The allure of a fine dining restaurant with its white starched table cloths, manic rush hours and polished table service must have seemed very exciting to a young French lad in Cognac dreaming of his future – compared to the monotony of school.
When he was all of 14 years old, Cyrille Gallard left school for the kitchen of Chef Jean Locusol whose claim to fame came from having worked at the historic Parisian restaurant, La Tour d’Argent, at its peak a three-Michelin starred establishment.
After six years, bright eyed and bushy tailed, Gallard was ready to move on to greener pastures.
He couldn’t have chosen better than Thierry Verrat’s La Ribaudiere, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Cognac.
Verrat paved the way for his next venture when he introduced him to winemaker Jean-Louis Vicard with whom Gallard formed a new alliance to launch L’Atelier de Candale at the Chateau de Candale in Saint Emilion and realised his dream of running his own restaurant with a young and dynamic team.
At 31, Gallard is himself young. While many chefs his age are still in training diapers, he’s already a pro with 17 years in the business behind him.
When met at The Olive restaurant in Genting Highlands where he held court for three days to bring a menu paired with the famous wines of his region – Saint Emilion – he spoke of his aspiration to have a wine-forward restaurant.
“Diners choose the wines and the chef then creates a menu around the wines.” It makes sense as his restaurant is in the middle of a vineyard and close to Bordeaux, the world’s most famous wine region.
At any rate, we were at the Genting Grand and surrounded by car parks and theme parks rather than vines so this utopian dream remained a pie in the sky for now. But we did get served a neoteric menu competently paired with some very good grand cru wines from Saint Emilion.
After the Three Toast Surprise amuse bouche (see top image) – three disparate tastes which I found on hindsight, missing the simple eloquence of the rest of the meal – the show rolled out.
Basic shapes – especially circles – connive to convey the philosophy of simplicity in Gallard’s cooking.
Dive under a round sea of bubbly yellow curry to find the oyster under the smoked herring caviar in the appetiser of Madras Curried Oyster. Oyster, curry and caviar – each one full of umami but perfectly balanced in strength, the briny oyster and caviar eliminating the need for salt.
The warm and slightly spicy notes of the curry found an interesting counterpoint in the Chateau Haut Brisson 2008, a velvety smooth Bordeaux style red with good acidity and freshness; a less adventurous pairing would be Chablis or a crisp white.
“Salt, pepper and piment d’Espelette,” said Gallard of the three ingredients he reached for most often in the kitchen, piment d’Espelette being the precious and pricey chilli pepper grown in the south of France for its bright, rich and deep flavours.
While the 24-hour pressed foie gras terrine with onion confit and melba toast was declared “the best foie gras I’ve ever tasted” by someone at our long table, it was the Riveyrac 1965 which got others quite excited. The 50-year-old natural sweet wine from the Rivesaltes appellation of Roussillon in southern France is a blend of Grenache which we first mistook for Muscat, also made in the region. Marmalade notes and a slight rancidity provided the beguiling difference.
While this wine has been accused of rather lacking in complexity – 1965 being a bad year for wine – we appreciated the chance to taste the sweet wines from this region not often available here.
Another soupy dish followed – lobster ravioli in tom yum-inspired miso given a blast in the siphon to transform it into a foam, giving it great texture and lightness. A dusting of dried caviar was the only decoration. Again, dive under the sea of foam to find the treasure – not unlike harvesting seafood, when you think of it.
A pattern of simplicity had begun to emerge, along with modern French food with touches of Asian. Gallard admitted to a love for Asian flavours and a flirtation with modern cooking techniques like aeration, jellification and spherification.
This was evident in the main course, a big black ball sitting in a pool of sauce. The French duck in Burgundy wine, truffles and wild mushroom jus’ simple looks belied the skills that went into making the fabulous deluge of tastes: dried bread powder, squid ink powder, shredded slow-cooked duck and mashed potato held together by kappa and anointed with orange peel infused olive oil, in a pool of trumpet mushroom sauce laced with truffle oil.
“My kitchen is full of simple pleasures built around local products which I revisit according to my mood,” Gallard said.
The duck was paired with the flagship wine of Chateau Haut Brisson, La Reserve 2010, an impressive Merlot aged in 100% new French oak. Aromatic, full-bodied and rather intense, the tannins have rounded out and the plummy flavours were excellent with duck.
Like the others, the cheese course was elegant and restrained: just a triangle of brie sandwiched with truffles and mascarpone, which allowed the limited edition Enclos Tourmaline 2012 to be enjoyed properly. There are only 1,000 bottles of this wine, the 2012 being the first vintage for this label which was acquired in 2011 by Chinese investor Peter Kwok, who also owned Chateau Haut Brisson.
Of the 36 bottles of the wine available, the Genting cellar snapped up 12 bottles to add to its collection. This dinner is a good example of the kind of excellent food and wine pairing experiences you can have at The Olive, a restaurant with one of the best wine lists in the country; it won the coveted Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence (2015) – equivalent to a two star rating, you can say.
Finally the dessert, a modern take of the traditional Floating Island dessert, a concoction of eggwhite cloud blitzed with black truffle to add a savoury flavour, and creme anglais in a surprise custardy base.
Did we just dine on seas of foams, airs and a whimsical puff of cloud? We should feel cheated but it was delicious! So simple, yet brilliant.
Or perhaps our euphoria had something to do with the wines.
Genting Resort’s Celebrity Chef Series brings noteworthy chefs from around the world to The Olive to offer Malaysians a chance to enjoy great food and wine without leaving home.
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