When the Cannes sun got too hot late in the afternoon, I normally retreated to our hotel room to watch three television shows: Des chiffres et des lettres (France3’s word-and-numbers game show, the forerunner of Britain’s Countdown), Questions pour un champion (also on France3, a tough but congenial general knowledge quiz) and — in between the two — Dans la peau d’un chef (France2).

One of France’s most famous chefs, Christophe Michalak — head pastry chef at Paris’s Hôtel Plaza-Athénée — presents the show with an equally accomplished guest chef (a different one every week). Michalak and his guest alternate showcasing their recipes with two contestants who then have to make them on their own with minimal help from the chef. The chefs then judge the contestants’ efforts, and the successful home cook wins €1,000. One contestant won €16,000 during May and June 2015.

Dans la peau d’un chef appealed to SpouseMouse and me for two reasons: Michalak demystifies French cooking for the home cook and gives us the secrets behind beautiful presentations! It’s a surprisingly friendly show, given the techniques involved. Admittedly, the contestants find preparing the dishes — one per show — stressful in the time permitted.

In the YouTube episode below (14:35 minutes long), Michalak tells us how to prepare a stunning raspberry tart. It has a base of melted white chocolate and crushed French shortbread biscuits (sablés) topped with a soft sponge with raspberries in it. Homemade raspberry coulis with a dash of Tabasco, a scant teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a few fresh raspberries mixed in at the last minute act as the ‘glue’ between base and cake as well as the fixative on top of the cake for the fresh raspberries.

In the video Michalak sets aside half the raspberries for the top and dusts them with icing (powdered) sugar. On the finished cake — which he assembles starting at the 10:25 mark — he carefully alternates the dusted raspberries in neat rows with the plain berries. So simple! So striking!

This dusting of berries is quite common on French pastries. We saw it everywhere. Some tarts and cakes had dusted berries on two end rows. Whatever the presentation, we would not have known how it was done unless we’d seen Michalak’s demonstration.

Michalak also gives three other presentation ideas:

1/ Once the base and the cake are assembled one on top of the other, with the last half of the coulis in place for the raspberries, dust the edges with icing sugar. This gives a professional appearance on the sides and around the top.

2/When the berries are in place, intersperse a few slices of fresh coconut between them. Alternatively, this could be a few fine shards or curls of white chocolate or tiny mint leaves.

3/ When placing the tart on the presentation plate, put it at a different angle. Michalak’s cake was a diamond in the middle of a square plate.

With just a few simple techniques we can all recreate the ‘French touch’ for Sunday lunch or a special occasion. 

As France2 and France3 are geolocalised, Dans la peau d’un chef is not available for general global viewing. The YouTube videos are the most one can see.

One of the amusing things from this episode from June 16, 2015, was that the champion that week, Barbara, did not care for desserts much less making them! We are most curious as to how she got on in the following week.

In closing, Francophones can find the recipes on the France2 site. Anyone who would like to have me translate this particular recipe can get in touch in the comments below or on any other post.

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