The first time I met Chef Alain Giraud he made Rémy cry ! We were dining at the since closed Anisette and Rémy was eating the strawberry vacherin. Giraud playfully took a little of the Chantilly cream and put it on the end of Rémy’s nose. We all laughed. Rémy burst into tears. Since then we have all become great friends – bonding during shopping at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, our love of The Tudors, many fishing trips where Giraud is always life and soul of the party and regular coffees on Wednesday mornings.
Giraud has been cooking at the highest level in Los Angeles for over twenty years. For Made in America Giraud has given me his grandmother’s recipe for a large fines herbes omelet that contains the best of the farmers’ market. You can’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs but you sure can use her recipe for the best omelet ever. So simple and yet not easy to get right in Made in America Giraud shows how it’s done. In top French kitchens making an omelet is often given as a test to a new cook to see if they know what they are about. Like all things perfection is often hard to obtain but practice does make perfect. The art of making a good omelet was also much discussed in the cookbooks of the late 1800’s:
A plain French omelet is perhaps, one of the most difficult of all things to make ; that is, it is the most difficult to have well made in the ordinary private house. Failures come from beating the eggs until they are too light, or having the butter too hot, or cooking the omelet too long before serving.
From Many Ways for Cooking Eggs, Mrs. S T Rorer 1907
There is no better form in which to serve eggs than as an omelet, but so few people make a good omelet that that is one of the last things the inexperienced housekeeper or cook with attempt. Yet the making is a simple operation, the cause of faliure usually being that the pan for cooking is not hot enough and too much egg is put in at one time.
When there is too much egg in the pan, one part will be cooked hard before the other is heated through.
From Mrs. Parloa’s New Cook Book, Boston, 1882
Giraud and I meet at the Santa Monica Farmers’ market on a sunny Wednesday morning to shop for omelet ingredients and to get some pictures for Made in America. Spending any time with Giraud is always fun, flirtatious and undeniably French. He’s had his weekly coffee with Donato Poto of Providence, something that happens every Wednesday at the market. We stop to share a joke and a giggle with Poto and this sets the tone for the rest of our morning together. They are both carrying their traditional French market baskets – Poto’s is full and he is heading back to Providence leaving Giraud and me to shop.
First stop is the Weiser Family Farms stand to chat with farmer-owner, Alex Weiser and to pick out a few French fingerling potatoes for the omelet. Giraud is a regular at the market, he stops to shake hands with a friend, greets a farmer and knows which stall is best for every ingredient. He knows everyone and we can’t walk five paces without Giraud stopping to talk to someone.
“The best strawberries are Harry’s,” he says, as we pass Harry’s Berries. “But $16 a basket is a lot.” I ask him if it’s worth the price difference and he’s adamant – “It’s like a wine, you pay $300 for a Burgundy against a shit cheap wine, it makes a difference. This is my philosophy about that, with onions you can buy the super organic onions and you buy supermarket onions and you cook them nicely both and if you can tell me the difference, good luck. Buy a cheap strawberry at the supermarket and you compare it to a Gaviota or a Seascape from Harry’s Berries and there is no doubt, night and day. The texture, flavor, it tastes like a strawberry you can memorize why it is that you fell in love with it so much.”
At the Schaner Farms table Giraud greets Peter Schaner, the owner who is sorting boxes in his truck. “Peter has the best eggs. In France they have a saying On ne fait pas d’omelette sans casse des oeufs [You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs]. Three years ago I brought Peter’s avocados to my mum in France in my suitcase so she had an avocado from California.” He proudly shows me a picture on his iPhone of his mother holding a bowl of dark green avocados.
When asked to describe his dream restaurant he becomes very animated. “Not high end, but not bistro and spontaneous, today I buy this and I want to cook that tonight. To approach it from the ingredients. I want to have the luxury to buy those Harry’s Berries strawberries. Virbila [S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times restaurant critic] once said that perhaps the best dessert she’s ever had was the perfect peach. You have to have a lot of guts as a chef to serve the perfect peach. Like the strawberry, once in a while I can close my eyes and say wow! As a chef, I think it is the ultimate challenge to do that.”
Giraud’s dream will soon be a reality, this summer – hopefully Bastille Day (July 14th) he is opening Maison Giraud in the Pacific Palisades, a neighborhood restaurant that will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. No doubt the French omelet will be on the menu, with a bright frisée salad and perhaps a glass of rosé.
Summer is here – what with Wimbledon on the television and the kids off school. I’m getting very excited about going to Provence, where coincidentally Giraud is from. Alain’s Vacherin Glace wraps up all the flavors of summer in a stunning dessert – I think of it as a French gourmet version of my favorite – Eaton mess – with the added bonus of lavender ice cream and those heavenly tasting Harry’s Berries. Impress guests at a fourth of July party or have it for Bastille day (14th July) – I have adapted the recipe and used blueberry coulis for that perfect red white and blue version of summer in a sundae glass.
Alain Giraud’s Fourth of July Vacherin Glace
Lavender Ice Cream, Meringue, Strawberries, Crème Chantilly and Blueberry Coulis
Lavender Ice Cream
½ cup heavy cream
½ vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
¾ cup of sugar, divided
1½ teaspoon dried lavender
½ cup of sugar
Whites of 2 large eggs
1 cup of heavy cream
1/8 cup of powdered sugar
10 oz fresh blueberries
¼ cup of sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
16 Harry’s Berries strawberries, quartered
8 Lavender sprigs
What to do
Lavender Ice Cream
1. Bring milk, cream, vanilla and half of the sugar to a boil. Add the lavender, turn heat off and infuse for 1 minute.
2. In a separate bowl, combine yolks and remaining half of the sugar. Prepare a bowl of ice water; set an empty bowl on top of the ice water and place a strainer on top of the empty bowl.
3. Temper the yolk and sugar with a small amount of the warm mixture above, being careful not to cook or “scramble” the eggs. Bring the milk/cream mixture back to a boil and stir in the tempered yolk mixture. Cook, mixing continuously with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes.
4. Strain into the empty bowl and chill.
5. Run mixture in an ice cream machine until set and place in freezer.
1. Prepare a double boiler bath (Bain Marie). Pre-heat the oven to 200 F.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine egg whites and sugar. Place on the double boiler and whisk for approximately 5 minutes or until mixture is warm to the touch.
3. Remove from water bath and place in the bowl of an electric stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whip to medium-stiff peak.
4. Using a pastry bag with a medium-sized round tip, pipe onto a parchment-lined sheet in to a teardrop shape (Giraud suggests piping on a diagonal).
5. Place sheet in the pre-heated oven and dry until hard but without color.
6. Remove from oven, cool and store drops in an airtight container.
1. Using the electric stand mixer with a whisk attachment combine cream and sugar. Whisk to medium-stiff peak.
2. Place in pastry bag with a star tip.
1. In a blender, place the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice. Blend at high speed until smooth.
2. Strain. Taste and adjust for flavor.
1. Place 1 large scoop of lavender ice cream in the center of each dish.
2. Pipe Chantilly cream using the star-tipped pastry bag, covering entire scoop of ice cream to form a dome.
3. Arrange the strawberries and meringue drops in the whip cream-covered ice cream.
4. Make a rim of blueberry coulis around the dome. Garnish with lavender sprig and serve immediately.