My fast food experience
EAT’S EASY - Ernest Reynoso Gala () - June 24, 2010 - 12:00am

Monaco exemplifies my two passions in this world: the love of high-speed racing and cuisine served at the highest level. Known as the “playground of the rich and famous,” this tiny country epitomizes the lavish lifestyle, catering to guests who demand and receive the best, where extravagance is a way of life. It is the second smallest country in the world (only Vatican City is smaller); it is also the second smallest principality or monarchy. The capital is Monte Carlo, a place surrounded with the finest hotels, casinos and a veritable tax haven for the rich and famous because no income tax is charged to individuals who live and stay there. Its geographic borders include Southern France to the west and Northern Italy to the east, making it a premiere culinary destination, forging a multiplicity of cuisines and making it a culinary capital in the region. In 1994, I watched my first Formula One Grand Prix on television and it was held in Monaco; I instantly became a fan watching Michael Schumacher win an exciting race for the Benetton Ford team. I vowed that I would one day watch my racing idol in the Monaco Grand Prix and be part of the most prestigious event in the racing calendar.

In May 2006, I had just finished my internship and culinary classes at the famed Moulin the Margins, the famous French Riviera restaurant of the stars previously owned by the great French chef Roger Verge (mentor to Michelin-star chefs) and now owned by equally talented two-star Michelin chef Alain Llorca, who was my mentor in neo-southern French cuisine. My time in the restaurant coincided with another major event, the Cannes film festival, where the annual AIDS charity event of Elizabeth Taylor was being hosted by Sharon Stone and where Carlo Benedicto and I helped in the preparation of some dishes as part of our lessons in the kitchen. We traveled and stayed in Nice and from there took a 15-minute train ride to Monaco. I was excited to be part of this weekend extravaganza as we had booked months in advance, seeing that this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Upon arrival from the train station, the atmosphere was electrified: sounds of racing cars roared throughout the different sections of city. The ambience was vibrant, and like a kid in a candy store I grabbed every racing souvenir I could find and bought all the racing that we came across. Being a huge Ferrari fan, I took the opportunity to visit the Ferrari showroom and took snapshots of the latest sports cars. One avid Japanese fan even dressed up in full Ferrari gear from head to toe, indicating how loyal fans can be.

Passing the Bentleys, Roll Royces and Lamborghinis along the streets we were able to get tickets from Societe Nautique, a premiere yacht club in Monaco along Avenue du President Kennedy and watching the qualifying race from the second floor, we overlooked the racetrack and a harbor full of yachts as various parties went on around us. Taittinger champagne flowed, and we ordered gourmet pizza upon the recommendation of the waiter. This pizza was exceptional because the chef created a thin crust that was crispy outside and tender inside with parsley bits on the bread. It was topped with caviar and salmon, smothered with mozzarella affumicata a soft white cheese made from buffalo milk that is smoky in flavor), fontina (a hard aged cheese with a nutty flavor), provolone (a light, ivory-colored, mild-flavored cheese that is smooth in texture) and parmigiano reggianno (aged parmesan cheese for stronger flavor).

The use of Italian cheeses and French ingredients illustrates the fusion behind this dish, creating a new style of pizza. The use of parsley helped offset the salty flavor, and also added color. Northern Italy is renowned for producing the best cheeses in the world, as an abundant source of buffalo and cow are found near the mountains. Cheese is made by adding bacteria to warm milk to change the acidity level. Rennet is then added to separate the curds and the whey, with the whey removed and curds cooked. After cooking, it is cut then milled to form curd granules. Salt is added and granules are further pressed to ensure no whey is left. Mold or bacteria are added then aged. The longer the aging process the stronger the flavor of the cheese, thus making it more expensive as time passes. Southern France signature dishes often contain seafood because it lies along the Mediterranean Sea, using poaching, baking or grilling as a method of cooking.

The qualifying race brought a lot cheers as the rivalry between Fernando Alonzo and Michael Schumacher intensified. The sound was deafening, forcing us to buy earplugs, an essential tool when watching a race. Though Schumacher qualified first he was regulated to start at the back of the grid due to a skirmish in Alonzo’s flying lap. I was saddened by the incident but, even worse, we got lost and could not find the train station home. Fortunately a taxi was available to bring us back. Surprisingly the driver was a French lady and her E-class Mercedes Benz was top notch. Traffic was moderate and we were able to go back to Nice in 25 minutes.

We left our diet and brought our appetite as the second day brought more food and racing as we ate at the Baccarat restaurant to try the famous oven-baked turbot with artichaut. Turbot is a diamond-shaped, firm, a white-meat flat fish that is silver in color. Artichaut is French for artichoke, a large flower head of a plant. The dish was mixed with butter, olive oil, lemon, and spices, another indication of French and Italian influences in cooking and use of ingredients. The fish was very tender and the smell was balanced, as the freshness of the flavor really tantalizes your taste buds with every bite. After the hearty meal we sat in our seats, situated in front of the pit stop with various cars diving in as crews efficiently changed tires, loaded gas, and adjusted cars in a timely manner. Incredibly, Schumacher came from last place and finished fifth, a tremendous display of driving skills in a track known for difficult overtaking turns and short straights. Fernando Alonzo of Team Renault won the race but it was the city of Monte Carlo that was the real winner, as the hospitality towards guests and tourists was second to none. A city that prides itself on giving you the very best of what life has to offer, I was treated to a weekend that was a lifelong dream, an opportunity to dine and watch the Monaco Grand Prix, the pinnacle of Formula One racing, in style.

Baked Turbot With Bagna Cauda

1) 3 to 4 whole pompanos or sole (dapa) to total 1 kilo. Put on top of doubled-up foil, enough to enclose the fish. Rub 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tbsp. rock salt, 1 tsp. coarsely ground peppercorn. Put fish on top of tray and bake at 400º F or 200º C for 15 minutes. Put on serving platter. Open foil, top with bagna cauda then fresh dill leaves or spring onions or parsley.

2) Bagna cauda: Put in a saucepan and cook 2 minutes: 1/2 cup Magnolia Butter Lite, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic, 4 pieces undrained canned anchovies (chopped fine). Turn off heat and add 1 tbsp. each of grated lemon and orange rind, orange and lemon juice.   

3) Accompaniment: Canned or bottled artichokes (Saints/S&R/Shopwise) or asparagus spears or frozen Brussel sprouts. Put 500 grams of package in microwavable bowl. Add 1/4 cup butter and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Serve with boiled and peeled potatoes.

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Discovery of the Week

Twenty-one years in the business, French Baker still captures customers’ love for new dining experiences with an array of dishes that will surely whet your appetite. Sumptuous entrees that I highly recommend include the fish à la meunier, honey roast pork à l’orange, beef burgundy in casserole, and the well-loved chicken cordon bleu. For dessert my personal favorites are the very creamy but not too sweet cheesecake and mouthwatering carrot cake. Another added feature is the new Wi-Fi service and electrical outlets in the new restaurants for customers who want to use the Internet while enjoying a meal. With the new ambiance and added menu, congratulations to Johnlou Koa and his French Baker team for being the premiere bread shop in the Philippines at pocket-friendly prices.

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