ALAIN Ducasse is a legendary chef and has been a huge inspiration for me. I had the pleasure and honour to host a lunch and dinner at his restaurant at Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris last week.
The event was the fifth “Les Rencontres Essentielles”, established by Ducasse to showcase the work of chefs from across the globe who share his vision of what cooking is about – fresh, seasonal, natural ingredients cooked simply and presented as nature intended. Ducasse also showed me how to cook from the heart and that’s one of the things I try to teach all of the young chefs who come through our kitchen. It’s one of the fundamental steps to successful cooking.
Ducasse’s ethos is all about locality so I created a menu using seafood, meat and vegetables from Scotland to champion some of the fantastic produce we have access to from our Scottish land and sea. In the words of Ducasse: a chef’s expertise should be used only to highlight the real natural taste, and that was my aim at this special dinner. I couldn’t resist presenting our guests with some of our finest fare – Scottish salmon, smoked over a fire made with oak chips from whisky barrels for eight hours, followed by one of my favourite shellfish: razor clams, or “spoots” as they are often known. Of course, I had to serve haggis, neeps and tatties, but I gave it my own modern twist to show them how wonderful and delicious it can be. I then served my Shellfish Rockpool, which I believe is a medley of the best Scottish seafood.
It was followed by my own take on the classic dish osso bucco. Most of the dishes I cooked as part of the lunch and dinner were a combination of the best French and Scottish cuisine. This dish is Italian in origin – a Milanese speciality of veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth. I wanted to offer my own twist on the dish so I recreated the recipe using more unusual cuts of meat. I braised shin of the best quality Scotch beef so that it was incredibly tender. The meat is typically then rolled and topped with a potato that is hollowed out to resemble a marrow bone, and then it’s stuffed with bone marrow preserve. I gave it a seasonal twist by serving it with colourful summer vegetables that made the perfect match to the rich, tender meat and bone marrow. The cooking technique is one I learnt from my time at Le Louis XV in Monaco with Chef Ducasse, so it felt right to present it as part of my special menu.
The Hôtel Plaza Athénée has a reputation as a centre for contemporary excellence – a restaurant willing to learn from other countries and reflect the society of today. If you can take a little of this approach into your own cooking, you will only get better.
BRAISED BEEF SHIN AND BONE MARROW
1 tbsp oil
1kg beef shin
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 bottle red wine
300ml veal stock
1 bouquet garni
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 head garlic
200g bone marrow, poached
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil. Cover the beef shin with flour all over and colour until golden.
Remove from the pan and add the carrots and onion, sweating for 3-4 minutes before removing from the pan and setting aside.
To the pan, add the wine, veal stock, bouquet garni, black peppercorns, garlic head and beef. Cook slowly on a medium heat for 5-5½ hours until the meat flakes off the bone. Remove the beef from the pan and pass the stock before setting aside.
Flake the meat from the shin into a bowl and season with salt, pepper and four tablespoons of stock.
Place the meat on clingfilm and roll into a ballotine (sausage shape) about 3-4in long and place in a fridge, leaving to cool for 24 hours.
Peel four large potatoes and shape into a cylinder. With a melon baller, remove the centre of the potatoes to make space for the marrow filling. Place the potatoes in a pan, fill with salted cold water and bring to the boil. Remove and dry before frying the potatoes until golden all over.
Season the poached bone marrow with salt and pepper and add a dash of sherry vinegar.
Heat the beef with some of the cooking liquor, serve the potatoes with bone marrow, and serve with seasonal vegetables.
SMOKED SALMON WITH CUCUMBER GARNISH AND HORSERADISH CREAM
For the garnish
100ml white wine vinegar
4 black peppercorns
1 tsp small capers
Sprig of thyme
Cut the cucumber into small cubes using only the skin and remove the soft centre. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil before leaving to cool completely. Add the cucumber and marinate for 2-3 hours in the fridge.
For the horseradish cream
1 fresh horseradish
250ml whipping cream
Using the fine side of a grater or microplane, grate the fresh horseradish. Using an electric whisk or blender, whip together the cream and grated horseradish. Taste to ensure a good horseradish flavour.
For the smoked salmon
Top-quality smoked salmon
Thinly slice the salmon, removing the skin. On a chopping board, overlap the slices and trim to form a square. Garnish with the horseradish cream, cooled cucumber, small capers and any herbs.