What is a vision? Apart from its medical meaning it could be a long-term goal (in management – where does my company want to be in 10 years?), an inspirational experience (in spiritual terms) or a hallucination (a vivid conscious perception in the absence of a stimulus).
Now, infamous German food critique Jürgen Dollase collaborates with important German chefs to elaborate seminal menus which should open up a new world for all senses: the Gourmet Vision series to appear in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in loose sequence. In describing its objective Dollase points out that “besides technical mastery it is the magnetism of a new idea, of the unknown, the very touch of discovery and novelty which transfers us into a state of pure ‘degustation’ ” (some kind of culinary frenzy, I suppose;-)). So, it is likely that he refers to a rather spiritual experience. I will come back to that.
The new Gourmet Vision has a well-known protagonist: Christian Bau. Dollase approached him to work on a “Japanese” menu as a natural continuation and culmination of Bau’s already taken path (already obvious in the last 18+ months or so).
So, I went to Schloss Berg immediately. To see what new dishes Bau had produced. To see how far Bau can go without giving up his so carefully developed style. To see whether it has sustainable elements which might be able to show us a glimpse of future cooking.
I ate the following 9 course menu:
It’s always good to start an evening with some good friends. But the Hering spoons made them really appear in new light: as a first parade of amuse bouches Bau served pork belly glazed with Hoi Sin, langoustine tartar and caviar (amazingly tender, juicy pork paired with an incredible langoustine), a soy marsh mellow with a Japanese fish roll (fresh notes coupled with an excellent mouthfeel) and foie gras with green tea, pepper and mango. Above you have home-made kroepoek with oyster and green apple. It seemed that my old friends liked the Hering very much as they were perfect as never before, each a balanced precise handcrafted masterpiece. And tasty;-)
As a second amuse: blue lobster / quinoa / green apple / madras curry. On the first glance this seems rather classic but a closer look is warranted: needless to say that the lobster is just perfect, cooked for some minutes and then finished under the salamander – transparent, tender, yet not chewy. The dish has two kicks: the puffy pealed quinoa which adds a constant wheaty crunch and the fried chicken skin which complements the textural spectrum with a savoury one-off crunch. Most importantly, the chicken flavours the whole mouth which makes the dish unique. Paired with the soft passepierre and sesam aioli, the fresh green apple and the dense madras curry jus it was just outstanding. As the flavouring with the chicken skin is so important maybe more and smaller pieces of it would achieve an even greater effect…
2008 Grauburgunder** Trocken, Alexander Laible, Baden
The actual menu kicked off with another good friend: crab with melon and dashi jelly. Again very compelling I must admit. For me the interplay of the warm (baked in kataifi) and the cold marinated crab is the key point of the dish. Wonderfully balanced in textures, flavours and temperatures.
2007 Sauvignon Blanc Cuvée Nicolas, Brander Winery, California
Then a new dish: sea food & hamachi. Sounds boring but isn’t. This is the direction of the next step in Bau’s development towards an avantgarde and total emancipation from the French classic as it breaks with traditional French dish composition altogether. What’s happening on the plate? Raw marinated sepia, sea cucumber poached in oil (served warm), crispy cucumber stripes, sashimi of hamachi on top of small sepia cubes, marinated seaweed and sesame aioli seamlessly bound together by a marinade of lemon, sake and rice vinegar. Wait, there is also an oyster underneath the sepia which is the core of the dish…
What to say? A world-class dish with subtle iodic and citric flavours – outstanding products combined in a unique way. Texture is key here as there is an almost gradient declination of different mouthfeels. Maybe the least Japanese dish from the perspective of a European but the most authentic from the perspective of a Japanese. Bravo!
2008 Lorcher Burgweg Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Weingut Bachmann-Greulich, Rheingau
Langoustine sushi was next. A raw and holed langoustine was filled with traditional sushi rice accompanied by trout caviar, salicorn purée, sauté and beignet as well as corail créme, Ponzu air and a tea of langoustine. What’s most important in sushi? The quality of the ingredients – and here, they simply shined – not more, not less. For me, the tea was mouth-watering – it just filled the mouth with every sip and provided the basis for the succeeding bites. Excellent to outstanding!
2008 Pouilly-Fumé, Jonathan Pabiot, Loire
The blue fin tuna is maybe the most advanced dish of the menu as it offers nearly endless combinations of the different elements each being surprising and thought-provoking. But in the end, it just has to be that way – no element is dispensable, a dish in equilibrium.
On the centre plate you have tuna prepared as Tataki (slightly grilled, marinated with soy, caramellized with a bunsen burner), small cucumber cubes marinated in rice vinegar, Tosazu jelly (mirin, soy sauce, rice vinegar, dashi, sake), roasted rock chives and small ginger stripes. All elements are a kind of make-up to the tuna – applied in the exactly right dimensioning there is nothing to be added. Fresh cucumber as a fundament, deep and intense jelly as the finish – the acidic, fresh, slightly sweet notes form a wonderful accord.
The salad of Japanese pickles with Abalone (in thin stripes and in bigger pieces marinated and cooked sous-vide for 12-14 hours) is a masterpiece in proportions and adds crunch, herbal and acidic flavours. In-midst of the Japanese essence with Ginger Ale you find a tuna tartar with radish, tuna roll and caviar. This very essence is a real killer, simply breathtaking in intensity without dominating the other elements – the use of Ginger Ale is ingenious yet somehow simple. This carries the dish into culinary heights never experienced before. DIVINE!
Never heard of a Luxembourg wine? Well, neither have I. But this one was quite compelling, not stand-alone but in combination with the essence it was really excellent!
2007 Pinot Blanc Fossiles, Château Pauqué, Luxembourg
Uff, after these highlights I needed a break but it just continued: ris de veau with yam (purée, baked and marinated), veal glace, miso crème and crumble of black garlic. As I am very fond of ris de veau this was one of my little darlings as it was much simpler in composition and degustation. Bau sears the rare ris de veau and ‘marries’ it with the hearty yam – such a natural combination as if this would you been served for ages. The two purées complimented each other like Ying and Yang with the yam one being more traditional (reminds of a slighty sweet and acidic carrot) and the miso adding a complimentary Japanese touch. Texture from the marinated yam and the crumble… In the end, it was just yummy, something to eat & enjoy and relax a bit after the complex tuna. Well-thought-out menu order, Mr Bau!
2008 Fass 11, Schonfels Riesling, Peter Lauer, Saar
It continued with another winner: Bar de Ligne – skin-roasted with smoked eel marinated in home-made (!) Terriyaki sauce and char-grilled, crème of eggplant with miso, cucumber rings with shiso pesto, baked ladyfingers and Ponzu vinaigrette. Somehow in each dish Bau manages to surprise and wow the diner. Of course, this dish is elaborate to the utmost detail with many ohs and ahs but the real kick is provided by the small cucumber rings which add an unexpected freshness and let the dish appear quite light. Surprise…
2007 Chardonnay Santa Ynez Valley, Zaca Mesa Winery, California
As a main Bau offered Mieral pigeon. Why not Wagyu you might ask? Bau served Wagyu for quite some time – so an opportunity for a new challenge. Pigeon three ways – the breast was cooked sous-vide and char-grilled, the legs served as a confit wrapped in spring roll dough and the livers presented as a flan with foie. On top of the flan you find a broccoli couscous (fresh and herbal notes) and crispy pigeon skin seasoned with spicy honey and different sorts of pepper. Exactly these skin pieces were the little extra as they provided depth, spiciness, slight sweetness (nice pairing with the carrot-ginger purèe) and texture. The sweet-spicy duality continued in the pigeon jus with Hojicha (smoked) tea, cardamon and coriander. Simply one of the best mains I have ever eaten. Complex, something to explore and discover, superb products and an immensely clever variation around one product.
2000 Les Lézardes, Domaine René Rostaing, Rhône
With reference to the Japanese cantaloupe the pré-dessert was a combination of soy milk and melon – as ice cream, cannelloni filled with melon espuma and small jelly cubes. In fact a new way of looking at the traditional sorbet to re-fresh the diner (but served after the main). Here the small coriander baisers were the surprising herbal element.
The Sonnenuhr of Dr. Loosen was truly memorable – still young, vivid with acidity and a crisp sweetness. Melon and lemon – thank you!
1979 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Weingut Dr. Loosen, Mosel
The finale: chocolate, ginger & Nashi pear. Visually very Bau (remember the Schwarzwälder or other chocolate dessert with canache). This time the canache was flavoured with ginger and served with a ginger créme topped with poached Nashi pear accompanied with ginger liquor drops and a mind-blowing ice cream of Pan Dan leaves. For this very ice cream I would travel any distance! Excellent pairing with the Tokaj!!
2001 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos, Tokaj Classic, Hungary
Looking back on Bau’s development in the last 18-20 months it is clear that he first mastered the classic French cuisine on a level seldom experienced even in France being more consistent and serious (as my friend Julot would term it). After accomplishing that there was a gradual emancipation from the French tradition and the search for a unique style. “I do what I feel” – deeply inspired by the Japanese cuisine he started to integrate Asian elements step-by-step, had a Japanese chef in his kitchen for more than one year and learned to understand the Japanese approach to cooking…
Now, as I already indicated on my last report, Bau’s marriage of West and East is seamless: rooted in the French tradition he more and more abides with French dish composition, especially apparent in the seafood & hamachi dish. In this sense his style is far from riding on any Asian fusion trend – it’s unique – Bau cooks Bau. No heavy jus or sauces, a balance of flavours and textures and, most importantly, a surprising element which make the very dish special. The dining experience itself becomes explorative and dependent on the diner’s way of discovering each dish. One can just indulge or analytically analyse each accord and flavour to the utmost detail. The good message is: it is always a pleasure.
In this special menu the Japanese flavours were at the forefront but the handwriting hasn’t changed only the ink and the paper. This vision was no hallocination. It was just spectacular – both an inspirational experience and a glimpse of a potential future element of cooking: dishes can be experienced both in a non-intellectual and intellectual way. So, it’s the diner who ultimately decides on his very dining experience.
Having eaten in some of Europe’s finest restaurants this Summer I must simply state that Bau is simply his own benchmark.
In the meantime I had another meal at Schloss Berg with some new dishes (and my new camera;-) )… For those of you who want to go soon and be surprised – stop here. For all others: enjoy!
Note that all dishes depicted are part of a Voyage Culinaire and I show only the new ones;-)
An outstanding amuse of Eismeer trout with veal’s head, beet root and horseradish:
Another amuse of a langoustine maki with a flan of foie gras and Yuzu. I still can’t believe how the maki and the intense flan came along together. They did, very much so…
Chestnut & Alba truffles – a bow to the current truffles seasons with the chestnut in different textures, sot-l’y-laisse and a bio onsen egg. Intelligent & yummy, a nice interpretation of a classic theme
St. Jacques paired with foie gras, Périgord truffles and Jerusalem artichoke:
Chianina beef, char-grilles, braised shoulder with soy, pak choi and onions:
A new interpretation of Lievre à la royale – divine.
Another splendid meal, more classic but still very Bau.