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Chef Perry Hoffman Returns from France

Chef Perry Hoffman spent the first few weeks of June at the Moët & Chandon estate in Epernay, France. Immersing himself in the Champagne region and its history, Chef Hoffman gained a new appreciation for the legacy and tradition behind our founders. Working with Chef Pascal Tingaud of the Château de Saran Estate, one of two properties where Moët & Chandon entertains their VIP guests, Chef Hoffman got to experience the inner-workings of a French kitchen.

Chef Perry Hoffman spent the first few weeks of June at the Moët & Chandon estate in Epernay, France. Immersing himself in the Champagne region and its history, Chef Hoffman gained a new appreciation for the legacy and tradition behind our founders. Working with Chef Pascal Tingaud of the Château de Saran Estate, one of two properties where Moët & Chandon entertains their VIP guests, Chef Hoffman got to experience the inner-workings of a French kitchen. Below is an interview of Chef Hoffman after his trip.

Q: What was the purpose of your trip?
PH: To visit the region of Champagne, immerse myself in the culture, and learn about our company's history and operations from a culinary perspective.

Q: What was the biggest difference between the kitchen at Château de Saran Estate and the kitchen at etoile Restaurant?
PH: They have a larger staff and the ability to get interesting French ingredients that I do not have access to. They have ingredients like wild asparagus and conch which cannot be used in US kitchens.

Q: What was the most interesting ingredient you go to use while cooking at Moët & Chandon?
PH: Definitely the oyster plant. It's cultivated in Scotland where it grows in brackish water. It looks like a piece of spinach but tastes like a raw oyster, it has a salty, briny, mineral taste.

Q: What was the highlight of your trip?
PH: The open air markets in Paris. I was surrounded by inspiring ingredients unavailable to American chefs. The markets had everything from amazing raw milk cheeses, and wild asparagus, to fish that were fresh out of the Mediterranean that are hard to get a hold of, if not impossible, in the US. One of the coolest ingredients I saw was conch which is delicious but illegal to serve in the US.

Q: What were your top three favorite cheeses you tasted while in France?
PH: My three favorite cheeses I tasted in France that are available in the US are Langres (cow), Pont-l'Évêque (cow), and Abbaye de Belloc (sheep).

Q: What is the biggest take-away from this experience?
PH: I have a new found love and appreciation of the Champagne region and the culture and history behind it. There's so much to experience that one trip is definitely not enough!

 

He readily admits, “We’re cooks first, not gardeners.” That’s why he’s so excited to have added a full-time, professional gardener to his kitchen staff. He helps the restaurant’s plots flourish and tending to a new half acre of land etoile Restaurant recently acquired on Chandon’s Carneros vineyard property, dubbed the etoile Kitchen Farm.
We recently caught up with Perry after a garden produce meeting, where he and his team discuss strategy, and map out a harvest and menu plan. “We sit with the gardener a couple days a week, have a schedule made of what the garden’s harvesting and plan our menus around it.”
Home Growing: Better than buying
For freshness and flavor, you simply cannot beat growing your own edible garden, and etoile Restaurant’s diners reap the delicious benefits. “We can grow things we could never buy,” says Hoffman. “For example, we might take carrots and onions out of the ground after only 20 days, so they’re young and miniature. We grow these incredible ingredients and garnishes we’d otherwise have to buy after they’d been stored in greenhouses and traveled from the Midwest.”
True to Chandon’s sustainability ethos, the etoile garden is focused on minimizing waste, and maximizing every resource. “Compost is great for us in the kitchen. We have tons of excess waste—onion peels, potato skins, fava bean shells, which have so much nitrogen—and we have a full compost system. We’re able to return it to the ground, so it’s this great system.”
Tips for the at-home green-thumb
Spring—early to mid-April in particular—is the ideal time of year to prep your garden for a bountiful harvest. Pick your plot of land, clear away the weeds, till a good amount of fresh soil and compost into the ground, and get ready to plant your seeds or starters. Perry has two key pieces of advice for home gardeners: Be patient, and start small.
“Don’t rush. Right now, as much as we want to get a garden planted, it’s raining and there’s just no reason to. The soil’s wet, the rain is coming down and we’d probably lose everything to seed rot. So we’ll wait. And don’t plan too big. Only grow what you’re capable of using. The most frustrating thing is to plant, not have enough time to harvest, and run the risk of wasting a plant.”
Perry’s a big fan of the easily grown home garden staples, such as squash, greens, herbs and tomatoes. But there’s one hardy, versatile veggie many gardeners overlook. “It’s incredibly easy to grow cucumbers. We make little cucumber relishes, cucumber soups, cucumber liquids. Then, if you have too many, you just make pickles.” Perry suggest trellising cucumber plants to keep them off the ground, and adding the cucumbers to any dish you can think of, from sushi to braised rabbit.
One to try
Anyone who has grown squash knows the plant is hearty, and produces abundantly. It can be tough to figure out how to use all the fruits of your labors. Perry’s secret? Don’t cook it at all.
“We’ll shave it paper thin on a mandolin, raw, and dress it with vinaigrette and great Spanish manchego and herbs, with some citrus, and have this great, really refreshing shaved squash salad where it’s all paper thin shaved and completely raw. It’s just a fantastic way to eat squash.”
Find Perry’s Shaved Summer Squash recipe here, and happy gardening!