It is easy to have a healthy dose of skepticism about St. Barthélemy, the small Caribbean resort town in the Caribbean that is known for its lavish hotels, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and high-flying clientele. That is, until you relax by an infinity pool there and even understand that this luxurious French island is one of those gems that should be experienced at least once.
A trip to St. Barth's is even better if you stay for the first week in November, when the world's foremost experts on French gastronomy converge on the island for the Saint Barth Gourmet Festival.
Launched in 2013, the five-day festival invites six to eight award-winning French chefs to prepare a unique set of meals for guests at the restaurants of several of the best hotels on the island, including Le Barthélemy, Le Sereno, and Le Toiny. Meals start at $ 1
05 per person for a four course meal and peak at almost $ 143 per person in eight courses. (Wine and cocktails, of course, cost extra.)
The challenge – in addition to persuading these chefs to abandon their perch at several of France's best restaurants in one to two weeks – also involves the chefs' work with local produce, meats and ingredients. The island may be largely French-speaking – and residents a warm and handsome bunch of cozy and importing things – but cooking in St. Barth's at (or approaching) Michelin-starred level presents its own unique challenges. (Seven of the eight chefs who participated in this year's festival, except the acclaimed Taku Sekine, have run Michelin-star-decorated kitchens or restaurants.)
"When I travel, I never make a menu at 100%, because you often work with a different set of ingredients, and unexpected challenges can come up," explains Sekine, who is the chef and owner of the Dersou restaurant in Paris and a member of a new wave of renowned Parisian chefs, has drawn on the idea of offering more traditional French good food rather than a more informal, intimate experience. "When I do things like this, I like to operate at 60%, and I serve a menu that allows for last minute changes and options."
Although Sekine specializes in "menu degassing" at Dersou – a constantly changing selection of Asian-influenced French food improvised by Sekine the day before – the French-speaking Japanese chef, originally from the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa, made a rare exception and planned their menu for St. Barth's weeks ahead this time: a streamlined four-course meal with a fun bouche of lobster tart, cauliflower cream and lime; an appetizer containing pan-fried foie gras with porcini; lentil caviar; dashi with Kaffir lime; and a main course with fried duck, chestnut, chanterelle, baby salad and tamarind sauce.
One of the highlights of this year's festival? A five-course meal prepared by Guillaume Goupil, executive chef at Michelin-starred Le Baudelaire, tucked inside the Le Burgundy hotel in Paris. His menu turned out to be a slow crescendo of tasty skill: an astonishing steak tartare, for example, accented with lemon peel, potato cream and crystal caviar, which gave way to a course of smooth, grilled lobster with a crown of fresh corn paste in foamy ginger broth – a personal favorite of the entire festival.
Goupil closed the meal with a veal piece accompanied by coffee artichokes, spinach leaves and reduced meat jus, followed by a dark chocolate acid with mango and passion fruit sorbet.
“As I looked at what to do with my menu, I looked at what many of the best restaurants in St. Barth already had to offer, thought about many of the local ingredients and did my best to highlight some of the local products on the island, ”says Goupil.
Jean-Denis Rieubland's four-course menu was almost as impressive. The executive chef, who has spent the last 31 years in restaurants honoring his culinary skills, received Meilleur Ouvrier de France – a prestigious French award given every four years – in 2007 before earning two Michelin stars at Le Chantecler's helm at hotel Le Negresco in Nice, France. Rieubland then became executive chef of the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa, which was awarded its first Michelin star six months after opening. Like Sekine, Rieubland took a smaller approach to its menu at St. Barth's, with courses such as crab cakes flavored with Kaffir lime and citrus marmalade and fried sea bass with spinach and zucchini.
But his filet mignon, wrapped in nori, topped with osetrak caviar, and surrounded by stir-fried chanterelles, highlighted the evening's highlight. Caviar's saltiness served as the perfect complement to the steak's subtle flavors.
As Sekine suggested, accidents can happen, especially when you are a chef thrown thousands of miles away in a foreign kitchen with new ingredients and ingredients to work with. That was the case with Arnaud Faye. Although Faye, an award-winning chef and recipient of 2018 & # 39; s Meilleur Ouvrier de France, has driven the kitchen of several Michelin-starred restaurants – including one at the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, which received two Michelin stars less than a year after opening , and two-star La Chèvre d & # 39; Or – his seven-course meal was perhaps too ambitious in scope and slightly lacking in execution. His menu, and in particular two dishes – the potatoes with chives, shellfish and La Maison Nordique caviar, as well as the lamb lamb on top of the bulgur with grilled eggplant sauce – were certainly usable, but failed to stand out in any of his culinary menus. counterparts. Faye is undoubtedly a culinary master, but his menu that night was a rare stumble. (It is also worth noting that Hotel Christopher's restaurant appeared to be overrun that night, as I not only waited 30 minutes for my last course, I never received it and eventually went out.)
Saint Barth Gourmet Festival is the relatively rare line of culinary stars. Whether you are a discerning connoisseur of French gastronomy or a light-hearted food who enjoys lying on the beach sipping endless rosé, the experience is well worth it, despite the occasional diner-even if it means you swore hit the treadmill and adopt a paleo diet on the flight home.
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