“We are not the stars, the ingredients are the stars,” said Hélène Darroze as she hosted lunch at her Connaught restaurant (which, as it happens, has two stars of the Michelin variety) on Tuesday.
Ever since I saw a TV cook rhapsodise himself into paroxysms of pleasure on air over an unadorned roasted onion, I have been suspicious of overpraising the humble ingredient.
Darroze, however, didn’t have to overstate it: she just made her point with a special six-course meal, to which she invited her suppliers. Each dish showed off the brilliance of what the producers literally bring to the table.
I had a chance to meet a few, who were all passionate about their work and produce. From the makers of the excellent Stichelton cheese, to the Scottish man who had been diving for scallops for 43 years, to the fisherwoman who caught hake with a hook, they were all pushing against the tide of mass production in favour of the individual, careful approach. Which made me think that the suppliers, who are often tucked away in quiet, remote parts of the world, were also worthy of star status themselves.
The cocktails were the stars the next night at the Roux at the Landau restaurant, situated in the Langham Hotel. There, I went to a special pairing dinner (another six courses) where the food was matched with some of the most ambitious cocktails that the venue’s Artesian bar could come up with. This was all done under the watchful eye of some more of France’s finest foodie exports: Albert Roux and his son, Michel Roux Jr. and all proceeds from the event were donated to Bliss, a charity for premature and special care babies.
The honey, champagne and parsnip mix was a triumph, and the gewürztraminer and vinegar combination was a brilliant pairing with the cheese course. And then there was the cocktail made with cèpes mushrooms, which was, well, different.
When it comes to ingredients, it’s nice to occasionally do better than your uniform supermarket mush, but it’s what you do with them that really counts.