Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of schmoozing with executive chefs from Omni Hotels & Resorts along with food-and-beverage representatives from France at an interactive cooking, tasting, and wine-pairing reception in SoHo. The event celebrated the October launch of "Simmer Sauté Santé - The Flavors of France," the seventh installment of Omni's nationwide Flavors of the World culinary series. Evoking the authentic essence of French food, wine, Champagne, and cocktails, recipes include Sautéed Sea Scallops prepared Provençal Style; Duck Breast with Roasted Vegetables in a Raspberry Balsamic Reduction; and Steak Frites with a Black Pepper and Cognac Sauce—available through the end of the year.
The menu also blends classic French culinary tradition with updated flavors, as reflected in dishes like Seared Sea Bass with Fingerling, Morel, and Fallot Black Currant Vinaigrette; Trilogie de Gougères filled with Zucchini and Mint, Gruyère and Comté, Brie and Sun Dried Tomato, accompanied by Sweet Bell Pepper Coulis; Wild Mushroom Ragoût with Chervil Butter Sauce; Filet of Beef with Housemade Short Rib Ravioli, a Platter of Cured Meats and French Cheese; and Small Pots of Mocha and Valrhona Chocolate Cream. Also featured are innovative French libations, including three Chambord-infused cocktails.
In early September, 45 executive chefs and culinary leaders embarked on a tour of France to immerse themselves in French culture as well as to hone their Gallic cooking skills. They visited renowned vineyards, food producers, and restaurants. Starting in Paris, the Omni group attended Palais des Thés tea training; visited caves at famed Champagne maker Nicolas Feuillatte and winemaker Maison Champy in Burgundy; toured vineyards and participated in the harvest in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, including Domaine Pascal Jolivet, Domaine de la Perrière, Le Club Mouton Cadet, Château Belgrave, and Château Cantemerle; and learned about mustard preparation with Moutarde Fallot.
Three of Omni's top executive chefs—Daven Wardynski of 676, Chicago; John Brand of Las Canarias, San Antonio; and Ron Ulczak of Fireside, New York—demonstrated their craft, and served up a delicious selection of flavors from the new menu. Below is a taste of my dégustation.
A great way to whet one's appetite and wet his whistle is with a glass or three of Champagne. I've always enjoyed the bubbles of Nicolas Feuillatte and am particularly fond of the rosé.
I began with the gougères, one of my favorite hors d'œuvre. It always seems impossible to eat just one of these savory little cheese pastries. With perfect texture and just the right degree of cheese intensity, these gougères went quickly, and provided a good indication of what was to follow.
The Butternut Squash Soup, made with apple cider, was simple and seasonal. The cream on top made it smooth and sinful as well. What a fine dish to warm an autumn day.
I found the Salad with Duck Confit and Roasted Beets to be incommensurate with the other offerings. The fowl was slightly chewy, and its flavors lacked the richness I expected from a preparation of this sort.
Chef Daven Wardynski discusses the preparation of his Wild Mushroom Ragoût rolls
Combining several varieties of mushroom within fried feuilles de brick, the Wild Mushroom Ragoût rolls with Chervil Butter Sauce were a wildly appetizing starter.
Chef John Brand describes his Magret de Canard
One of the highlights of the afternoon was the succulent Magret de Canard (duck breast). Flavorful and cooked to perfection, it paired beautifully with berry-and-black currant flavors of the Maison Bouachon Côtes-du-Rhône Les Rabassières 2009 (60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre). Très bien.
Perhaps the most successful dish that afternoon, however, was the Short Ribs of Wagyū Beef. Braised in red wine with pearl onions and baby carrots, this exquisite adaptation of the classic Bœuf Bourguignon played like a symphony on the palate. Nowhere are the benefits of slow cooking more evident than in this flavorful, tender, melt-in-the-mouth concoction. Merveilleux!
Chef Daven Wardynski talks about preparing Loup de Mer
The next tasty preparation came from the sea. The Loup de Mer (Mediterranean sea bass; literally, "wolf of the sea") was flaky, with skin that was seared to a delicious golden-brown. While I found the dish to be nicely seasoned, some might have deemed it a bit salty. In any case, the fish and its accompanying confit of baby potatoes, morels, and Carmellini beans benefited from the slight acidity of the Fallot mustard sauce. Délicieux.
And more from the sea. My loyal reader will recall that, owing to a food allergy, scallops are, alas, not part of my diet. Who knows, these may have been the best sea scallops I never ate.
Beyond discussing French cooking, Chef Daven Wardynski talked about the importance of local sourcing and preparation. He implements the farm-to-table concept at the most local level by using his rooftop garden in Chicago to grow the produce for his restaurant.
Chef Daven Wardynski discusses the importance of local sourcing
Before advancing to the sweet course, I sampled the cheeses—all eight of them. The selection from Murray's included the malodorous Époisses, the pungent Pont-l'Évêque, the aromatic-yet-mild Morbier, the regal Comté Saint-Antoine, the assertive Bleu d'Auvergne, the pyramidal (goat's milk) Valençay, the triple-crème (75% butterfat) Brillat-Savarin, and the nutty Secret du Couvent. It was hard to pick a favorite.
Finally, it was time for dessert. The rich, creamy, Valrhona Chocolate Pot de Crème with fresh berries afforded a decadent ending to this epicurean extravaganza. As in France, the finish was sweet without being cloying. Supremely silky and satisfying. Magnifique!
I saved one of the custom-crafted cocktails for last. The creamy blend of Chambord, Chambord Vodka, fresh raspberries, half-and-half, and a touch of ice cream was a playful variation of a milkshake. It was a veritable second dessert.
Omni created this program through a partnership with the French Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries, represented by Sopexa USA, an agency dedicated to the promotion of French food, wine, and lifestyle in the United States.
Omni's "Simmer Sauté Santé" package, available at select hotels and resorts, offers a culinary immersion weekend including deluxe accommodations, a wine-and-cheese welcome, a cooking and wine-pairing demonstration with an Omni chef, an all-inclusive French dinner, and a thank-you gift with aprons, French wine, recipes, and a micro-planer. Another guest package—"French Toast!"–is offered over New Year's Eve only, enabling guests to enjoy a French dinner with Champagne to ring in the New Year, breakfast with a Champagne cocktail, and a late check-out upon request. Both packages range from $299 to $700.
To learn more about "Simmer Sauté Santé - The Flavors of France," including menus, wine lists, photos and videos from the trip and recipes, visit Omni's Culinary Stirrings website. Guests can also visit omnihotels.com or call 1-800-THE-OMNI. Follow Omni Hotels & Resorts at twitter.com/omnihotels or at twitter.com/omnihotelsPR.
Please click here to view the recipes.