by andrea bennett
photography by heather gill | December 1, 2014 | Food & Drink
For gourmands Ian Staller and Traci Grossman, dining at Guy Savoy is an indulgent pleasure. Learning how the magic happens makes it even more so.
Staller and Grossman plating their dishes like pros.
The two Michelin–starred Restaurant Guy Savoy doesn’t so much attract diners as it draws pilgrims, lured by legendary tales or memories of extravagant meals at Guy Savoy in Paris. The staff here perhaps approaches the experience with a bit less gravitas; arguably, this can’t be avoided in a French restaurant with a view of a facsimile of the Eiffel Tower (not visible at the Rue Troyon location).
Here, Savoy has managed to merge the religiosity of haute cuisine with the wit of a true modernist. He added an “Innovation Menu” (think langoustine tartare with carrot “petals,” quail with smoked sabayon) to his repertoire of classics last year. And this year the Champagne room was transformed into a less precious Cognac Lounge to showcase the collection of rare high-end spirits. Despite the infusion of light and fun, guests won’t forget that some dishes, such as his artichoke and black truffle soup, belong to the pantheon of culinary masterpieces.
Considering the wonder with which diners approach a meal at Restaurant Guy Savoy, actually invading the kitchen was unthinkable (unless you were dining at the kitchen’s six-person Krug table). That is, until Executive Chef Mathieu Chartron began offering cooking classes this year, Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 2 pm. A maximum of six people can tie on their aprons and take two courses with the chef, with a break at the Krug table to try their creation, paired with a wine from the sommelier. We invited a couple that knows a thing or two about fine dining—Ian Staller, executive vice president and general manager of Southern Wine and Spirits, and wife Traci Grossman, a physician in private practice, who dine out nearly every night of the week—to roll up their sleeves and see how the magic gets made.
Chestnut and celery soup.
On the menu: chestnut and celery soup and duck breast, carrot and button mushrooms with carrot purée.
The chef guides Grossman and Staller through preparing the soup, thinly slicing and sautéing the reserved chestnuts to make a crispy garnish, and creating a vibrant green chive oil.
Which of you is the cook in the family?
Ian Staller: I love to cook. I used to cook all the time, but I just don’t have the time now.
Traci Grossman: When we were first dating, I wanted to make him something special, and osso buco is his favorite dish. So I made this osso buco for him. Two weeks later, we were at a restaurant and he ordered osso buco because he “hadn’t had it in ages.” Never again.
IS: It’s true that I had no idea what I’d been eating.
TG: But Ian is funny. He’ll eat whatever’s in the refrigerator, right from the Tupperware.
IS: Right, but with a nice bottle of Contessa.
Chef, what kinds of dishes do you teach people to prepare in these classes?
Mathieu Chartron: Our classes are driven by what’s in season, so we might make a beautiful white asparagus salad, or langoustines, carrots, and baby mushrooms.
Would we ever be able to learn some of the icons, like, for instance, the artichoke and truffle soup?
MC: That one is off-limits, and probably our really classic Colors of Caviar, too [a dramatically layered appetizer with caviar, caviar cream, and sabayon]. If we did that, Guy Savoy would kill us!
While the mushrooms are sautéing for the soup, the chef gets to work on a carrot purée, reduces duck bones to a concentrated stock, and shows Grossman and Staller how to peel mushrooms.
TG: I never thought I’d be peeling a mushroom. Ever. [Struggles with the mushroom]
IS: She’s mushroom-challenged. But you think about the painstaking detail that goes into this preparation and it’s so clear that it’s so far elevated above sustenance.
They score the duck breast, with varying degrees of success, and sear it on a cold pan to melt and brown the fat.
TG: I’d ask for a 10 blade for this kind of work.
IS: Preparing this same meal is going to be our next date. I’m not saying we’re going to be married when we’re done.
The chef shows them how to plate the wild mushrooms, pour the soup around it, and garnish with the tenderest celery leaves, chestnut chips, and chive oil, and they break in the krug room.
IS: This chestnut flavor is awesome. How often do you get to experience something like this?
TG: If I were to have dinner here, I’d think, Oh, this is delicious soup. But making it happen yourself in the kitchen, and understanding what goes into it, makes eating it so much more extraordinary.
The chef brings the carrot mixture from the stove and blends it into a purée; they plate the seared duck and the glazed vegetables, topping the dish with the duck juice.
TG: This really is such an indulgent way to spend an afternoon—incredible food, beautiful wine. If you wanted to learn how to make something very specific, could you request a recipe for your lesson?
MC: Sure, maybe you want to make a coq au vin. We could always talk about taking requests.
IS: That sounds great. Maybe we’ll do this again and ask for osso buco.
The restaurant Guy Savoy cooking experience at Caesars Palace, 702-731-7286.