes, but, without expecting to replace them, the spirits are slowly beginning to position themselves in this niche and increasingly try to accompany the customer from the low sea on the dish. Leading this movement, whiskey led the way, being particularly associated with cheese.
A successful business. “The association with an old Comté is equivalent to the agreement between a champagne and a Parmesan”, assures Grégory Marchand, the restaurant’s chef French, rue du Nil in Paris, and which has just collaborated with the Irish brand Waterford for the creation of a bottle called “Rue du Nil”. This observation may come as a surprise in France, not Scotland, where whiskey has been on the table for a long time because Scots do not drink it dry, but cut with water. Gradually, with the emergence of “mixologists”, who had begun to bring the world of the bar and the kitchen closer together, the spirits were brought to the table.
Anecdotal five years ago, the pairing of alcohol and food is a very current trend. Great leaders thus lend themselves to the game of this new exercise for them. Oysters, salmon, cured red meat, chocolate dessert: “It is true that today there are more combinations of food and spirit”, confirms Maxime Gilger, head of Dalmore in France, an ultra-premium Scottish whiskey brand from Speyside. And to continue with energy: “Con noi is an initiative that we launched in France in 2014 with Amandine Chaignot, one of the winners of the Top Chef show. She was returning from London. She was sensitive to this universe of spirits discovered in Britain. They are not conservative like at home, on the other side of the Channel. She stimulated her to be able to integrate a new universe into her kitchen, to associate her creations with something other than wine. “
“Already, in the early 2000s, at the ‘Senderens’ restaurant [ex-Lucas Carton, NDLR]we always started the meal with a whiskey “, recalls Jérôme Banctel, who was the chef of this emblematic restaurant on Place de la Madeleine from 2006 to 2013. “We could cut it with some water depending on the customer’s wish. “ Before his death in 2017, Alain Senderens, a pioneer of the new cuisine, was one of the first chefs to innovate by integrating this spirit into his menu.
Recognized chefs offer this experience
Since 2015, other chefs such as Yves Camdeborde in the Odéon district in Paris or Yann Conte in Annecy have followed suit. In the end, it is normal when the concept that currently prevails – whether it is in a hotel, restaurant or wine shop – is “experiential”, that is, creating a unique experience. A new value that places emotion at the center of the gastronomic project and wants to surprise the guest with unusual combinations to take him where he does not expect.
Today, when Dalmore’s Maxime Gilger meets a chef, his ritual is always the same and always takes place in three phases. The first: open a bottle of Dalmore, then pour 2 or 3 cl into a glass. The second: let the silence settle naturally and wait for the chef to smell its spirit and collect olfactory information to associate these new sensations with those he already knows. A more or less long period of time, conducive to reflection. Finally, the third step: the chef structures all the information and suggests arrangements that are obvious to him. “This is how Guy Savoy, three-star Michelin chef at Monnaie de Paris reacted when I came to visit him. He immediately saw our King Alexander III bottle on an old Comté or a Swiss Gruyère “, says Maxime Gilger. And she hurriedly put it on his menu.
Jérôme Banctel, head of Gabrieltwo stars in the Michelin guide since 2016, at the palace Reserve in Paris, place the Dalmore Cigar Malt on an appetizer based on salmon marinated in the distillate for six days. This dish is also one of his signature dishes and can be found on his menu all year round. “And it’s a great success with customers”he says proudly.
Young chefs at the center of the project
This collaboration with renowned and well-known chefs allows us to better promote the bottles in this mature market of France. Our country remains the largest whiskey market, by volume, in the world. The “trendy young chefs” are called upon to launch new products. The dynamic Maison Benjamin Kuentz, which positions itself as a “publisher” of French whiskey, offers all year to discover its range around the cuisine of the young chef Bruno Aubin du Cleothe hotel restaurant The White Narcissusboulevard de la Tour-Maubourg in Paris. “When I write my whiskeys, I already think about the balances, the agreements. My bottles are like recipes and vary according to the seasons. Sommeliers like it because they step out of their comfort zone a bit. And with the chefs we offer unique experiences “explains Benjamin Kuentz.
Every three months Bruno Aubin elaborates a menu around the editions of Maison Benjamin Kuentz (the next menu starts on November 15th). One of the most evident is that of End of Party, a “cuvée” with notes of pastry, with chocolate, at the end of the meal, on which Kuentz worked with the “chocolatologist” Victoire Finaz. But this does not exclude surprising combinations such as the one between Le Guip, a dry and saline malt, and oysters, tried by Yves Camdeborde. Twice, JoeyStarr has posted a post on Instagram. Or the one worked by the sommelier of the KetoMauro Colagreco’s table in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, upstream of the signature dish, ventresca of seasoned tuna, preceded by Uisce de Profundis, whiskey matured in the depths of the Iroise Sea, off the coast of Ouessant.
Offering experiences is also the will of Thibaut Spiwack (restaurant Anona, boulevard des Batignolles, Paris) which went into the kitchen for the ultra-premium prestige range (bottles whose spirits are 30, 40 and 50 years old) “Re-Imagination of Time”, from the Scottish distillery Glenfiddich. Or Julien Duboué, the young ambassador of southwestern cuisine who has been promoting Basque gin Anaiak and Armagnac Laballe Gold around his dishes for 21 years; and on which the young 100% digital platform, The Avant Gardists (pronounced TAG), launched in April 2022 by the Maison du Whiskey, dedicated to innovative brands, communicates.
Tell her story
To accompany this new experience and give the distillate an extra dimension, the chef takes the time to tell the story of the distillery and explain his cooking philosophy to the guests. The two therefore form a coherent whole in which alcohol and the dish sublimate each other. “So the distillate enters a higher category: it is ‘premium’. It’s obvious “, testified by Géraud de la Noue, president of Campari France, owner of the agricultural rum brand of Martinique, Trois Rivières and La Mauny. “From there to say that it will become permanent, it is still too early to say”, however he tempers this great professional.
It is true that during a meal the way to approach a spirit is different from that of wine. The latter is part of the French tradition and is easy to drink, especially when it is good. The 14 cl glass fills up quickly. The gesture is almost natural. When the spirit takes its place on the table, it is clear that it is more about tasting. As proof: in the glass there are just over 4 cl, sometimes even just 1 cl. It may seem little “but it’s really about making a combination of what we drink and what we eat”, says Benjamin Kuentz. The product is highlighted and the surprise is there. Campari rum expert Jean-Philippe Lardy saw it when, last October, he was invited by the director of the La Vignery winery in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, on the outskirts of Tours, to present Three Rivers rums.
The wine merchant had offered 40 seats for a dinner around this brand of liquor. Everyone has found buyers. “I noticed that customers were initially intrigued and undoubtedly also driven by curiosity. It might work? How to combine dishes with this type of alcohol? “, observes Jean-Philippe Lardy. “At the end of the evening, the guests were delighted. Many of them are gone with bottles of old rum, including the triple vintage or the 1999 vintage “. However, bottles sold for more than 100 euros for 70 cl. The spirits have understood this well. When a market becomes mature, as it is today in France, the increase in turnover must be done more on the value than on the volume. This is the case with many products and spirits are no exception. A new trend in which collaboration with chefs plays a leading role.
Most importantly, the movement begins to touch a wider range. During the weekend of the Hospices de Beaune Sale, next Friday and Saturday, Mathieu Sabbagh, traveling creator (with his mobile still) of Burgundy pomace and fine, will set up Place au Beurre to make them taste with the dishes cooked by his wife. Just a symbol.
Sake finds its place in France
Japanese rice alcohol is now offered on the finest tables in France. In Japan it is considered a rice wine because it is obtained from fermentation. The most famous of French chefs, Alain Ducasse, has just launched his sparkling sake with one of the oldest Japanese Yamanashi Meijo breweries, founded in 1750, and producer of Shichiken sake. This sparkling wine with a subtly milky and iodized taste will be served at the Parisian palace The Meurice hotel it’s at Louis XV in Munich. Anne-Sophie Pic, the only woman with three Michelin stars in France, even cooks some of her dishes with sake. With its young and dynamic sommelier Paz Levinson, sake now has its place in the wine list of its various establishments.