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A Young Chef’s Tribute to Jean-Louis Palladin

Chris Snowberger

June 23, 2015

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Photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

The Jean-Louis Palladin Professional Work/Study grant is one of many scholarship programs offered by the James Beard Foundation. Established to further the mission and efforts of the Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation, the grant gives working chefs opportunities to learn alongside master artisans, producers, and fellow chefs, in pursuit of the same high standards for ingredients that characterized Palladin’s philosophy and personal cuisine.

The 2014 JLP grant recipient, Chris Snowberger, now chef de cuisine at Pier A Harbor House in New York City, spent his time at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, a culinary retreat and learning center built by Farmer Lee Jones, a James Beard Foundation Award winner who also runs the Chef’s Garden. The culmination of Chris’s internship was a multi-course dinner inspired by Jean-Louis Palladin’s recipes and career. Below he shares his thoughts from the experience, as well as his motivations behind the menu.

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I landed in Cleveland in the middle of winter destined for Milan, Ohio. I chose a farm, in mid-winter, for my James Beard Foundation Jean-Louis Palladin Professional Work Study Grant. I had once spent a short time at the farm and I wanted to go back.

The Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI) has quite a history. Farmer Lee Jones has worked with chefs from all over America, who come to visit and experiment at CVI. Jamie Simpson is the executive chef. All along the stairwell and the loft are countless photos of the chefs that have worked in this kitchen and I felt humbled within those halls.

There’s one photograph of Farmer Lee Jones with Jean-Louis Palladin, who was often referred to as a “dear friend of the farm.” I decided to immerse myself in his teachings and techniques. One day, when I was working on some Jean-Louis recipes, Farmer Lee came to the CVI. When he saw what I had made, he offered me the chance to hold a dinner at the CVI in tribute to the late Jean-Louis, which I humbly accepted. A Jean-Louis Palladin Reverence dinner: a locally sourced menu created using the planning, sourcing, cultivating, and techniques I had learned in reading about the legendary chef.  

    

Teaser > Black Truffle and Lobster Mousseline–Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Lobster–Truffle Sauce

As I read about Jean-Louis Palladin, I learned how aggressive he was about sourcing ingredients and his tireless efforts to bring haute cuisine to America. To make this menu, I tried to think like him. I began to understand that Jean-Louis was not cooking day-by-day, but rather, he was cooking for the future. He pushed purveyors for properly harvested products and sustainability. 

In Jean-Louis: Cooking with the Seasons, he left a blueprint for how he planned his menus. He always liked to begin menus with a “teaser” or “amuse bouche.” Palladin was also intent on making the plate aesthetically pleasing. In the beginning it was difficult to choose recipes for the menu. But then I heard Farmer Lee mention how great zucchini flowers are to stuff, and suddenly I had an easy beginning to my dinner. Jean-Louis loved the freshness and delicacy of zucchini flowers, plus it was a great way to highlight a product so dear to Farmer Lee. 

Foie Gras Custard with Apple Gelée, Hazelnuts, Celeriac, and Brioche

When I first arrived at the farm, I didn’t realize the opportunities there were for me outside of the kitchen. Every day my roommate and I tended to the chickens and brought fresh eggs to the kitchen. There was something very comforting to be able to care for these chickens and also enjoy fresh eggs. I realized the importance of knowing where your product truly comes from and the standards at which it is cared for and acquired. Palladin enjoyed using foie gras, even though it’s a controversial ingredient, because he knew his product was clean and properly cultivated.

I have not seen a chef use foie gras as liberally as Jean-Louis. This course was inspired by Palladin’s Cream of Chestnuts and Foie Gras Soup. In his recipe, an entire lobe of foie gras is seared and roasted, and then puréed with cream of chestnut soup. Chestnuts not being in season, I used hazelnuts. I also did not want such a heavy soup served so early in the dinner, so we decided to make a foie gras custard using the same techniques. I plated the custard in a wide bowl, as you would with a soup, then made an apple gelée with a piece of whole parsley suspended within to top the foie gras. I topped the “soup” with brioche crumbs, toasted hazelnuts, and brunoise of apple.

Anchoïade and the Chef's Garden Vegetables

 
Anchoiade is an anchovy-based purée that is balanced out with red wine vinegar. It pairs well with raw vegetables. When I found this recipe I knew right away that it would be a great way to highlight the Chef’s Garden vegetables. With such a diverse array I was able to tie in sweet and spicy vegetables of all different textures for a truly enjoyable representation of Palladin’s dish.

Fennel–Endive Slaw with Citrus, Snow Crab, and Pickled Mustard Seeds

When I look back at my time on the farm, I remember all the wonderful people I met. Dr. Steve was a dear friend of the farm, and he’s now a dear friend of mine. He would volunteer at the CVI whenever they would have him—you could find Dr. Steve washing dishes, plating courses, or amidst the crowd, answering questions for the diners. One afternoon, Dr. Steve showed up with some fresh snow crab to donate to the CVI.  

Following Jean-Louis Palladin’s blueprint for a meal, this was where my menu needed a salad. Knowing Dr. Steve would be attending our dinner as a guest, I really wanted to show my appreciation for his efforts. I made a dressing of fennel seed and citrus that paired perfectly with the crab and “slaw,” and then enhanced it with some apple brunoise and pickled mustard seeds. 

Lightly Cured and Smoked Cold Creek Steelhead Trout with Watercress

Jean-Louis Palladin believed America had some of the best sources and products to offer. At a time when everyone was ordering products from overseas, he spent a lot of his time finding the products he wanted and explaining to purveyors how he wanted them, from size to shape to age. He had a commitment to an idea that restaurants and the communities around them could support each other.

With this in mind, one Sunday afternoon, chef Jamie and I went out in search of local steelhead trout. I had an idea to find fisherman or locals and start asking where we could find it. We ended up at a local fishery, Cold Creek Fish Camp, positioned right at the mouth of the Lake Erie-fed Cold Creek. I told them my idea of sourcing local trout for a special dinner I was having and they were thrilled. Unfortunately, they explained, it would be tough. The river was frozen from shore to shore, with 10 days to go before the dinner. I knew exactly what Palladin would have done: I contacted them every day to ask how the fishing was. Two days before the dinner, the river thawed, and that evening the fishermen contacted me with good news: they had caught a fish! 

To highlight the trout, I prepared it two ways. First, I sous vide it very gently, then lightly smoked it and puréed it to a very smooth consistency. Next I incorporated some of the Chef’s Garden vegetables by lightly curing the trout in beet juice and simply slicing it and serving it uncooked. It was a clean, beautiful dish that was almost more story then what was on the plate.  While plating, chef Jamie had joked, “what if Jean-Louis walked in the kitchen right now, what would he say and think?” I chuckled at the statement, but humbly thought and hoped he would be proud and just give a simple nod to the dish.

Local Amish Country Rabbit Sausage and Confit with Chicken Egg Bottarga, Crème Fraîche, and Dijon

The morning before the dinner, a lot was going through my head. I was representing Jean-Louis Palladin, and I felt the added pressure as I envisioned him watching over me. Dr. Steve and his family and Farmer Lee and his wife were attending, and my family had flown in as well. When I came into the kitchen that morning, chef Jamie presented me with a surprise from Farmer Lee: three live rabbits for our dinner, purchased from a local Amish auction and delivered to the CVI that morning. 

Rabbit is not the easiest to cook, and I also had to integrate it into the concept of the dinner. We devised a dish that would both highlight the product and incorporate French technique. First, we made a traditional roulade with the tenderloin left whole in the middle, then confited the legs and made them into a pâté, and finished with the rabbit jus, chicken egg bottarga, and some crème fraîche. 

Fireplace Duck Roulade with Pain d'Épices, Red Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Cashew Butter

In my research into Jean-Louis Palladin, I came across an episode of Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs with Jean-Louis as the guest chef. One of the recipes he prepared on the show was “Fireplace Duck,” which seemed like a bold move, considering he was cooking in front of Julia Child while on television, but as I watched him prepare the duck and explain the process I could see how passionate he was. It brought him back to his childhood, how he grew up cooking with his family, centered around the fireplace. So I knew I had to make a fireplace duck for the dinner.

We sourced the duck from a local hunter and I followed Palladin’s recipe. When I was working on the concept of the dish I suddenly realized how pure a method it was. Cooking over fire is the most natural and original form of cooking. At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, the center piece of the grand ballroom is the great fireplace, a perfect setting for my “Fireplace Duck.” It was very simple, hung by strings and allow to spin as it cooked evenly and basted in its natural juices. I started the duck as the guests were arriving, knowing it would be a showpiece. The guests came in and saw the duck breast hanging in front of the fire and immediately knew they were in for something special.

I paired the duck with Pain d’Épices, red cabbage purée, cauliflower two ways, and an earthy cashew butter. This was a very special and distinctive course. It gave me a great platform to explain Jean-Louis Palladin’s philosophy and what it meant to me. Locally-sourced and slow-cooked, the dish served as an homage to his technique.

Lamb “Pot au Feu” with Loin, Consommé, Potato “Mille Feuille,” and Marrow

For this course I chose lamb from Jameson Farms, a purveyor that has worked closely with the Chef’s Garden over the years, along with Jean-Louis himself. Their product is all natural, grassfed, and free of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, and insecticides. When looking for a preparation I came across Jean-Louis’s recipe for pot au feu, a classic dish served to both the richest and poorest families across France. 

Traditionally pot au feu is served in parts, with the meat, vegetables, and broth separated and finished with a dash of fleur de sel. I served the lamb with a potato mille feuille and root vegetables from the Chef’s Garden. The lamb consommé was poured last. Together it was a beautifully clean dish that I would have been proud to serve to Jean-Louis Palladin himself.

A Taste of Mints with Sorbet, Vodka, and Cream

When Jean-Louis would create menus, he would always have a seasonal sorbet. He believed it cleansed the palate of the meal and prepared the guest for dessert. I wanted to highlight the array of beautiful mints offered by the Chef’s Garden. I knew there were many different flavor profiles and types of mints available. I made a fresh clean mint sorbet with vodka and placed it as a quenelle on a spoon decorated with every mint available from the garden. The palate was cleansed, and on to dessert.

Crème Brûlée with Raspberries 

Jean-Louis Palladin believed dessert should be a grand finale. One of his favorite recipes was a classic French crème brûlée, and since the dinner started off with a quintessential Jean-Louis dish, it therefore it had to end that way. No changes. His recipe, his way.
     

Jean-Louis lived a fast, high-pressured life. He took risks and paved the way for a lot of chefs after him. He became my mentor and my hero. I hope to carry on his legacy and continue to push for and live by what Jean-Louis believed in. He may have passed physically, but his spirit and his teachings will live on.  

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The deadline for this year's Jean-Louis Palladin Grants has been extended to June 30, 2015. Learn more about this scholarship and how to apply here.