The inaugural Tour de France Wine Journey, a wine tasting and culinary event, provided a glimpse into what is possible when French people organize a culinary event, the limitation to ingredients is only the imagination, and money is no object.
The $300 per person admission to the event, which was held at the Dusit Thani Guam Resort Salon on Friday, proved to be a value.
"We had about 14 chefs working this event, more chefs than tasters," chuckles Patrick Callarec, the cluster culinary director for the Dusit Thani group of properties. "The logistics for this type of event are very tricky, as these types of ingredients are delicate, quite perishable, and delays of days or a week can really affect the quality," he said.
Callarec, a native of Cannes, France, recalled some nostalgia putting together the menu.
"This menu reminded me when I was working as a young chef in Cannes in the '80s; the trend at that time was working with top-of-the-line ingredients like the foie gras and caviar."
Celine San Nicolas, the owner of France Wines Etc., is the co-promoter of the event. A Parisian, San Nicolas, née Aubin, is importing wines from France from small- to medium-size high-quality wineries.
"Our mission is to import top quality wines from the six main French wine regions – small wineries, not the big mass production labels," said San Nicolas.
France Wines Etc. operates five wine cellars where conditions are carefully monitored to maintain the consistency of the product.
"The wines are loaded onto temperature-controlled trucks in France, and the temperatures and conditions are monitored and maintained carefully during the entire shipping process," she explained. "At no point are the cases unloaded on a dock somewhere to sweat and await transport to another location. We have gone through great lengths to ensure the temperature and humidity integrity is maintained to get these cases of wine and champagne directly from the south of France, into our cellars."
San Nicolas knows these vintners, she said, and they know her on a first-name basis.
"I purchase the cases directly from them, and they let me know the details of the season and harvest and what to expect with the wine, and some of them become quite delighted when I have to explain that their products are coming to Guam!" she laughs.
"The importance of the patrimony, the heritage and the art of wine and culinary is ingrained in French culture. This national pride extends into every region, like the lavender in Provence or the perfume in Grasse. Every region takes great pride in their regional products, to the point of intense regulation. Many, many factors – the source of ingredients and even specific vineyard practices – can determine whether or not a product can even be called a Champagne, a Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape," said San Nicolas.
A taste of what's to come
The Tour de France Wine Journey on Friday was the first of six such events, the inaugural tour being the Champagne region of the country. For those in the know, a 2009 vintage of the Philipponnat Cuvée 1522 Brut champagne was being offered with a traditional French steak tartare, but the twist is that the main ingredient, served raw, was Japanese A5 Wagyu, which can easily run hundreds of dollars per pound. As if the A5 upgrade wasn't enough, the dish finished with escargot caviar, sea urchin uni and garnished with gold flake. The delicate bubbles of the 1522 offset the richness of the dish, of which the two-or-three-bite portion was plenty.
"Champagne is easy to pair with food; it's a very neutral type of grape, it does not have an aggressive profile," said chef Patrick. "It's all about the bubbles."
He added: "I loved the event. The challenge is to find the ingredients and it all has to be air freight. It's great for the team to experience these deluxe ingredients and have the up-close interactions with the guests as they create, plate and serve the items."
Foie gras, another luxury ingredient, was seared on the spot, to order. The seared liver is then plated on black truffle toast with wild berry compote.
Champagne was an ingredient in the preparation of the lobster with fresh artichokes, which was served with tarragon sauce.
Sea scallops with citrus was garnished with Royal Osetra caviar, a very hard-to-acquire delicacy from the Caspian Sea.
Eight types of mushrooms were sauteed to order at the mushroom vol-au-vent station. The sauteed mushrooms were arranged on a puff pastry and sauced with a red wine reduction before serving.
One of the more dramatic stations at the event was serving raclette, a half-wheel of cheese that is placed under a specialty broiler until the surface is bubbling and caramelized and scraped onto a plate to be served with bread, potatoes and a variety of house-made pickles.
All of the stations were paired with a selection of champagne.
"The next event will be March 1, maybe around a six-, seven- or eight-course menu. We will have a VIP guest from France and we are planning right now about how to make that event special," said chef Patrick.
"The French have a saying, joie de vivre," explained San Nicolas. "It's enthusiasm for life, in what you do – maybe it's culinary, maybe it's wine, or even enjoying good conversation. It's the joie de vivre that we are trying to communicate with the Tour de France Wine Journeys."