Stephanie Curtis - September 2013
Joël Robuchon and Veuve Clicquot launch their partnership with a preview of their team menu in the heart of Champagne country.
When two giants of the world of French gastronomy team up, the results are likely to be sparkling, particularly when the celebration of their union takes place in the land where bubbles reign supreme.
On a crisp day in early spring here in Reims, the capital of Champagne, two venerable names—the 241 year old Champagne House Veuve Clicquot and Joël Robuchon, often dubbed “chef of the century”—toasted a new partnership, a moment shared with special guests from around the world in the sumptuous surroundings of Clicquot’s mansion, the Hôtel du Marc.
Under the discerning eye of Madame Clicquot, whose portrait surveys the salon of this recently renovated 19th century residence, Jean-Marc Lacave, Clicquot president, shared details. The idea of a Champagne house linking its name with a great chef may not be groundbreaking, but, according to Lacave, this particular initiative promises to be ambitious and innovative.
“Our hope is to create different events, unique moments that money can’t buy,” explained Lacave, “special pairings of food and wine with Joël as the guide.” Part of the challenge for Clicquot, added Lacave, is to adapt to local tastes around the world, and who better than Robuchon, with his network of 15 gastronomic restaurants (for a current total of 27 Michelin stars), from Paris to Singapore, Tokyo, Taipei, and Las Vegas, to take the grande dame of Champagne to new frontiers? And Robuchon continues to conquer new frontiers, the next one being Mumbai, where he will open a largely vegetarian restaurant at the end of 2013. Next year, Bangkok and New York City will also welcome Robuchon restaurants.
For a preview of these future special dinners, Robuchon and Dominic Demarville, Clicquot’s chef de cave, orchestrated a nine course meal in the elegant, black-paneled, Second Empire–style dining room.
White-gloved waiters with Clicquot yellow ties poured one cuvée after another into elegant bulb-shaped glasses, designed specifically for this mark’s bubbly. One can imagine that Madame Clicquot, a woman well ahead of her time in the mid-19th century, would have approved. She had invented riddling, the pivotal (and pivoting) technique for making Champagne, and had named her dry blend “Yellow Label” for the English market—a marketing coup before marketing had a name.
The meal began with La Grande Dame 2004 and an amuse bouche: Parmesan mousse over foie gras cream with aged Port. A play on textures, Robuchon’s creamy creation paired well with the chalky flintiness of the Champagne.
Two nonvintage pillars of the mark, Carte Jaune (the famous Yellow Label) and its “sister” Rosé, were poured with the following two courses: The Rosé was a clear favorite with Imperial Caviar—deliciously briny farmed French caviar from the Sologne region set atop crabmeat suspended in a coral aspic. Each serving was presented in a caviar tin. The Carte Jaune delicately flattered a Robuchon classic: a turban-like tower of perfectly spiraled spaghetti with langoustines served with a coralline sauce and generously garnished with black truffles. The 2004 vintage was paired with a zéphyr au fromage, a sensual compromise between a soufflé and a flan served with a truffle coulis. It was followed by the plat de résistance, a crisp caramelized foie gras–stuffed quail with Robuchon’s famous butter rich potato puree. It was accompanied by the 1990 Cave Privée, qualified by Demarville as perhaps the most perfect of all recent Clicquot vintages.
Two desserts, le rubis, a ruby-red sphere filled with lime cheesecake and berry coulis, and la fleur caramel, a rich caramel ice cream served with exotic fruits and a honey crumble, were paired with Clicquot’s Demi-Sec, a slightly sweet blend ceremoniously carafed for the occasion by Demarville. “There is a magic to this exercise that transcends all borders,” concluded Lacave.