In the fall of 1978, I moved to London, England to take a position as chef de partie at Le Gavroche. It was a long journey getting there as it took some nine months of waiting for visa clearance to work. While waiting for those visas, I went to France to hopefully get a summer position while waiting.
When I finally arrived in London, wife and 8 month old child in tow, we lodged at a bread and breakfast in a six floor walk-up. Toilet facilities down the hall, kitchen the size of a small closet and a single living, bedroom, storage room with a futon for a bed.
First reporting to Le Gavroche, I was a bit taken back by the basement kitchen. There was little space, some fourteen cooks and chef working like crazy and a somewhat tired array of cooking equipment, including an old wooden reach-in fridge. My first day on the job, I was given the task of cleaning a bag of the most encrusted mussels I had ever seen followed by a request to peel grapes. The work area per person was about 2 linear feet and inches away from the central stove. Honestly, I did not think I was going to stay.
So.....I decided to get as much as I could in the seemingly short time I was going to be there. I borrowed all the recipe binders in the kitchen and studiously copied, by hand, all the hundreds of recipes, which were in French.
Eventually, I decided to stay for the planned year and learn as much as possible. Chef-owner Albert Roux took the time to give a few on-on-one cooking lessons. I remember in particular a terrine of red mullet that we prepared. As with many things made there, it involved a fish mousseline.
After two months, Chef Roux invited myself and family to his home just outside of London. After dinner, the reason for the dinner came to light. Chef Albert expressed his appreciation for the job I was doing and made a proposition. He suggested that I spend three years in his kitchen with the object of doing a joint restaurant venture in America. It was my plan to open my own place one day so this was terrific. I was promoted to sous chef at the two Michel-starred Le Gavroche.
At the completion of my three years, Albert Roux sent me on a grand tour as a guest worker (stagier) at three top restaurants in France, Alain Chapel in Mionnay, Le Pres Catalan in Paris and the Troisgros in Roanne. It was a great experience and has served me well over the years.
Back to those recipe books I had hand copied. Just prior to my return to the States, I was presented with ring binders with all those recipes. I am happy to share them on this blog. Judging from the recipes, they are derived from classic sources such as Escoffier, Careme, Dubois, Villart and other masters of the classic French repertoire. Chef Albert had copies of those books from the 1800s.
Check back for future postings of those recipes...
Sea Bass Vicare's style
Bone the sea bass from the back, leaving the fish whole. Stuff with a fish mousse mixed with spinach cooked with stewed shallots. Close with string.
Braise the fish in fish stock and white wine, when done remove and place on a serving platter. Remove the skin, reduce the cooking liquid and add cream.
Serve with little tart shell filled with diced scallops cooked in reduced cream with fresh herbs and finished with meaux mustard. Do not boil the sauce after adding the mustard.
This is a chef's recipe in that you need to already have mastered the basics of french cuisine.