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The Michelin man: Chef Philippe Schmit spent $12,000 eating in France and you get the benefit

The Michelin man: Chef Philippe Schmit spent $12,000 eating in France and you get the benefit

News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_sardines
Sardines Photo by Mai Pham
News_Where to Eat Right Now_Chef Philippe Schmit
Philippe Schmit Courtesy of Restaurant Philippe
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_Chorizo Gazpacho
Chorizo gazpacho Photo by Mai Pham
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_escargot
Escargot Photo by Mai Pham
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_egg and pea
Egg and pea Photo by Mai Pham
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_Blanc Manger
Blanc Manger Photo by Mai Pham
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_sardines
News_Where to Eat Right Now_Chef Philippe Schmit
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_Chorizo Gazpacho
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_escargot
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_egg and pea
News_Philippe dinner_April 2012_Blanc Manger

When Philippe Schmit of Philippe Restaurant + Lounge headed to France in March to officially receive his Maîtres Cuisiniers de France designation, it wasn't just a homecoming for the Roanne-born chef.

Instead Schmit embarked on a two-week tour of some of France's Michelin-starred restaurants, including L'Abeille, Le Mini Palais, Le 39 V and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, soaking up the latest trends in French gastronomy. Upon his return, he created a special menu based on the ingredients and technicques he liked the most, and presented the creations in an exclusive dinner.

 "I'm going to save you $12,000," Schmit said, referencing the jaw-dropping amount he spent on his trip. 

"I'm going to save you $12,000," Schmit said, referencing the jaw-dropping amount he spent on his trip.

First up: a not-so-subtle reminder that sometimes it's all about getting the best protein. José Pena sardines are perhaps the only luxury tinned sardines in the world (they are even sold at Galeries Lafayette) and Schmit said they were the best he had in France. They may or may not have snuck into America in his suitcase.

Schmit created an amuse bouche of sardines, a tomato focaccia bread and seaweed butter, served alongside a couple thin slices of jamón iberico, also known as the most expensive pork in the world. I savored the jamon by itself, but the combination of bread, butter and sardines was so deliciously salty and pungent it made me question everything I know about the tiny, underappreciated fish.

The salty fish was followed by a light gazpacho served in a snifter and topped with an equal space of shrimp bisque foam, adding a subtly rich, creamy layer of flavor, as well as a dash of chorizo dust. It was a beautiful dish as presented, and Schmit says the shrimp-chorizo gazpacho will soon be on Philippe's menu, though possibly in a slightly different format.

It's not a French meal without escargot, and Schmit served them in an bite he said was proliferating around Paris — in cromesquis, or croquettes of pig's feet. The croquettes were heavy on the breading but the addition of a sweet, almond-y orgeat emulsion gave a nice rounder flavor.

 The dinner was a reminder why Schmit is the only chef in Texas to receive the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France title. 

The fourth course gave me some doubts when I first saw it — a mess of bright green and brown in a martini glass — but it ended up being one of my favorites. The green was a pea puree while the brown was a sauce of pureed morel mushrooms, served in layers with an hour-poached egg and a light touch of balsamic reduction, plus a powdered truffle oil rimming the top of the glass and two sticks of toasted brioche for dipping.

Between the truffle and the morel, the smell and taste was so rich it reminded me of foie gras for a moment, while the mellow sweetness of the peas rounded out the dish nicely. It was by far the most unexpected dish, and based on Schmit's travelogue slideshow, it was a creation that closely hewed to its Michelin-starred inspiration.

After this, the courses took a slightly more traditional turn: A sous vide glazed cod filet was paired with asparagus three ways and a lardon emulsion, and a juicy duck magret confit served in a make-shift sandwich underneath a thin layer of phyllo dough with rhubarb and baby vegetables in a tangy orange and beet jus.

Desserts, which ranged from a bright Basque sheep cheese to a delicate blanc manger with strawberries, were a high point, as were the wine pairings from beverage director Vanessa Treviño Boyd, which included a sparkler from California's Roederer Estate, a crisp Basque txacolina and an uncommon white burgundy.

The dinner was a reminder why Schmit is the only chef in Texas to receive the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France title. His menu may take inspiration from his adopted home, but the basis of his cooking is a true love and understanding of French gastronomy.