Claude’s 30th Birthday
The Celebration of the Food
Claude’s Restaurant’s 30th Anniversary is a monumental occasion and it’s good to see so many mentions in the press. This temple of gastronomy has served cutting edge food to Sydney diners and foodie travellers from all over the world for thirty years. In all that time it has only had four owners: Claude Corne, Damien and Josephine Pignolet, Tim Pak Poy and now Chui Lee Luk. Each chef has brought a new dimension without ever losing sight of the tradition and history of the restaurant. Despite the fact that each successive chef has believed in the constant evolvement of their dishes, and has always wanted to be at the forefront of the pursuit of culinary excellence, they have also always offered a gentle progression from one era to the next. There is no doubt that the people at Claude’s have made this place what it is, with superb kitchen craft, finely honed service skills and a hushed, church-like atmosphere. The only element left out of the recent spate of media praise seems to be the food. Let us try and rectify this, focusing on Claude’s Thirtieth Anniversary Menu.
Here is Chui Lee Luk’s analysis of the dishes on the anniversary menu:
Epigram of Lamb
The origins of this dish is believed to be with the Marquise of Michelet in the mid-eighteenth century, who mistakenly thought “epigrams” referred to a dish and asked the household cook to make it. The result was braised lamb breast served with grilled lamb chops. “Epigram” also refers to a particular cut of lamb from under the shoulder on the breast side.
This dish comprises braised shoulder of lamb, which is then de-boned and pressed overnight. The shoulder is thinly sliced and pieces are used to sandwich an eggplant custard. Finally, each sandwich is brioche crumbed and shallow fried.
The dish first appeared on one of Damien and Josephine’s menus in 1986. I have included eggplant custard as a deviation from the Pignolet’s original as my introduction to Damien’s cuisine was the custard served in another context, which I have loved ever since.
I propose to accompany the lamb with tender young chard leaf, Spanish onion, and marjoram, finished with butter, flavoured by having been used to poach tomatoes and garlic. The intention in using the tomato flavoured butter is again a reference to the Pignolets, whose dish of ripe tomatoes poached in butter and tarragon sitting atop brioche has been mentioned to me by many as the most memorable dish they have eaten at Claude’s.
The design of the garnish is meant to re-reference the earthy flavour that eggplant can sometimes have as the vegetable has been transformed by being in the custard mixture. But the effect is leavened through the use of tomato scented butter and marjoram.
In my research through the menu archives, I noticed the popularity of mousses, mousselines, boudins of white meat and seafood. I set myself the challenge of creating a seafood sausage which would have the textural integrity of the constituent ingredients, mainly freshwater crayfish, yet act texturally in the way of a sausage when you bite into it: there should be an explosion of juices and flavours in your mouth.
In considering what would be the appropriate accompaniment, I looked at one of the traditions of the restaurant from the time of M. Corne, which is no longer observed. The tradition was to set aside the first Friday of each month to the ritual of the Bouillabaisse. As it was served in the restaurant, a choice of light starters was offered before a large dish of bouillabaisse was set down at each table. The diners were left to their own devices to attack the fish and shellfish served with bones, shells and all along with the traditional accompaniments of rouille, croutons and grated gruyere cheese. The contemporary diner seems to have lost the nerve or skills to eat whole fish and shellfish so the bouillabaisse eventually lost its general appeal at Claude’s. I am using the characteristic flavours of the bouillabaisse removed from its original context in an attempt to tempt the diner to rethink their aversion. If they are excited by the flavours presented, perhaps they will be interested in taking up the challenge of the bouillabaisse ritual again.
Quail Breast en Crépine, Boletus Jus
This dish illustrates Tim’s ingenuity in taking fairly mundane ingredients such as quail breasts and manipulating them in a way as to inject the most amount of flavour into them and to serve them in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The breasts of the quail are stripped from the body, put back together once the protein has been agitated to form a tight package.
Tim once served the quail with grilled watermelon. In rethinking the dish what I have aimed to do is to emphasize the savoury nature of the quail and to bring it into stark contrast with the sweet character of the watermelon. The watermelon is presented in the form of a relish much as you would find in South-East Asian cuisine. I am also trying to harness the sweet/savoury contrast into a greater form of harmony by using a dried mushroom and brandy based sauce to bring it together.
Panaché of Pig’s Trotter, Caramel Oyster & Abalone
M. Corne said that one of his most celebrated entrees was braised pigs’ trotters that were de-boned and then later wrapped in caul fat, crumbed and fried. We are not so accustomed to eating such rich foods, so the dilemma was to find a way of featuring this dish on the menu, without alienating the modern diner. I have in fact exploited the modern predilection for mixing seafood with the meat of land-living animals in this dish. I aimed to use the unctuous nature of slowly braised trotter as a wrapping for interestingly textured filling of pork meat and salsify and chosen to accompany it with an icy cold pickled oyster and a darkly flavoured sauce of octopus tentacle and shredded black fungus.
Caramel Duck, Sauce from the Press
The tradition of extracting the juice of the duck carcass to make a sauce is famously associated with the Paris restaurant, La Tour d’Argent. When I started at Claude’s it was most fascinating to learn that Tim had managed to locate an antique duck press. When he left the restaurant he took the press with him but I wanted to keep making the sauce, as it had by then become a signature at Claude’s, demonstrating its eccentric nod to tradition. I have had great difficulty finding a replacement press, as the mould from which the best type of press was made has been broken, and old models are hard to come by. In fact, when I was in Paris during Christmas, the salesman at E. Dehillerin laughed at me rather than answering my serious enquiry about whether their antique duck press was for sale. I have been talking with Christopher Hazell of Chef’s Warehouse about developing an efficient means of pressing the juices out of the bones and he suggested a remodeled sausage press, which we are presently playing around with.
The Claude’s way of presenting the duck is to semi-cure by blanching and salting the carcass according to a method that I saw from the first of Tim’s menus in 1994.
This dish represents the dichotomy of thought that may be apparent in the style of cuisine at the restaurant throughout its generations of owners: referencing traditional dishes of the regions, here the South-West, and presenting them in the refined style expected of the formal restaurant.
The Salmis has always been a dish with which I have been fascinated because of the technical skill required to roast a whole bird yet retain it in a rare state so that it can just cook through in the prepared sauce. I wanted to experiment further with another traditional accompaniment to the dish: mique or dumpling. Here, I have chosen to fold apple and pig’s blood through the mique dough to lighten the result and to create complementary interest point to the dish.
King George Whiting, Sterling Caviar
In reading the old menus, it was always interesting to learn of the luxurious touch that introducing caviar gave to the menus. For example, Josephine and Damien did this with their Poached Egg en Croute with Caviar on one of the early menus from 1981 or Tim with his Blinis Demidoff.
This dish sadly acknowledges that those days are gone as caviar has been exploited to the point of extinction in the wild and is now available legally only from farmed sturgeon, in this instance from California. It is partnered with the King George Whiting, which is harder and harder to come by given the closing off of fishing grounds in Australia. I want people eating this dish to offer respect about the produce that comes to their table.
The dish also celebrates that luxury needn’t be expressed by using tortuous technique to manipulate the ingredients, it can simply be a baked fillet of fish dressed with caviar and a tasty sauce (which also harks back to the effortless simplicity of touch in some of the Pignolet’s dishes).
Veal with a Pistachio & Kidney Farce
This dish celebrates the opposite to the above. It makes reference to the artisanal nature of the kitchen at Claude’s where we have always aimed to follow and preserve the proper classical techniques for doing things. In this instance, the classical way of taking the fillet of veal and rolling it up with a stuffing of pistachio, parsley and veal kidneys and then roasting the package. The aim is also to reinforce the earlier aims of M. Corne and the Pignolets to bring the cuisine of the 3 Michelin star chefs of France back to Australia, here a dish which I seen in the books of Michel Guerard.
An alternate name for a trifle, traditionally associated with celebrations, jollity and playfulness. I couldn’t resist because of my personal love of English puddings. I felt I could take the liberty of including it in the menu of a French restaurant as Tim had earlier included it in one of his menus. In my interpretation, I want to make a syllabub to spike the layer of cake and to create a creamy base. I also want to include the use of Cape Gooseberry since it’s one of the few fruits of interest available at this time of year. The technical definition of a trifle is a confection made up of biscuit, macaroon and or cake with custard, fruit and fruit jelly.
This is one of M. Corne’s most famous items on the menu. It is still demanded on occasion by long-time patrons. This permutation uses lemon scented cream and frosted violets to accentuate the delicacy yet robustness of the flavours in the soufflé.
Black Velvet Vacherin
Another tribute to the lateral thinking of Tim’s recipe design. You may know of the cocktail, which is a combination of champagne and stout. The original was a bombe with champagne ice cream surrounding a liquid centre of stout and spice. It was then dusted with malt powder and a tuile of whisky and maltose melted over it.
This version aims to take the play on the flavours of beer and champagne and their nuances. The maltiness of the beer is highlighted by use of malt in making up the meringue base for the vacherin; and in using ground up whisky and maltose biscuit which is soused with whisky and then flamed to create a thin crust.
Millefeuille of Orange Blossom
This dessert aims to celebrate the traditions of silver service prevalent in the restaurant. It seems to be a dying art. The theatre of presenting a huge confection of puff pastry with orange blossom cream and a selection of sharp citrus fruits in the dining room is aimed at tempting the patron to select it. Further theatre is created when the waiter serves a piece to the diner with shards of pastry flying everywhere when the piece is cut.
So there you have it, as told by the current chef, Chui Lee Luk. All that is left now is for you to visit during May and sample this incredible menu.
Congratulations to Chui and her team for putting a terrific menu together and trying to squeeze thirty years of history into one single dining experience. I didn’t think it could be done, but I reckon I’m wrong!