I have a not-so-secret passion for France. I’ve studied the language and culture for almost 25 years and have lived, gone to school and worked there for a combined two years. French food provides vivid memories: creamy butter on fresh bread and croissants on a slow morning in Paris, fresh seafood on the coast of Brittany, lettuce tossed with vinaigrette, waiting for the cheese course after a long Sunday afternoon dinner with family.
“Haute cuisine,” according to Wikipedia, is food served at “high level” establishments, gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels, characterized by meticulous preparation and careful presentation, at a high price level, enjoyed with expensive wines. While there are many restaurants like this in France (as well as here in the U.S.), by and large, the cooking that happens in the home in France is simple and straightforward, eating to savor delicious food while enjoying time with friends and family.
FRENCH CUISINE WITH A TWIST
Rochester is home to many classically trained chefs who add riffs to classic French fare. Bleu Duck Kitchen offers top-notch cuisine, wines and cocktails in a “fun-dining” atmosphere. Casablanca Creative Cuisine & Wine allows diners to get close to fine French dining without leaving the city limits, and owner and chef Youness Bojji might even teach you a little French. ZZest brings you the most amazing selection of cheeses from France and everywhere else, modern dishes and fabulous cocktails. All three restaurants present incredibly creative dishes that will delight your palette.
For Erik Kleven, owner and chef at Bleu Duck, “haute cuisine” means using the finest and freshest ingredients along with classic cutting and preparation techniques. They feature many dishes that are French in origin but have an “American bistro” twist, like their bouillabaisse with lemongrass.
LeeAnn Zubay, owner of ZZest, is a certified cheese professional, one of the first to earn that title given by the American Cheese society. While ZZest isn’t a French restaurant, its selection of cheese rivals the finest fromagerie anywhere. You can enjoy their cheese in the American style (as an appetizer) or in the French style (after your main course or as dessert).
Youness Bojji, owner and chef at Casablanca, hails from Morocco by way of Paris, where he worked at one of the restaurants in the Eiffel Tower. He spends time researching current food trends to influence the food experiences he brings to Rochester. For him, cooking is his love language, an expression of his fashion and of his personality. Eating at Casablanca is like having your own private chef because he takes such good care of his diners.
SO YOU WANT TO COOK (IN THE FRENCH STYLE)?
You, too, can cook in the “haute cuisine” style, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Create beautiful masterpieces using simple and inexpensive ingredients. Following are some tips from Kleven, Zubay, Bojji and moi for how to add some French flair to your cooking.
- Use the freshest ingredients possible. Use foods that are in season and avoid processed foods. Take your time when shopping to explore new foods. Zubay encourages diners to step out of their comfort zones.
- Set aside a bit of time each week to prep ingredients. Dice, slice and chop once a week, store these ingredients and pull them out when you need them. In French (or culinary terms), this is called mise en place.
- Have fun and play around in the kitchen. Kleven says to use recipes as a guideline and work on techniques. Use the mistakes that you make in the kitchen as opportunities for learning and developing your skills.
- Eat smaller portions of higher quality food and take smaller bites. Bojji says in France they say you should chew each bite a minimum of seven times so that the flavors can “explode in your mouth.”
- Enjoy with your loved ones. Food is supposed to calm you down, make you happy and enhance your conversation. Food is communication, a way to share something.
Both Bleu Duck and Casablanca have opportunities for learning more about cooking. Stay tuned for more information about Bleu Duck’s Farmer’s Market shopping and cooking class. Casablanca is now offering a Night in Paris, which is an opportunity to bring Chef Bojji’s cooking into your own home, complete with after-dinner espresso and music!
Whether you’re going out or staying in, you can bring French cuisine to Rochester. Bon appétit!
Emily Watkins in Paris, France on Avenue des Champs-Élysées with Arc de Triomphe in the background.