Food for Thought
The finest French dining in Texas — Meet the chef with his own champagne
When I wrote recently about The Places I’ll Never Eat at…only because they don’t exist, I raved about the mid-1990s BBC series Chef!, a loving, funny tribute to food and fine French restaurants where the fictional tyrannical chef Gareth Blackstock wields a sharp knife and even sharper tongue at Le Château Anglais.
As I mentioned, the best episode was “The Big Cheese” in which legendary chef Albert Roux makes a guest appearance as himself and is smitten with the cuisine and especially the illegal unpasteurized English Stilton cheese.
I surmised that the closest I would ever get to dining at Le Château Anglais was dining at Roux’s Chez Roux again at Lake Conroe, which happens to be his only American signature restaurant.
Who knew I would get the chance again so soon?
This past weekend I was once again at the lovely La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa, snuggled into a booth at Chez Roux, gazing out upon the sun setting over Lake Conroe. And Chef Roux himself was in the house.
Fine French dining is something everyone should experience at least once, and there is probably no finer place to do it this side of the pond than right here.
Dinner began with a delightful flute of chef’s very own Grand Cru, Blanc de Blanc Damery. You’ve got to love a chef who has his own brand of bubbles and this one was indeed delightful.
Accompanying this flute of fun was a large portion of duck rillette. A wonderful sort of salty pâté, not gamey at all, that went down in quick bites with the housemade baby baguettes and creamy butter. Next came the most amazing veal sweetbreads, simply sautéed with just a hint of garlic and plated with Gulf shrimp over a bed of cauliflower salad. Paired with a Meursault Burgandy, 2005, from Louis Jadot, I thought I was already in heaven, or at least at Le Château Anglais.
But wait — as they say in those cheesy late-night commercials — there’s more. Next came a delectable Long Island duck tourte with port jus paired with a 2005 Vincent Giradin Gevrey Chambertin Burgandy. Another hit.
Then chef rolled out a pot au feu of salted pork cheeks with sauce Albert, with just a hint of horseradish to the tender, perfectly barely-cooked pork cheeks. This came with a glass of 2004 Domaine Ligneres “Aric” Montagne d’Alaric.
At that point I was done in. Seriously, how much fine French food can a Texan inhale in one setting? Apparently, just a little bit more.
The trifle au Roquefort came as a surprising glass of sweet and pungent flavor. The French cheese with its delicate veins of blue mold melded with the creamy fruity flavors to put a supreme polish on the meal. Oh, and there was a slightly sweet Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Oremus from 1995, a Hungarian wine that is even mentioned in the country's national anthem.
That was it for me. There was desert and coffee with petit fours but I couldn’t manage anymore.
It was like an evening spent feasting at Le Château Anglais, only instead of the irascible chef Blackstock we had the company of the very real chef Roux. An adorable 73-year-old sparkling-eyed master, who, actually is pals with the British comedian Lenny Henry who portrayed Blackstock.
“He is a friend of mine,” Roux says. “And he really cooks beautifully. I was delighted when he asked me to be on the show.”
And getting back to TV shows, why is it that we can’t get loving food fiction on the small screen?
With such hits on the big screen as Julie and Julia, Ratatouille, Waitress, Big Night and the great Babette’s Feast you’d think some Hollywood producer, one of those folks who likes to duplicate BBC hits like The Office, would snatch up a premise like Chef! Please. I’m begging you.
Just bear in mind that the third and final season of Chef! does not live up. Why? Because the focus is on the characters and ignores the food. Sigh.
“The mood of the people has changed,” Roux says. “People want the reality TV and sweeping sagas.” And not a simple little entertaining, intelligent, and loving tribute, to food.