More Than Mustard
Joan Nathan / October 2009
Dijon, France—At the first 4/14 Festival, French and American chefs cooked and musicians played in and around the beautiful Les Halles, a marketplace designed by native son Gustav Eiffel. Brainstorm of American pastry chef Alex Miles, who has lived here for many years, and musician turned innovative baker Fred Mougel, the two day event on the weekend between the July 4 and 14 (spanning Independence and Bastille Days) brought to this city of mustard, cassis, and pain d’épice an array of American chefs, including Daniel Rose (Spring, Paris), Nancy Silverton (Mozza, Los Angeles), and White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, an old friend of Miles. French chefs included Patrick Bertron of three-star Relais Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu, Stephane Derbord of his eponymous one-star in Dijon, and Daniel Ginsberg of Nouvelle Cuisine de la Ville de Dijon, the central kitchen of the city of Dijon, which feeds 7,000 children and retirees per day with top quality products cooked sous-vide. Since Miles decided to celebrate Burgundy and Vermont, he brought Michael Gunyan, chef instructor from the New England Culinary Institute, and Amy Chamberlain, chef of the The Perfect Wife Restaurant & Tavern in Manchester, Vermont.
Kicking off the ambitious event, French and American chefs, along with other guests, dined in four Dijonnais residences. At one 15th century home Rose and Yosses cooked a light playful dinner mixing French ingredients with American favorites. Sipping Champagne, the 16 or so guests nibbled cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls skewered on toothpicks to roll in red wine vinaigrette with basil. Other dishes included a BLT consisting of a fried square of pieds de cochon (pig’s foot) atop diced lettuce and tomato with bacon, a salad of lemon basil and langoustine on eggplant caviar with a touch of a citron confiture, and vitello tonnato (chilled veal in tuna sauce) with crunchy string beans, capers, fresh almonds, mint, and orange zest. Discussions between French and American guests included the undercooking (the French so thought) of the string beans. Cheese was both French and American: creamy Brillat-Savarin with truffles and Bonne Bouche goat cheese toted from Vermont by Allison Hooper’s Vermont Butter & Cheese Co.
Between courses a Brooklyn lutenist and singer serenaded the guests with 15th century Burgundian love songs. For dessert, Yosses made a fruit cobbler with macadamia nut brittle, maple syrup, and vanilla ice cream. As we left, he gave each guest a strawberry sprinkled with sugar. “You need a strawberry for sweet dreams,” he said. Saturday evening and Sunday morning, stationed at booths, chefs of both nationalities gave out tastes of their dishes, while French and American musicians entertained from platforms mounted at various points throughout the old city.
The Americans, who served such stateside dishes as watermelon frappé, corn pancakes, and goat cheese with sweet relish, were surprised at how much the French liked the food. For Hooper, the real surprise was that they were happy with her pasteurized cheese.To Miles’ surprise, the French, who prefer sitting instead of standing to eat a meal, ate so much that the organizers had to raid a farmers’ market the next morning for fresh supplies to fill the void. “We expected 5,000,” says Miles, but “15,000 came for the music and the food.” Vive la fraternité!