23 June 2009

La Cuisine

During his peak in the 1960’s and 70’s Raymond Oliver was the most famous chef in France. In 1969 his masterpiece, La Cuisine, was published in English. The book is rather like Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. It weighs in at nearly 1000 pages, replete with hundreds of photographs. The photographs feature Oliver illustrating many techniques from making puff pastry to how to skin, draw and bone a rabbit. There are photographs of various table settings, many complete with cigarette holders and ashtrays, giving the book a profoundly dated quality.

Oliver was the chef at what many believe to be France’s first truly grand restaurants, La Grand Véfour. Begun in 1784 under another name, the restaurant was dormant for many years until in 1947. Oliver re-opened it to wild acclaim. Andre Malraux , Colette, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre were frequent diners as was Jean Cocteau, who designed one of the first menu.

The son of a chef, Oliver was a master at finding old and dated recipes to update. He invented new recipes, and perfected time honored classics. Like Julia Child, he took the television air waves demonstrating cooking techniques for a generation of French women.

This recipe works as a side dish, an appetizer, or even an entrée for those pesky vegetarians who often show up to dinner. I love to see vegetables traditionally served cold, cooked and vice-versa. Oliver suggests cooking the dish in a good sized charlotte mold. I prefer to cook it individual little charlotte molds or in ramekins.

Potato Cake with Avocados/Gâteau de Pommes de Terre et d’Avocats

Peel the avocados, cut them in halves, remove the stones, and mince the pulp.
Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet, add the avocados, and sauté them over high heat for 2 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and keep them hot.
Peel and mince the potatoes. Sauté them in the same skillet, adding the oil if necessary.
Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes, or until three-quarters done.
Butter a 6-cup charlotte mold and make alternate layers of potatoes and avocados, beginning and ending in potatoes.
Melt the remaining butter and sprinkle it over the top.
Bake in a preheated 375 F. oven for 20 minutes.
When the cake is done, unmold it on a hot serving dish. Serve immediately and very hot.

4 large avocadoes
7 tablespoons butter
2 pounds potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground white pepper

La Grand Véfour is still operating in Paris. In 2008, the restaurant lost one of its three Michelin stars, creating headlines around the globe.

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