Last year, four of the French chefs most famous around the world–Alain Ducasse, Michel Guérard, Joël Robuchon and Gérard Besson–joined together in a press conference in protest of the French laws that prohibit the sale of game birds to restaurants and food shops.
“The laws, which prevent chefs from buying partridges from hunters, have effectively put an end to some of the greatest traditional cooking in the country,” complains Michel Guérard, who is famous for complex and savant recipes at his signature Michelin three-star restaurant, Les Prés d’Eugénie in Southwest France. “When hunters provide chefs with fresh game, we can make variations on the great recipes of the past.”
Guérard can obtain fresh pheasant from farms, even if it does not quite have the gout of hunted game, and with it he makes a brilliant variation on a traditional 19th Century recipe. His “Pheasant Stewed in Armagnac with Pigs Feet,” is classic French: The meat falls from the bone, its strong flavor mollified with contrasting tomato, onion and a bit of good wine. With a soft, round Pomerol to set it off, a dish like this reminds one of what food must have been like when the great operas were composed.
But larger animals are hunted in France, particularly wild boar and the deer. Oh yes, there is a traditional Burgundy recipe for bear, the bourgignonne d’ours–not very different from the same one made with beef. We have tried it; as the French say, it does not merit the detour.
Our great French chefs prefer to cook with wild boar and deer. Gérard Besson, who for nearly half a century presided over the Michelin 3-star restaurant named after him smack in the center of Paris, has a signature dish of “Wild Boar Shoulder with Citrus and Champagne.” The boar is roasted with bay leaf in the juice of orange and grapefruit, and then mixed with seven or eight different spices, and sautéed in champagne. This one is not as technically complex as the previous one–you can even watch the great chef put it together on YouTube. But just try it and see if you can get that perfect mix of game and fruit that he does.
Besson is as Parisian as they come; quite the opposite is Joël Robuchon, who truly deserves the title of “Superchef.” He was named “Chef of the Century” by the guide Gault Millau in 1989, and also received the award of France’s Best Chef in 1976. He operates a dozen restaurants in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Macau, Monaco, Paris, Taipei and Tokyo, with a total of 28 Michelin stars among them–the most of any chef in the world.
Robuchon is famous for a number of culinary initiatives, but one of them is going back to the terroir, the provinces, for inspiration. So it’s not surprising that he favors a 19th Century traditional provincial recipe when it comes to game–albeit one of startling complexity and depth.
The “Royal Wild Hare” is one of the greatest creations of the hunters of the Perigord region of the South of France. It was adapted by one of the most famous chefs of the 19th Century, Carême, for a French Senator of the time, and has since been remade for us by Robuchon. In this form, it brings together red wine, the blood of the hare, its offal, foie gras, black truffle, all of which are stewed with the meat of the beast for several days. As one French critic put it, “It looks like Darth Vader defied the Jedi to devour him.” Rest assured that it is exquisite and inimitable.
Like Robuchon, Alain Ducasse is a “Superchef,” a kind of tycoon of the restaurant industry. His signature restaurant is the Louis XV in Monaco, and there is really no other place like it. But he owns chains of restaurants across the world.
Although he is associated with a number of global food trends, Ducasse is famous in France for adapting Provencal cuisine to the national palate. One of his most interesting recipes for venison involves chocolate sauce, crème, cassis and pears. It is served with a mouth-filling, heart-warming red burgundy, and you will never know such peace and goodwill as when you have consumed it–yes, it is a Christmas favorite.
Who knows? Perhaps one day the government will change the laws, and these chefs will all cook wild partridges. We will try to be there when they do–budget will no doubt be an issue, but we will try.—Andrew Rosenbaum