histories…my latest crush

mathieu pacaud and meSome people are star-struck by athletes, actors or musicians.  I, however, am wowed by chefs.  This is a long-standing predilection that I developed at the age of 5 upon meeting the legendary Paul Bocuse.  I may have been too young to understand his deft skill and unsurpassed classical technique, but I am not too old now to recollect fondly his regal demeanor and impressively starched white uniform.  

histoires, the roomThe difference between then and now is that I can and do appreciate exceptional culinary skill.  What remains the same is that I can still develop a school girl’s crush when a chef’s food is matched by his charisma and personal style.  My latest crush is a talented young Frenchman, Mathieu Pacaud.

fois grasMathieu  is one of France’s new generation of talented young chefs. His talent is the product of a combination of perseverance, training and genetics.  His father and mother, Bernard and Daniele Pacaud, are the co-owners of  L’ Ambroisie, an iconic restaurant in Place des Vosges and a recipient of three Michelin stars since 1988. Mathieu became co-Chef as young man in his 20’s, alongside his father. Together they hosted Barack Obama on his last state visit to Paris.

a first biteFor many chefs that would be enough, but for Mathieu it is merely a milestone of a career in progress.  In December 2014 he opened Hexagone; in February 2016 it had earned its first Michelin star.  Situated in the Trocadero, Hexagone has not adopted the glorious traditionalism of his parent’s decor or cuisine but, rather, offers exceptional food in an attractive but less imposing environment.  We celebrated my son Hunter’s 20th birthday with Mathieu’s extraordinary six-course tasting menu. It was a joyous evening in every respect.  

eggs and caviarAs splendid as was our evening at Hexagone, I learnt of a “secret’ place behind a hidden door. I was impertinently done with Hexagone and had moved-on to my next foody adventure.  Mathieu’s secret place is called Histories and had opened five months after Hexagone. It announced itself to the gastronomic world by quickly earning 2 Michelin stars, an unheard of accomplishment for restaurant opened less than a year.

shrimp cevicheKnowing about the secret door is not the same as passing through a magic portal and getting a table, especially when the restaurant only seats 18 and it was Fashion Week.  I was rebuffed initially but they eventually took pity as I raised my game from beseeching to begging, and possibly worse.  What can I say?  The Keeper-of-the-Book  must have understood that I appreciate great food and would relish the experience far more than another fidgeting fashionista in size 0 dress.

the perfect soleThey found me a table and I strolled triumphantly through the secret door. Like Alice I suddenly found myself in an enchantingly unexpected Wonderland. The room is stunning; my table was nestled in a small alcove overlooking the garden. Mathieu introduced himself. I was in heaven. And that was before the food came.

turbotBeing something of a self-confessed glutton I ordered the degustation menu.  Far more than a hit parade of the chef’s best dishes,  the eight-course affair was a truly  imaginative gastronomic odyssey paired artfully with a Grand Cru wine tasting. Our first glass arrived, Taittinger Rose champagne, along with a first wave of food that included twelve exquisite “bites”.  The  highlights of the opening salvo were a briny dollop of caviar atop a creamy gougere, a square of impeccably rich fois gras and a delicate tart filled with fresh pea puree. That these treats were merely the prelude to the courses to come was both tantalizing and foreboding.  After my histrionics to get a table I simply could not limp to the finish line with half-eaten plates.  

strawberry dessertWhen the meal began in earnest there were no soft openings to set the stage for future courses. Our first three courses were actually multiple small dishes of different preparations of tomato, then shrimp and, thirdly, eggs.   Yes, the humble oeuf was the perfect tableau for revealing the chef’s skill with subtle flavourings and enviable technique. The presentation was artistic and the staff seemed to take as much pleasure in serving as we did in eating.  Each course was accompanied by skillfully paired wines that highlighted Mathieu’s delicate yet flavourful cooking. By the midway point I had abandoned my note-taking, forgotten my obligation to retell the experience to you, dear readers, and I was in a state of hedonistic bliss.

mango dessertNotwithstanding my bacchanalian blur, I can still taste two my favorite courses of the evening: the langoustine wrapped in lighter-than-air phyllo pastry and the filet of sole served in a light creamy white wine foam with chanterelle mushrooms. Both courses gave strong evidence to the assertion that great cooking occurs when impeccable ingredients are allowed to express their true flavours and textures. The chef’s mastery was evident but never self-evident.

The presentation of the food was creative and colorful, each dish a work of art as my photos can attest. The service succeeded in being friendly and formal without tripping into pretense.  I was especially grateful that the staff indulged my prep-school French language skills and enthusiastic rambling.  The food and ambiance set very high standards and made for a very enjoyable evening.  Though Mathieu is well known in France, I cannot help but feel I have encountered a shining young star in the French culinary constellation .  Next time I’m in Paris I’m going back, only this time for lunch in hopes that I can finish every bite!

http://www.hexagone-paris.fr

12 thoughts on “histories…my latest crush

  1. Julie, this is an absolute delight ! I am so pleased that you “ found each other “. Clearly he is about to become known as one of the truly great masters of his art, and rightfully so. Concurrently, you have found someone who can truly satisfy your love for the creation of , and the gustatory experience, of actually tasting it. I am certain he immediately recognized you as a true gourmet – one who “speaks his language” as the great maestro he clearly is. At the same time he would be flattered by you, not merely for your beauty , and your attendance, but equally important that you understand and appreciate the true magic he is capable of creating. You are the type of audience which great chefs dream about. None of their ingenuity, skills, art, or subtleties are lost. To be appreciated by “ one of their own” is the ultimate fulfillment.

    Once again. speaking of “works of art”, I am continually impressed by your genius in creating these superb blogs. Each one is a ‘ How To ‘ on crafting a complete story. With your opening sentences you captivate your readers, provide the necessary background ( historical,or other ), build to the major knot, then resolve the issue. For both students if good writing, and “ gourmets “ of the art, you provide an unforgettable meal ! ( That new book lies in your great collection of past blogs ).

    And to complete the file on greatness, I have read reviews on both of the magnificent wines which John brought. How do I express my thanks ? One almost feels they are too good to open ( though that will NOT happen ! ), but I would like nothing better than to share them with both of you next time. As implied above, the Nectar Of The Gods should be reserved for the cognoscenti only ! ( Would it not be John’s gift to the world of wine if he were to write a seminal book on “Wine” for all of the wine lovers across the planet ? It has not yet been written ! )

    Our fondest wishes for both of you and those great boys for Christmas and the coming New Year.

    Love you

    Bernie

  2. Hi Julie, …make my mouth water! Amazingly written, felt like I was there myself….without the calories. Big hug

    3369 The Crescent Vancouver BC V6H 1T6 Canada

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s