Two weeks ago, my friend Etienne Hugel passed away in a most sudden and unexpected manner, although there is no consolation for such a loss, the many good memories he left behind may console his friends and especially his family; his beloved wife Kaoru, his son Jean Frédéric his daughter Charlotte and the whole Hugel family.
“But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913)
This is one of those taste and smell memories…
It was mid May 2012 during one of our “Saturday lunch” gatherings with my friend Judy Chang , she said: “my friend Etienne Hugel a winer from Alsace is coming for a three day visit to Israel , how about you hosting an intimate dinner with Etienne?”.
It is not everyday that I get to host a real member from the Aristocracy of European winemakers: The Primum Familiae Vini –(in latin) or First Families of Wine, the eleven families that belong to this exclusive ‘club’, where the criteria for membership are: quality and continuous family ownership.
The list of members is astonishing: Pol Roger from Champagne, Château Mouton Rothschild of Bordeaux, Maison Joseph Drouhin from Burgundy, Hugel et Fils from Alsace (second oldest in the group with 13 generations since 1639), Perrin et Fils from the Rhône Valley, Egon Müller from the Saar, Antinori, the oldest wine family of the list (26 generations) from Tuscany, Tenuta San Guido with their Sassicaia, Miguel Torres and Vega Sicilia from Spain and the Symington Port estates in the Douro.
A member of the Royal families of European wines at my house? will he be a pompous “prince” who is going to look down on us PLEBS (in ancient Rome: despised social class, commoners, low-born, undistinguished…), this guy will dwell for a few hours under my roof? but than, Why not? this is an opportunity and so I readily took the “challenge”, (being told by Judy he is a cool guy, a hippy of sorts, this is where I feel comfortable)
This is going to be a night of food and wine, it has to be special, extraordinary, This guy knows his food and wine, he dined everywhere and drank anything, he has good palate and nose, I can not surprise him, but I will do my best… after all, this is a meal for only 5 diners, (shame I have to work late that day and will have only an hour and a half before the guests arrive).
As it turned to be, it was a night of food, wine, Rock n’ roll, amitié (real friendship) and giving (but thats for later on…)
Planning the menu has to include 2 first dishes cooked on the spot , the main dish will have to be a roast (let the oven do the job for me while I’m busy prepping the first 2 dishes and the theme? Eclectic! things that go well with Alsacian, Hugel wines (which I bought in advance at “Derech Hayaiin“ , of Family Shaked, Hugel representatives in Israel (Importers) and the best chain of fine wine shops around the country (http://www.wineroute.co.il/?tree=english&item=0&theme=he-il.
So I have Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, and Gentil “Hugel”, which as they say: “brings together the suave spicy flavour of Gewürztraminer, the body of Pinot Gris, the finesse of Riesling, the grapiness of Muscat and the refreshing character of Sylvaner”, all the above Hugel wines as my cooking wines, this pulled me to opt for dishes with a touch of the far east, a touch of the middle east (after all that’s where we are, and the guest is coming from a visit to Beirut, prior to his “Holy-Land” visit… all with a delicate french touch.
For first course: Giant crystal Shrimps rolled in Zucchini, fried in goose fat, in Champagne and Riesling shrimp sauce. This is a takeoff on Joël Robuchon’s dish with Langoustine in champagne sauce. this sauce is really alluring you could almost drink it on its own with all the shrimp and champagne aromas , sublime!
For the second course: I need a south east Asian touch to accompany my second cooking wine the Gewürztraminer, Fried Veal sweetbreads in a light gwurzt curry cream sauce on a bed of blanched wild Rocket. for the blanching I used a bottle of simmering Gentill Hugel wine .
For the main course : Mediterranean style Roast Leg of Lamb, served with Roasted potatoes, steamed Spinach in Olive oil, White and brown Oven steamed Shimeji Mushrooms (homage to Japan…)
Than, A selection of french and local goats cheeses with green salad.
For dessert: Tart Tatin of Pears and Ginger served with dessert wine which turned to be to amazing 1976 Gewürztraminer Hugel “Sélection de Grains Nobles”, Nectar of the Gods …
I have just finished rolling my shrimps in “zucchini leaves” , and prepping our sweetbreads : blanch, peel and all… and most of the Mise en scène (after all cooking is a bit like movie making or a theatre production) and Mise en place, that our front door was open and in came my old friends Yair and Judy and a stormy guy in slightly sweaty T shirt (it was a hot day outside), his face lighted the room with joy (almost childish), his hands full with presents, offerings of fine wines and a mystery Pink box the content of which I will reveal later. With a rolling stones song at the background he immediately blended into the music and my greetings met his happiness and good will. A simple guy like me and you, not the aristocratic attitude I dreaded at first.
I immediately felt (I like this guy) and after a brief introduction we became the oldest best buddies ever…
The kitchen is partially open plan and the dinner table was laid down, and with no further pause he “demanded” a Champagne Cooler Bucket full of Ice to put the 2004 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Millesime Champagne, he had in his hand .
Cristal is a magnificent wine of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir, aged for six years!!! on the yeast and a further 8 month in the bottle without yeast. and the vintage 2004, Ai Yai Yai (as Etienne said several times that night…) We impatiently opened the wine after it got to our temperature of taste (not too cold). After the first sniff and sip the Cristal hallmarks are evident: “purity, precision and the unique harmony of flavours associated with the subtle power of our historic vines, located on the finest Champagne Grand Cru terroirs.” – as described by Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Roederer’s Cellar Master, an extraordinary champagne on all counts.
This wine has a lot of layered aromatic elegance of white peach, apricot, honeyed citrus blossoms and amazing minerality , grilled hazelnuts and creamy butter texture, very sensual and a great company to our first course, which got hailed around the table
(Though I know the Cristal did most of the job, raising the dish to a higher level, it went gloriously with our first dish of the evening and in the end Etienne did ask for the remaining sauce to be served to him as a soup, he loved every tiny bit of it and drank it to the last drop, a most amusing moment… as you can see below.
My guests were asked to pass the time as I go prepare the next dish (sweetbreads), but Etienne insisted on a “tour” of my cellar (a small room with a few gems collected over the years, nothing like the cellars he is used to…), still not bad by local standards, I gave him the “Royal tour” and chose a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée, to keep the champagne bit of the evening going on, which met immediately Etienne’s approval, the Krug Grande Cuvée NV Champagne, sat on ice to be cooled just slightly more, and the primum Vini represenative in the dinning room followed me to the kitchen, noticing my Lacanche stove he said (In his lovely french accent):” There’s one like this one, in the presidents private kitchen at the Élysée Palace” (the official residence of “Le Président de la République Française”), than immediately started to ask questions regarding our next dish, from a knowledgeable point of view, an interested observer willing to help, full of amazement almost like a child , discussing the how and why and the thought behind them. I guess I was a bit distracted and pulled the Arugula out of the “wine steaming” slightly ahead of time, the leaves were still a little too tough but it somehow went well enough with the curry cream sauce and the tender, butter fried sweetbreads,
Etienne helped me serve the dishes to the table (such a sweet guy), as we were eating sipping our wonderful Krug Etienne most graciously looked at me and said (again in his sweet french accent) : “are you trying to give french cooking a bad name?” commending my second dish with the utmost compliment (a polite expression of praise or admiration), by now we were already drinking the powerful Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chenevottes 1er Cru Michel Colin Deleger 1993 , not the best vintage year for this wine, even worse after the two great champagnes but better than anticipated. Although my cellar stores great Bourgogne whites, we kept for the moment with the wines brought by the guests for the occasion. This is a leisurely dinner and we were not going to be deterred by a mediocre Wine here or there, and so we withdrew to the “drawing room” adjacent to the dining table for a smoke and a cheerful chat, while our joint of lamb was resting on a rack waiting to be carved soon.
This is turning to be a great fun occasion and we are only half way through, the rest of this meal, the wines, the food, in Part 2 and the promised surprise in the pink box to follow soon…