|Back to civilization, at last
|After a week of not-sleeping on an air-mattress pierced by pine-needles, being bitten by mosquitoes, wasps and other brands of flying vermin and being eaten alive for breakfast by a colony of fire-ants, you've likely had enough of the camping experience. And even though it was holiday-chicken, after a week of chicken you're somewhat chickened-out. On our way back to civilization we cross the border between Beaujolais and Bourgogne.||In Bourgogne the entire landscape has been sacrificed to the wine production but in Beaujolais the eye feasts on sumptuous greenery, lush sloping meadows, grazing cows and endless fields of free roaming snowy white chickens. Looking for a feed and a bed for the night we find ourselves in a little place called Vonnas, not too far from Bourg-en-Bresse. There we find an inn that is abundantly blooming with Geraniums and where a doorman is busy polishing the brassware of the front door. All this seems auspicious if it weren't for the fact that the palatial entrance is presided over by a giant....CHICKEN! Help!|
|We are alarmed when we discover we have arrived at the restaurant of one of the most renowned chefs in the world: Georges Blanc. Four generations of haut cuisine, three stars in the Michelin guide, El Bulli's Ferran Adria is his pupil as well as a whole host of other triply Michelin starred chefs. Georges Blanc is seen by the French, if not as fully divine, at least as three-quarters God. We decide to stay and have a bite.
|On impulse we ask the receptionist if it's okay for us to take some pictures for our newsletter 'The Slurp' and if monsieur Blanc might be so kind as to allow us a short interview. She enthusiastically replies: 'Vous-etes journaliste?' We don't quite know how to respond so mutter something that could possibly be interpreted as an affirmative answer to her question. We can highly recommend this strategy: after a short telephone consultation monsieur Blanc orders for our modest 'Chambre economique' to be upgraded tout de suite to the exorbitantly luxurious 'Suite Presidentielle'. We are content when we get into the shower; we should do this more often.
|Over the years George Blanc has put his own personal stamp on the village and so 'Le petit village Blanc' looks picture-perfect. It's made up of three hotels, two restaurants, a wine shop, a boulangerie-pattiserie, a delicatessen, various boutiques, a wellness center and a heliport.
All the chefs are called in: 'Alarme, cancel your day-off! We have a journalist Hollandais in the house!'
|'You'd like to take a look in the kitchen?' Eldest son Frederic Blanc replies to our request, 'Mais naturellement! Pas de probleme!'||Easy for him to say because the kitchen is completely devoid of all activity, like in any self respecting three-star restaurant, there is absolutely nothing to see. Empty worktops, spotless cutting boards. The chefs are getting ready, the tension is palpable, it feels like being backstage before a rock concert.|
|20.03 o'clock. 'L'heure de l'attack' has arrived but the swans on the silver cloches are still deep in slumber.||'Know your enemy' Szun Tsu advises us in The Art of War. And indeed all table numbers are known. The chefs are quietly and confidently waiting for the battle to break loose.|
|Chef Blanc has his own Art of War. In the warzone between kitchen and restaurant his five commandments are displayed, printed and framed. If you dream of a culinary career listen carefully:
1. Be very discrete.
2. Never shout out. Speak with a soft and gentle voice and watch your language.
3. Work silently, avoid sudden movements. Never run, never show agitation.
4. Keep your calm in all possible circumstances.
5. Our guests are watching you. We thank you on their behalf for your professionalism.
|The 'Cave' is counted among the very best in the world and contains about a 130.000 bottles of wines, and not the worst ones either.||This presents us humble wineboers with a very real problem: do we keep it simple and go for a Romanee Conti 2005? Or will we go all out and choose the Petrus 1947?|
| About a year ago we ate the most-delicious-chicken-in-the-world in the nearby Auberge Bressane, run by chef and chicken champion JP Vullin (cliquez ici for Slurp 21) However, during our camping adventure in the Pyrenees we barbequed several holiday chickens over our campfire that easily surpassed those champion chickens.
|So, yes, no, of course we cannot say no to the menu 'Esprit Classique', with a main course of 'Volaille de Bresse Sauce Foie Gras au Champagne, avec un Royale de Foie Blond a l'Artichaut, une Gaufrette d'Ail Doux et des Crepes Vonnassiennes'. We are happy to loosen our belts for this chicken-of-all-chickens!|
|Monsieur Blanc dedicates his life to the Poule de Bresse. This is expressed in the ubiquitous chicken paraphernalia.||Her image has even been captured in the family crest that verifies the origin of the butter.||A heavy sliver plated table-poule stands poised and ready...|
|Master chicken-slicer Alain, surrounded by a group of sternly onlooking chicken- novices, relieves the worlds most consumed bird of her golden 'croute'.|
The empress of poultry will henceforth be drowned in a seamen's grave of champagne, foie gras and artichoke stock. We do not mourn her for very long; there are worse ways to go. By way of memorial, George Blanc, ultimate perfectionist has put a miniature chocolate chicken in half a chardonnay grape.
As could have been expected, this really was the chicken of all chickens. The sauce too was mercilessly fantastic. We guzzled up the sauce to the very last drop and then, highly inappropriately, used bits of bread to wipe our plates clean of even the last morsel of food.
|While the waiters collect the cutlery and hand out the dessert menu, the world famous chef does his tour around all the tables. Going against our normal custom, but enraptured by the culinary arms race we pick two rather random desserts from the menu.
|All guests receive an autographed menu to put up on the wall at home. The 'journalist Hollandais' even gets a personal message. As it turns out our cuisinier's fascination with chickens carries over into his signature, which contains an image of the recently consumed bird.|
|Before dessert is being served we are shocked by the arrival of a cheese-trolley the size of a four-wheel drive.||In an attempt to retain his consciousness in the ash-cloud of rustic vapours, the 'Maitre fromagier' has placed a specimen of the 'Blanc de Neige', a fragrant species of rose named after his employer, under his nose.|
|To ease the wait for the artwork that will be dessert, we are offered a 'pre-dessert' (after the cheese): a collection of delicacies served in heavy silver chicken themed table-ware. These turn out to be so seductive that, when the actual desserts arrive, our trousers are ready to burst.|
|It's eleven pm when we stumble back to our room satiated and somewhat unsteady on our feet. The silver chickens have already gone to bed. In the deserted kitchen we watch while a lonely chef wipes one last goodbye over the already sterile work surface. A miracle: as if nothing ever happened here.|
|In the corridor leading to our suite Clinton, Gorbachev, Depardieu, Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy, Heston Blumenthal, Tom Cruise en Rowan Atkinson wish us a Bonne Nuit from their spots on the wall. All have eaten the same chicken as we have, a reassuring thought.|
|The next morning we are welcomed into the private office of the Big Chef. Surrounded by display cases full of medals, banners and other prizes we ask him a few burning questions.
|cliquez on the image for the movie
If you can't see the movie, cliquez ici
|Off camera we told the grand master that we had thoroughly enjoyed our meal and his unsurpassed 'Poule Bresse', but we also confessed that our very own holiday chicken with garlic, lemon and wild thyme, roasted over the campfire tasted at least as good and possibly even better. We hold our breath, while we wait for his reply. Blasphemy! Would this be when we'd be asked, in a polite yet stern manner, to get the hell out of here? Or perhaps the grand master would press a discretely placed button under his desk that summoned two bulky waiters who would forcefully eject us from the premises?||Nothing like it. A relaxed smile softens his features: 'I completely understand where you're coming from. Because the secret of successful cooking lies in the products you're working with. Make sure you have the best and freshest ingredients and prepare them in a pure and simple way. You don't get high quality food from complicated recipes but from giving the food your full attention when you're cooking. Preparation time is especially crucial, so yes I'd love to try this holiday chicken you speak off....'|
|We promised each other that, if we ever went on holidays together, we'd carefully split the tasks: we'd be in charge of the wine and George would be in charge of roasting the holiday chicken. This will not be without danger, because where we only messed about with the chicken we will now get a Three star Holiday chicken. Which can be nothing if not life-threateningly delicious. Morituri te salutant.|
|Tip for the budget conscious: Georges' other restaurant 'L'Ancienne Auberge' comes highly recommended too and is considerably cheaper. The same goes for the second hotel 'La Cour aux Fleurs'.|
|Cliquez ici for a photographic impression of Le Village Blanc
|Cliquez ici to return to Slurp! 34