Relais Desserts Yule Log Presentation, Paris 2017

This week, the elite group of top pastry chefs had us floating on the Seine for their annual Relais Desserts Yule Log presentation of Bûches de Noël. You’ll remember me talking about the Relais Desserts group here before, as they organise the charitable event, the Fête du Macaron or French Macaron Day each Springtime.

relais desserts yule log presentation paris 2017

Even the boat’s pristine top deck looked covered in shiny festive glaze with seats of whipped meringues. Meanwhile, I was already in a daze to get started  downstairs: there was a LOT of patisseries to get through and their stars of pastry to meet. So, ready for a bumper gourmet edition? Grab a cup of tea and join me on the sweet voyage.

 

Presided by Frédéric Cassel on the left below, Relais Desserts invited us to taste the bûches/yule logs, meet the chefs behind each creation, ask questions and enjoy the tasting notes.  As I do in my patisserie recipe books, each creation suggests how to serve it: either chilled or, as in most cases, to take out of the fridge for 15-30 minutes beforehand in order to appreciate all the flavours and textures.  Recommendations for the perfect drink to accompany them are also given, although this one is easy for a festive meal if you like bubbles.

relais desserts yule log presentation Paris 2017

 

Each yule log was presented by collection. Have you ever seen chocolate paper before? This listing was printed on paper made by 45% of recycled cacao shells.

cocoa paper

I’m a sensitive cookie. If you’re like me and an obsessed gourmet, can you imagine walking in to one long room filled with the most outstanding French pastry chefs in one spot? I was overwhelmed yet bubbling to discover each creation.

 

Dried Fruit & Nuts Collection (Fruits Secs)

relais desserts yule log Bernardé

Sporting the renowned collar of a Meilleur Ouvrier de FranceNicolas Bernardé doesn’t give a name to this yule log but certainly provokes the goose-bumps, just thinking of the flavours: NOISETTES-MANGUE-PASSION.  It’s a mountain of hazelnut sponge, mango-passion fruit compote with a passion fruit cream, crunchy hazelnuts from Piemont and a Gianduja crème légère. Enjoy it with Earl Grey tea.

 

Relais Desserts Mercotte Roussel

The beaming smiles of Mercotte and Christophe Roussel were in full tasting swing. Mercotte – France’s wonderful answer to Mary Berry – is TV presenter of La Meilleur Pâtissier, patisserie blogger at La Cuisine de Mercotte, and on the jury for Christophe Roussel’s prestigious Amateur annual pastry challenge, Le Défi Patissier, of which I was most flattered to join them as guest on the jury last year in La Baule (read all about it here).

 

relais desserts yule log Christophe Roussel

Far removed from a traditional yule log, Christophe Roussel, also the star of La Baule and la Guerande, evokes icy snow with his ICEBERG. Served chilled, it’s a most refreshing end to any festive meal. Topped with glistening choux buns, break into creamy vanilla, toasted hazelnuts from Piemont with a zesty touch of orange.

 

Jean-Philippe Darcis ‘s ALESSANDRIA (top left below) is best served with a good pure Arabica coffee, to accompany the Gianduja mousse, Ristretto cream with a cappuccino marshmallow, hazelnut sponge and chocolate-hazelnut crunchy crumble. Attention: it’s a limited edition, with 300 examples for Christmas.

Relais Desserts Yule logs Dalloyau Lenotre, Darcis

Jean-Christophe Jeanson prefers to keep his UNE SURPRISE Bûche secret. Made for Lenôtre Paris, even the packaging evokes a mysterious snowy forest in Lapland.  I wonder if Laurent Duchêne was asking if he could reveal it?

Again on a snowy and marshmallow note, Nicolas Boucher’s KUKLA (bottom right) is for Dalloyau Paris. Its  chocolate cover evokes a matryoshka doll, revealing a variation on a theme of a pavlova: an almond meringue base with confiture au lait with a financier heart of mango-passion fruit compote and vanilla cream.  Glazed in white chocolate, this frozen bûche is surrounded with a citrus marshmallow. Recommended with a mature dark rum.

 

Chocolate Yulelog Collection

relais desserts yule log Pierre Hermé

I managed to catch an enigmatic smile from Pierre Hermé, as he looked on to his GÂTEAU DE NOËL ÉCORCES. Together with artist Sylvianne Lüsher who designed the clay base, it’s an ephemeral piece of art – and at only 20 examples being made for Christmas, it’s a cracker of a limited edition! A log within a log, encompassing Viennese chocolate sponge, dark chocolate and raspberry Chantilly, raspberry compote with dark chocolate salted butter shortbread. Three out of the four portions are dark chocolate: one is raspberry red to give the artistic finish.

 

relais desserts yule log Hévin Paris

Following on from last year’s French Touch collection (see my post on it here), Jean-Paul Hévin has been inspired through time, paying homage to designer Gerrit Thomas Rietveld with his GÉOMETRIK.
A crunchy almond praline with poppy seed base is topped with a Peruvian Grand Cru chocolate mousse smoked with pine, topped with a hazelnut sponge and caramelised laurel-infused mousse.
A special tip for clean-cutting this Christmas is to cut the yule log with a warmed knife.

 

relais desserts yule log marc Ducobu

Marc Ducobu‘s MERVEILLEUX NOËL brings the classic chocolate yule log from Belgium with new notes based on meringue, Chantilly, Caribbean chocolate ganache, with different chocolate crispy textures.

Vianney Bellanger (above right) brings his chocolate CAROUSSEL from Le Mans, evoking childhood with a crunchy chocolate crumble, plus the more rare criollo cacao variety in a chocolate mousse from the Dominican Republic. It comes with a chocolate crème anglaise (light custard) with crunchy pearls.

 

relais desserts yule log Jeff Oberweis

Jeff Oberweis concentrates more on after Christmas when the traditional yule log changes time to New Year’s Eve, known here as SAINT-SYLVESTRE.  Inspired by Salvador Dali’s melting clocks, it’s ticking with Madagascan dark chocolate mousse with a Gianduja crunch, plus a Brazilian milk chocolate cream topped on a chocolate almond sponge.  I think it’s about time we visited Luxembourg with only 2 hours by TGV from Paris. After having lived in Guatemala, he knows a thing or two about chocolate!

 

Spicy Collection (Épices)

Relais Desserts Yulelogs Pignol Lyon

Jean-Paul Pignol‘s BELLECOUR pays homage to the silhouette of Lyon’s famous square and his Madeleine de Proust of childhood memories: devouring clementines from under the Christmas tree.
The warming hint of spices are in a soft sponge, a crackling nutty contrasting texture with a Peruvian chocolate mousse which is interlaced with the most deliciously acidic note of clementine marmalade and confit. After discussing macarons and Lyon with Chef Pignol, I have to return soon: on my last gourmet trip to Lyon (see my post on Lyon’s patisseries) I didn’t even try his speciality, La Tarte Ecossaise!

 

relais desserts yule log arnaud larder

Arnaud Larher is already celebrating 20 years’ anniversary since opening his first boutique in Montmartre, 1997.  With a mixture of nostalgia and his favourite recipes comes ÉPICÉA.  It’s a yule log filled with 66% dark grand cru chocolate and gingerbread mousse, orange marmalade on a gingerbread base and all topped with a glaze and 80% dark chocolate Chantilly cream.

 

Citrus Yulelog Collection (Agrumes)

relais desserts yule log Mulhaupt

Thierry Mulhaupt brought this dazzling ÉTOILE from Strasbourg and Colmar to take the chocolate brownie to new heights. An almond brownie is topped with the most succulent Maltese orange caramel and topped with a 66% dark chocolate mousse with orange marmalade.
He also makes a savoury bûche (salmon, lemon, broccoli as a starter) and has just published a new book on Bredeles Salés, filled with savoury recipes for aperitif nibbles.

 

relais desserts yule log Luc Guillet

Luc Guillet must have been inundated with fans since I couldn’t find him before I had to run off.  To celebrate his first Christmas in the family business, his CÉSAR is inspired by his Asian travels, with fragrances of yuzu, black sesame, chocolate and caramel.

 

 

relais desserts yule log presentation 2017 Bouillet

Also hailing from Lyon, Sebastien Bouillet brings on a touch of circus fun with his CHAPITEAU. Toasted popcorn and 44% milk chocolate mousse with hazelnut are topped with a beautiful yuzu cream and yuzu jelly that tickles all the senses. For more on his boutiques, see my article on Lyon here.

 

Yulelog Fruit Collection

relais desserts yule log presentation 2017 Paris

Claire Damon, the only woman chef in the group, has logged herself with a self-portrait in INITALES CD.  Evoking her childhood memories of freshly cut hay at the end of spring, she evokes a taste of summer on the plate this Christmas. Be transported with a compote of handpicked wild blueberries from Auvergne, a light sponge of rice flour and an airy mousse fragranced with cut hay. There’s even a touch of crunchy wild clover. She healthily suggests a modest glass of still water to accompany it.

 

relais desserts yule log presentation Paris 2017

Claire Damon has the spoon! With Laurent Duchêne, Arnaud Larher, Sebastien Bouillet

 

relais desserts yule log laurent duchene Paris

It’s the famous Black Forest Gateau that inspired Laurent Duchêne this year with his SOUS BOIS FORET NOIRE. The fun visual of being in the woods mixed with the legendary ingredients are taken to new heights with a light chocolate sponge, Tanzanian 75% dark chocolate creamy mousse, griotte black cherry confit and a Madagascan vanilla Chantilly.

 

relais desserts yule log Frederic Cassel

Frédéric Cassel continues the tradition of exchanging gifts, and his BOITE CADEAU continues the charm with 14 Christmas boules garnished with all sorts of delicious speciality surprises from his patisserie in Fountainbleau. It’s a limited edition, with 100 examples available this Christmas.

 

relais desserts yule log Michel Pottier Grandin

Called Royale, referring to the royal burgh of Saint-Germain-en-Laye where Michel Pottier runs the Patisserie Grandin on rue du Pain (quite aptly named as the original bakers’ street to King François I’s château, just around the corner). As I live in the area, check out my introduction to Saint-Germain-en-Laye and a DIY Chocolate & Pastry tour in his royal town.

Serve chilled, Royale’s lime and raspberry mousses nestle between an almond sponge, topped with toasted meringue with a fresh raspberry coulis or sauce. I like the mini macarons as a slice guide, so there’s no cheating.

relais desserts yule log richard Seve

Richard Sève beckoned me over with a square of red chocolate. I felt like Charlie in a chocolate factory. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s due to open a new lab and chocolate museum in Lyon at the end of this month.
He made the chocolate using whole fresh strawberries without any added sugar to continue the pleasure of summer over the Christmas table. His COLIBRIS, referring to the exotic birds that feed off the rare nectars of tropical fruits and flowers, adds the most intense yet light natural strawberry ganache with a compote of mango and passion fruit to an airy sponge.

 

relais desserts Coco Jobard

To finish off my early festive log, meet the talented Coco Jobard, food stylist and recipe editor for the association’s new forthcoming book, Haute-Pâtisserie for Relais Desserts, due to hit the bookshelves on 26 October. You mean – there’s more?

So, after all that, am I the only one to have this inexplicable urge for Champagne?

Lyon’s Best Patisseries, Chocolates & Macarons

Now that you’ve had a tasting of some of Lyon’s best Bouchons and bistros in my last post, now it’s time to cover Lyon’s best patisseries, chocolate and macaron shops.

What are Lyon’s Pink Pralines?

It doesn’t take long to discover Lyon’s most popular candy/confectionary speciality walking past the bakeries along the historic Rue Saint Jean in the old town and all around the city: sweetly welcoming windows are filled with bright pink pralines.

Les Pralines roses are simply coated almonds in pink coloured sugar. Although you can eat them tel quel (as they are), they’re traditionally used in pink praline brioches or in the local tarts (Tartes aux pralines rose).

Lyon's best patisseries

 

Lyon’s Best Chocolate & Macaron Shops

With world-famous chocolate producer Valhrona only an hour’s drive south in Tain-l’Hermitage, it’s no surprise that Lyon’s chocolate shops are well covered (or well coated?).  If you do have the chance to venture to Tain-l’Hermitage during your Lyon visit, then why not visit the Valhrona Cité du Chocolat and chocolate shop (there are tons of chocolates to try – each time my husband goes in I have to drag him out like a little boy!). And just around the corner you could finish up with wine-tastings at Chapoutier and Jaboulet, while you’re at it.

Seve macarons lyon

Bernachon specialises in making their own chocolate from bean to bar and there are many other award-winning chocolatiers around, such as Philippe Bel, Bruno Saladino, Bernard Dufoux, to name a few.

Richard Sève, award-winning chocolatier who makes chocolate from bean to bar, and pâtissier, was the first to come up with savoury macarons – something I am rather partial to myself (See chapter of savoury mini macaron recipes in my first book, Mad About Macarons). His first savoury macaron was with foie gras, a world first!  I heard from him first hand, too, that he’s opening a new chocolate shop and museum (MUSCO) end of October 2017, so I’m looking forward to sharing this with you later.

Lyon’s Candy Specialities

best candy lyon

Since 1897, Voisin has been roasting not only chocolate beans but also coffee beans and are renowned for inventing the Coussin de Lyon, chocolate ganache covered in Curaçao marzipan, made a patrimonial French speciality in 1960. If you can’t get to Lyon, then you can still find them in Paris in speciality chocolate shops (e.g. De Neuville) and at Le Bonbon au Palais (they come in pink and purple as well as the traditional turquoise coussins), along with other Lyonnais confections, such as le Bouchon (a cork) and le Cocon, resembling a more delicious kind of silk worm, in homage to the famous Lyonnais silkworkers – more on my French regional confectionary post here.

best bakeries in Lyon

Lyon’s Best Patisseries

For delicious bread plus three varying types of the local doughnut-like speciality, bugnes lyonnaises, head to Ô Fournil des Artistes (next to the Maison de Canuts). En route via the Grande Rue de la Croix-Rousse, try more pink pralines at Alain Rolancy, MOF.

The family Maison Pignol, run by Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Jean-Paul Pignol, is a veritable gourmet oasis in such a gastronomic capital, covering traiteurs (delicatessens) to brasseries to restaurants – and his original love of traditional patisseries, from Paris-Brest to the Baba au Rhum.  You’ll particularly love to stop at his patisserie in rue Emile Zola for a taste of macarons and 50 varieties of pastries and cakes.  I shall be returning to Lyon since I can’t believe I missed his speciality, la Tarte Ecossaise (Scottish Tart)!

Just around the corner from the chocolate concept store Chokola (check out the mesmerising chocolate wall fountain), you’ll also see chocolate lipsticks, caviar, and the Maca’Lyon caramel macaron completely dipped in chocolate continuing at the legendary patisserie of  Sébastien Bouillet (Place de la Croix-Rousse). I show this in more detail from my last trip. Moreover, to be totally Bouillet-ed, right next door is his new popular local bakery, Goûter.

gastronomic Lyon Sebastien Bouillet

With echoes of yesteryear, such a charming window lures us in with cooling tarts and cakes winking at us behind the panes. Long cakes, a sausage-shaped tarte tatin and brioches are cut to size, as they’re sold by the length: imagine asking for half a meter of Tarte Tatin? As if that’s not enough, buttery financiers and scalloped madeleines tempt us further at the counter (recipes for these are in my latest book, Teatime in Paris).

Lyon's best pastry shops

No gourmet Lyon trip can be complete without a taste of the famous Praluline invented by August Pralus in 1955. Today François Pralus continues to make this sumptuously sticky brioche, rising in another league, using almonds from Valence and Piémont hazelnuts to create the most compact pink praline buttery brioche in the city. After working at Bernachon, François Pralus also makes his own chocolate from bean to bar – and macarons, of course!

Pralus

Lyon Tea Salons

If relaxing in a tea salon is more your style, then a great tea list can be found in Rue de la République at La Maison Debeaux (OK, I admit to being seduced by the Kama Sutra!). They also do a great saucisson brioché (typical regional sausage-filled brioche), as well as a whole counter of tempting salads and savouries.  If you still haven’t had time to try pink pralines in any form, then you have no excuse, as their pinky goody selection would have Barbie in raptures. See my previous visit to Debeaux.

Moreover, Anticafé (9 rue du bât d’Argent, near the Opéra) is worth checking out just around the corner from Debeaux for its catching new concept.  At Anticafé (like its sister in Paris), you pay by the hour: so sit back and relax for 5 euros with free included beverages or drinks and nibbles while you work or meet-up and, although not advertised, they did tip me the wink that they don’t mind if you bring your own doggie-bag of pastries from local bakeries.

After a taster of a selection, what would you choose?


This post is not sponsored in any way.

Best Value Gourmet Lyon in 3 Days

Three puzzled faces stared as I announced Lyon as our destination. While most French families take off to the ski slopes in the February mid-term school holidays, we chose our destination centred around food – driving 4 hours south of Paris to discover the best value gourmet Lyon in 3 days.

Why Lyon?

Why Lyon? It may be the third largest city in France after Paris and Marseille but since 1930, it continues to earn its reputation as THE French Capital of gastronomy.

Ever since the Romans originally settled here in 43BC (known as Lugdunam until the Middle Ages), Lyon has been a strategic crossroads between the North and South of Europe. Built around the Rhône and Saône rivers, it’s almost squashed together with its tall buildings to compensate for the two imposing Fourvière and Croix-Rousse hills. Historical echoes of commerce ring throughout the City, as we imagine crammed sailing boats vying for trades in wine, spices and especially local silk fabrics, an industry that has flourished since the 15th Century.

Lyon France River Saône

Old Lyon

We started with a visit to the Medieval Vieux Lyon, on the Rive Gauche (left bank), made up of Saint Georges, Saint Jean, and Saint Paul. Directly under the towering Fourvière Basilica, on a beautiful clear day the panoramic view of the city is (literally) breathtaking after the climb to the top.  As Lyon’s Wintery February met us with wind and rain, we’ll leave that for our next visit. Museums were our answer, such as the Musée Miniature et Cinéma which shows props, realistic miniatures and special effects; and the Guignol Workshop Theatre, which not only highlights Lyon as the birthplace in 1808 of the Guignol puppets (much like Punch & Judy) but Damien Wels is the only Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best craftsman) in this domaine as sculptor and puppet-maker.

Traboules passageways in Lyon

What are Traboules?

If you’re like me and fascinated by historical French doorsyou’re in for a treat. Behind many of them are secret passageways, called Traboules. The Traboules in Lyon are unique in the world and date back to the Renaissance. Coming from the Latin for “passing through”, there are 350 of these secret narrow passages in the city. They were created as direct paths for the local silk workers (les Canuts) to transport their fabrics protected from the rain – so to avoid weaving in and out (sorry, can never resist an opportunity for a terrible pun) between their workshops and the crowded streets.

Like any of the locals, our friend, Jean-Paul who owns a gorgeous little gift shop in Rue Saint Jean, is familiar with the traboules. There are 24 of them in Rue Saint Jean alone! He led us to Number 7 as a short-cut to get to our restaurant that night: instead of walking around a couple of maze-like streets, we were directly led to Number 7 right on the Quai Romain Rolland.

It was our first experience of trabouling – yes, apparently it’s a French verb, to Traboule: so, j’ai traboulé! Avez-vous traboulez?

silk weavers history in Lyon

For a better idea of Lyon’s main industry, we headed up the “hill that worked” of the Croix-Rousse to visit the silk weavers’ museum. The Maison des Canuts (rue d’Ivry) demonstrates how silk was made using Jacquard looms and depicts the deplorable living and working conditions (the workplace was also their living quarters), leading to many uprisings from the 1830s, also penned in Hugo’s “Les Misérables”.

To get to the museum, we walked from our hotel – assured by Antoine that it was “just up the road”. Up was the word, bracing the steep pente or hill of La Montée de la Rochette to the Croix-Rousse plateau (note the lovely word plateau when you get to the top!)  If you have a step-tracking app or bracelet, you’ll be proud of such a condensed 10-minute climb to merit a taste of the local specialities!

The good news is that there are plenty of wonderful bakeries in the neighbourhood to satisfy your savoury or sweet tooth. There are so many, I’m preparing a separate post, JUST on the sweet side of Lyon – coming next.

lyon bouchons

What are the Bouchons Lyonnais?

Most important are Lyon’s restaurants, of which the lively Bouchons Lyonnais are famous worldwide for the local cuisine and friendly ambience. Catering initially to the early-rising exhausted silk workers with a Mâchon Lyonnaise (8-10am) around a hearty pre-lunch meal mainly of tripe, the bouchons arrived thanks to the Mères Lyonnaises in the early 20th Century. These strong-willed “mothers” created their own restaurants or bouchons serving “simple yet refined” cuisine at a time when the bourgeois families they worked for could no longer afford to keep them, especially after World War I.

La Mère Fillioux was the first to gain a reputation for her cooking; La Mère Brazier went on later to learn Mme Fillioux’s culinary tricks, popularising her Poularde de Bresse Demi-Deuil (truffles lined under the chicken skin). Mère Brazier then opened a second restaurant, passing on her tricks to a certain legendary Lyonnais chef Paul Bocuse. Moreover, in 1933 she was the first woman to be awarded THREE Michelin stars – and simultaneously for both restaurants!

A traditional bouchon is a cosy, welcoming home-from-home, almost as if sitting in someone’s own dining room filled with memorabilia, trinkets – many decorated with Guignol puppets. Wine is good quality, even if served in simple pots (small bottles) with mainly Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône.  The food is real terroir (local cooking from-the-land) using quality products.  If you love pork and bacon, you’re in for a bonus treat.

bouchons Lyon restaurants

On my previous trip to Lyon, I headed for Chez Hugon. This time we tried out two more  – of which Chabert & Fils (11 rue des Marronniers; open on Mondays) was our favourite: a real down-to-earth, jolly evening around an exquisite, typical kind of menu.

Typical Bouchon Menu

Expect a bowl of grattons, fried and seasoned pork fat with your apéritif drink (take this as a warning, as this is rather an acquired taste!)

Typical entrées (first course, starter) include saucisson sausages or the popular sausisson brioché with salad (lettuce leaves), Salade Lyonnaise (lettuce, bacon, croutons and more); I pounced on my absolute local Bourgogne favourite Oeufs en Meurette (photo above: poached eggs cooked in Burgundy red wine, onions and topped with croutons).

The most typical main dish (plat) is the Quenelle, formed into a sausage shape but made with bread and either chicken or veal, but the most proposed is the Quenelle de Brochet, made of pike and served in a Nantua sauce.  It looks pretty dense but you’ll be surprised how airy it is.

Dessert usually comes in some kind of pink form, with Pralines Roses as main feature: from Tarte aux Pralines, with a sticky pink garniture of pralines roses melted with cream. But the real classics that were served by the Mères Lyonnais were good old French tarte aux pommes, île flottante (floating meringue in vanilla custard), and a boozy Rum Baba – even if this was invented by Stohrer in Paris but when booze is concerned, I’m not complaining.

best value gourmet Lyon - pink pralines

Various pink praline tarts and brioches you have to try (Pralus, Bouillet, Sève, Alain Rolancy)

Best Value Gourmet Lyon Bistros

Lyon’s traditional bouchons aren’t the only great restaurants in town. There are many discrete Michelin-starred establishments around, with Paul Bocuse the ultimate star.  This time we wanted to try smaller bistro-style addresses with up-and-coming young chefs. These are excellent value for money – but note that they offer LIMITED CHOICE MENUS. Smaller menus are perhaps not suited for particularly fussy eaters but it’s fun to try dishes you wouldn’t normally think of ordering, if you’re open to new tastes and ideas.

Do remember we were only here for 3 days and so we need to return to try out more to complete the list!

Le Jean-Moulin (22 rue Gentil, Lyon)

Young chef Grégoire Baratier was recently awarded “Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaises 2017” amongst an impressive line-up of around 50 like-minded creative chefs and Meilleurs Ouvriers de France just in Lyon alone. Although he learned the ropes from local chefs such as Paul Bocuse and Anne-Sophie Pic, his cuisine bursts with his own personal style.

Seating is limited to a cosy 40 covers so booking is essential. I went for the 29 euro evening menu of starter, main and dessert – although confess to stealing tasting part of Antoine’s beautiful local Marcellin fromage plate too from his 4-course menu. A helpful bonus was an accompanying list of allergens of each menu item. Don’t miss the signature dessert: an iced vin jaune parfait, topped with crackling brûlée and surrounded by a light cèpe mousse. Yes, you heard me, mushrooms for dessert? Don’t worry, it’s so subtle yet intriguing.

best value gourmet Lyon

Arsenic (132 rue Pierre Corneille, Lyon) didn’t initially convince us by its name, somehow.  We were imagining all sorts of weird and wonderful dangerous potions appearing at the table, smoking through bowls under some molecular gastronomy spell.

Instead, Arsenic is more of a concept that highlights the latest talents of young chefs making waves in Lyon’s gourmet world. Having gone through the ranks with Christian Têtedoie (Meilleur Ouvrier de France – read my review of his restaurant here), we loved the surprising dishes from Benjamin Milliard when we visited – even the amuse-bouche of cauliflower and Jerusalem artichokes was sublime.  Cod and pear? Why not? He pairs them both beautifully too. With a great wine list, there’s some good value for money treats too.

Best value gourmet Lyon - halles paul bocuse

Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse

This was our last stop to stock up the car with local goodies before our drive back to Paris. There are 40 markets in Lyon but you can’t come to the gastronomic French capital without a visit to Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse.

Lyon gourmand specialities

Above: a typical Lyonnais saucisson brioché

It’s the crème de la crème of best producers under one roof,  highlighting local specialities from charcuterie, pâtés, poulet Bresse free-range chickens, and rows and rows of cheese; freshwater fish and quenelles; to chocolate, bonbons and patisseries from the finest Lyonnais pastry chefs and chocolate makers. Don’t despair if you don’t have room to bring anything home: stop for a bite at one of the welcoming stalls for a plate of oysters or quenelles.

A tour of gastronomic French capital Lyon

Where to stay in Lyon?

We stayed at the Hotel Metropole. Although many reviews say that it’s a bit out of town (Caluire-et-Cuir), we found it so easy just to jump on a 40 bus that whisks you into the centre of town (Bellecour) in about 15 minutes. Tickets can be purchased directly from the driver or better still, buy a carnet of tickets at any metro station in the centre of town.
By renting a couple of studios for 2, we purposely didn’t have breakfast at the hotel, so we were free agents to organise breakfast with traditional treats from Lyon’s best bakeries and pastry shops. Speaking of which, watch out for my next post on this sweet subject, as this merits its very own write-up!

Now the family are asking to return, especially as we didn’t have a taste of the “local” brasserie near the hotel, none other than Paul Bocuse’s Fond Rose.  It’s a lovely proverbial carrot to leave them on, don’t you think?

 


This post was not sponsored in any way. After writing this earlier this year, a UK magazine wanted to publish it this Autumn but has not gone to print since my images were not good enough, taken on a simple telephone. So, here it is finally for you to enjoy free on le blog, without the glossy fancy images.

Corsican Veal Stew with Red Peppers

A warming easy casserole that’s even better reheated next day and fabulous served with pasta (plus glass of red!).

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition: La Baule 2016

Some of you saw the live videos on Facebook but I’ve been itching to tell you in much more detail about this exceptional pastry and chocolate weekend! To start, I was bowled over to be invited by Christophe Roussel to join the French jury for his Annual Pastry Competition Final in La Baule (Loire-Atlantique) on France’s west coast.

Open to budding amateur pastry chefs, five talented finalists were chosen in September via their tantalising patisseries and descriptions on Facebook, all based on this year’s défi (challenge), first announced in July.

As the event wasn’t open to the public, I feel duty-bound to share this with you, patisserie and chocolate lovers. So fasten your seat-belts for a bumper post!

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Annual Pastry Competition

What was the Défi Patissier‘s CHALLENGE this second year?

TO REVISIT an OPÉRA cake, using the famous Fleur de sel de Guérande as an imposed ingredient and during the final, include Christophe Roussel’s new signature Bahiana® chocolate from Brazil.Sounds easy? An Opera pastry has to be one of the most difficult in the French pastry repertoire!

With the competition’s early morning start, Christophe and Julie generously helped relieve any night-before stress by hosting a welcome dinner on La Baule’s beach. Dessert was, of course, by Christophe himself.  If anyone had forgotten his style and needed to tweak their dessert next day, now was the time. The desserts set the tone…

fleur d'Asie of Christophe Roussel

Luckily I had lovely Lucie by my side who works with Christophe, so she could suggest two out of the FOUR desserts! The Fleur d’Asie, or Asian Flower, is a delicate combination of apricot and the Asian Osmanthus (Devilwood) plant which has scents of apricot and peach. I love his hidden Fleur de Sel which gives that unexpected crunch – fantastic!

A First in France: Signature Chocolate

Chocolate-lovers will love the Fleur de Bahiana, the upcoming Bûche de Noël (festive yule log) made with the new signature Brazilian dark chocolate (69%), Bahiana®. It’s from the Pêtrolina cacao farm in the Bahia region, a family-run plantation, and made exclusively for Christophe Roussel in partnership with Valrhona – a first in France.

Intense in chocolate with floral and fruity notes, I found it so warming, almost like tasting a chocolate-vanilla pastry version of a velvety hot chocolate with playful textures. To top it, it wasn’t overly rich but left a lovely round satin touch on the palate.
But I digress – back to the competition!

christophe Roussel pastry competition

Meet the Finalists

From left: Catherine Brug (Besançon: Opera-Cube), 18-year-old Laurie Lacoviz (Saint-Maur: Opéra Rock), Anne-Sophie Donnard (Montmorency: Comme un Air d’Opéra), Émilie Chrysostom, (Paris, Min’Op), and Arnault Buisson (Luxemburg, Opéra Spirit).

The finalists - christophe Roussel pastry competition

Meet Christophe Roussel

Ever since I walked into Christophe Roussel‘s welcoming boutique when it opened 5 years ago in Paris’s Montmartre, it was special. As I say in my book, Teatime in Paris, Chef Christophe must be one of the most genuinely friendly and approachable pastry chefs in France. His credo is sharing, pleasure and a little bit of madness – and add to that an incredible generosity.

After setting up his first pâtisserie in La Baule in 2004, he decided to steer away from the traditional route of adding a boulangerie and instead devoted the rest to chocolate-making. Now with an impressive business with around 44 employees and 7 trainees, Christophe Roussel, part of the prestigious Relais Desserts group, is the star of the French west coast with two boutiques in La Baule, Guérande, Pornichet, Paris, and has just opened another in la Pornic. Together with his wife, Julie (pictured far right below), they make the perfect duo créatif.

Only the HIGHEST QUALITY PRODUCTS are used to create his gourmandises, notably sourcing local produce – one of which is the famous salt, the Fleur de Sel de guérande, just a few kilometres from his laboratory in La Baule (pronounced la-bowl).

Jury for Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

The Jury

Meet the rest of the jury with Christophe Roussel. You can imagine why I was so honoured to be a part of such a prestigious line-up!

  • Thierry Bamas MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) and world champion for frozen desserts, he’s the star of pâtisserie based in the Basque region, between Biarritz and Bayonne. Like Christophe, he runs pastry and chocolate-making classes.
  • Cyril Carrini, winner of the last 2015 Meilleur Pâtissier on French TV’s M6 Channel (The French equivalent of the Great British Bake Off), and winner of the best of the winners. He’s a policeman near Bordeaux who also runs pastry workshops.
  • Mercotte is to France what Mary Berry is to the UK. A most adorable, down-to-earth TV celebrity for the Meilleur Pâtissier on M6, and The French Patisserie Blogger at La Cuisine de Mercotte, with four recipe books.The Pastry & ChocolateLAB

The Lab

Hitting the starting block at 7.30am, the finalists cracked on with their 3-hour pastry challenge. As it was the early stage, we had the opportunity to visit the immense lab.

Christophe Roussel labWhat an Ali-Baba maze! It was hard to resist a peek into these enormous vats of babas steeping in rum syrup as we explored each chocolate and pastry-making workshop. Everyone was quietly and dynamically working on each creation: from chocolate moulds of Peppa Pig, Calimero, and chocolate kisses destined to be exported to Japan, to his assortiment of macarons – of which about 25 tons are produced a year. There’s even a room assigned to edible decor – spot his pastry signature above (top left).

religieuse pas très catholique christophe RousselBack to the buzzing competition room, just to keep us going, we taste Christophe’s Coffee Réligieuse – Pas Très Catholique (meaning a bit doubtful), with lively notes of two different coffees and a chocolate craquelin crumble topping for le crunch. Incidentally, this was the inspiration behind the recipe for the salted caramel choux snowman in Teatime in Paris!

THE Challenge

The classic Opéra isn’t an easy pastry … and on top of it, personal variations made it a particularly interesting challenge. Cubes, balls, discs, giant spheres, logs, tuiles … they’d all thought it out so well.

Christophe Roussel pastry competition opera challenge

All aspects were taken into consideration: such as respect to the classic recipe (e.g. right dosage of coffee coming through, enough chocolate, right textures; their interpretation; clean workspace; no waste (Christophe made frequent bin inspections), respect to time, visual aspect, and so on.

While all was being filmed on camera, we were additionally going around filming and snapping shots on our phones: everyone was spontaneously interviewed on Facebook Live by the bubbly Mercotte (we were all impressed with her mega battery!). Apparently I speak French like Jane Birkin, ahem…  Thierry Bamas and Cyril also caught the online interviewing bug as the stress and COUNTDOWN started.

Discussions behind the finalists didn’t put them off – and although there was the odd hand trembling towards the finishing touches, everyone showed their talent of being calm and collected, plus it was a good team spirit if someone needed to borrow equipment from each other.  Not every competitive spirit is prepared to do that.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule 2016

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … and STOP!  Et Voilà: their finished results. Now we could think of the visual aspect. Great job – and totally resembling what they submitted online.

Finished operas - Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

By now finished, the finalists took off their aprons for a well-earned break.

Jury Salon du Chocolat la Baule

Photo courtesy of Michel Orion, Ouest-France

Salon du Chocolat, La Baule

Meanwhile, we were given the added job of tasting our way through 3 different themes of chocolates over at the Castel Marie-Louise, as part of the Salon du Chocolat in La Baule, hosted by the Casino Barrière. Our challenge was to pick the best in each category before announcing the winners – including the pastry challenge – at the Salon later.
chocolate-jury-la-baule

Our group tasted 12 chocolates on a dark chocolate and citrus almond paste theme. The unanimous winner went to Vincent Belloir (Goût du bonheur, La Roche-Bernard). It was best for the visual sheen on the chocolate, the clean cut without losing it’s shape, the smooth texture, the bouquet on ze nose, and of course, the taste!

Olivier Grimault (Créat-shop, Les Sorinières) won the chocolate bar category with dark chocolate and Matcha, … and winner of the third category went to Christophe Roussel for his dark chocolate and pink peppercorn!  Also congratulations goes to Amélie Giraud for her chocolate sculpture, who is also part of Christophe Roussel’s team!

A few glasses of water later – and all before lunch ….!

Pastry Competition Tasting & Verdict

This is when I appreciated when Mercotte took me under her wing. Although the group agreed on the same issues and were discerning on each aspect, my marking was slightly too high for each finalist – so now I can put it down to experience!

Jury tasting Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

Photos courtesy of Michel Oriot, Ouest-France news

Pastry Competition Winners!

Our winners were also announced on Saturday evening at the Salon du Chocolat.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition winners

Congratulations to the winner, Anne-Sophie, a school teacher and French pastry blogger at SurprisesetGourmandises. She wins a Gourmet Luxury Weekend in La Baule and a day of pastry-making with Christophe Roussel.
Bravo to Catherine Brug who came a close second, and a huge round of applause to Arnault, Emilie and Laurie. Each of them were not just great bakers but lovely, sensitive souls too.

finalists Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Lucie Henaff, thanking everyone, even prepared framed momentos of their Opéra creations, a lovely keepsake of their tremendous talent.

A Gourmet yet Light Weekend

After all the excitement, the chocolate, the opera cakes, lunch, more various dessert tastings, there was … another gourmet dinner!

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition Castel Marie-Louise La Baule

For everything we ate, however, all was impeccably light. Spoiled by Eric Mignard, Michelin-starred chef for 30 years at the Relais-Châteaux Castel Marie-Louise, he took us through local seafood and fish menus, including a memorable dish of tartar scallops with passion fruit, pineapple, daikon, and salsifis chips with grilled almond oil. I’d need another few pages to discuss the rest!

Christophe Roussel dessertsj

On to the DESSERTS, all prepared by Christophe Roussel, each one was immaculate. They’re airy, full of surprising textures (he has fizzy chocolates too) and each ingredient has its own punch to say, “Taste me – I’m here too!”. The finale – made especially for the occasion – of Tahitian vanilla mousse with mango and that nesting ball on top is full of exploding salted caramel. It was the closing firework display to an exceptional weekend.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Do keep an eye out for the 2017 competition on Christophe Roussel’s Facebook page. If you or anyone you know is a real fan of making French pastries, then you’ll have witnessed that this is an extremely special competition indeed. I hear there will be even more surprises for next year’s Défi challenge. How can you beat that?

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

I’ll finish with Christophe Roussel’s popular chocolate kisses from La Baule and say a big Cheers, Santé to you, Chef! Bravo to such an extraordinary and successful weekend, the opening of your new boutique in La Pornic, the new signature Brazilian chocolate, for such a wonderful, dynamic team you’ve inspired – and, above all, for your generosity.

christophe Roussel Pastry Challenge

Christophe Roussel Duo Créatif

6 Allée des Camélias
44500 LA BAULE

5 Rue Tardieu
75018 PARIS

Fiadone Corsican Cheesecake

The laziest cheesecake on the planet! A Corsican family dessert typically served between November and June.