This is part of Julien Royer’s The Stories of Odette.
Green as Spring: Asparagus
Asparagus is the first sign of spring, a signifier of the emergence of the sun, changing temperatures and new life. Though available from March until June, it is in its prime from mid-April to mid-May, and the best asparagus comes from an area called Pertuis in the south of France. In Villelaure, just next to Pertuis, is where you will find Robert Blanc, who grows what is regarded as the Rolls- Royce of asparagus. Each spear is nicely straight, and the texture a perfect balance of firm and tender. His asparagus is also outstanding in flavour and has a natural sweetness, with just the right degree of nuttiness.
Julien’s Take: Asparagus with slow-cooked egg, morel mushroom glazed with vin jaune, mushroom ketchup and pea sprouts.
Wrap the sprigs in a damp towel before storing in the fridge, so as to prevent the loss of moisture. Keeping the vegetable away from sunlight also helps to preserve vitamins and nutrients.
Asparagus is nice simply peeled and blanched in salted boiling water (at least 18g of salt per litre) for about a minute. Once blanched, plunge the spears into ice water. This helps to lock in the chlorophyll and retain the nutrients in the vegetable. Each spear is very fragile and should be handled carefully. You want the head to be crunchy.
Summer‘s Juicy Fruit: Tomato
Growing up, the first vegetable I harvested in my little garden was the tomato. Tomatoes have remained special to me, and it is the summer vegetable par excellence. The season runs from May until September, but peaks between June and August – summer months are when they are the sweetest and juiciest. Some of the best tomatoes are grown by Joel Thiebault, whose family has been producing a stunning array of vegetables since 1873. Thiebault’s produce is a favourite among chefs, and he runs a stall at the market on Alma Marceau (next to the Eiffel Tower).
Of the thousands of varieties, my favourite is the Buffalo Heart. Most tomatoes labelled as “Buffalo Heart” on the market today are actually a type of tomato called Albenga. It is also a good-quality tomato but tends to be less sweet and juicy, compared to the real deal.
Julien’s Take: Tomato tart with tomato syrup reduction, eggplant caviar, fresh mozzarella, shallot, capers, vinegar and fleur de sel.
A good tomato should feel firm but not too hard. When sliced, the juice should flow when it is lightly squeezed. Tomatoes should be kept at room temperature and away from the sun. My favourite way to enjoy a good tomato is simple: Cut it into chunks and season it with fleur de sel, cracked pepper, fresh shallots or spring onions, aged balsamico and top-quality olive oil. That said, I love a good tomato tart too!
Autumn Reds: Kuri Squash
Kuri squash, also known as potimarron or Hokkaido squash in Japan, brings back great autumn memories. In season from October to mid-December, it reminds me of the first lighting of the fireplace when family members gather to enjoy a nice hot bowl of squash soup. A lady whom I know as Miss Moreno from the Allier region in France is a specialist of squash and root vegetables, and her produce is bio-certified. She always allows the squash to reach the perfect stage of maturity before harvesting. This results in an incomparable sweetness and nuttiness.
Julien’s Take: Red kuri squash ice cream with barbecued chestnuts, raw chestnuts and pine needle essence.
The flesh of the Kuri squash should be firm and tender, with not much fibre. The middle of the stem should be porous yet firm, with tiny holes – almost like a sponge. A simple way to prepare the squash is to wrap it in aluminium foil and bake it whole at 160 degrees until it is soft and tender. You can also keep the seeds to be roasted and baked. They’re recognised as a superfood. Most people mistake the normal squash for the kuri squash, but it can be recognised by its bright, almost reddish, orange colour. The flesh is sweeter than normal squash.
Winter Blacks: Black Truffles
I tried black truffles for the first time in hospitality school, when we had to prepare a Christmas dinner and make a classic French dish – fillet of beef rolled with foie gras and black truffle. I immediately fell in love with it, as even the smallest piece packs a strong intense flavour. The short season from November until early February also makes it difficult to get – that is exciting. The producer Plantin – based in the village of Richerenches in the Vaucluse region, which is the biggest truffle market in the world – has truffles that are very consistent in quality, which stems from its deep knowledge of the produce.
Julien’s Take: Cream of cevenne onion soup, parsley royale, black truffle chantilly cream, burnt croutons and julienned black truffle.
The same variety of truffles that is available in the Provence region is also found in the Manjimup region in Australia. The truffle season there is between July and August. There isn’t a huge difference in terms of flavour; however, the Australian truffles tend to be bigger due to the salinity of the soil and proximity to the ocean. Truffles come in different shapes and sizes, but you can determine the quality of the truffle from the colour. It should have a nice black and white marbling, much like wagyu. It should also be firm.