Demystify black truffles by making them more affordable and better known by the public. That’s the worthy goal of Julien Allano, starred chef at Le Clair de la Plume 4-star hotel in Grignan, where 80% of the French production of truffles comes from. His market cuisine is a complete discovery of the local terroir.
It may sound like a crazy idea giving its price on the market. The melano, as locals call it, is so aromatic, that only 5 grams per plate is enough to sublimate basic dishes. They are also easy to cook because of the subtlety and volatility of aromas which disappear beyond 60°. It comes down to “finding the right pairing to extract the quintessence of the product and make it even better”, Julien Allano told hiEurope. An art the southern chef excels at. From December to March, he delivers a class act seasoned menu in 3, 5 or 7 courses dedicated to the black diamond.
Truffle hunts & Delights
The feast gets off to a good start by a mushroom bouillon infusion with truffles accompagnied by a parmesan shortbread. Perfect to excite taste buds. Then come the coated turbot with coffee cream and truffle flakes. The vegetable entremets with grated truffles followed by the rabbit cooked with Lagavulin whisky cream and truffle juice. You may also taste the restaurant’s masterly dosed signature dish made of Jerusalem artichokes, truffle, bacon and Espelette pepper. Truffles are also associated with cheeses and traditional eggnogs. On top of that, pastry chef Cédric Perret executes a creamy and crunchy illusion dessert made of mascarpone, truffle ice-cream and custard…
It’s a comforting, refined cuisine with bold pairings sticking to the “From Terroir on the plate” concept. The chef greets guests pushing a presentation trolley with truffles on display ranked by weight and prices. They can touch and smell one before it’s cooked or grated. Putting the silver platter aside, guests feel as if they were in nearby Richerendes, the largest truffle market in Europe.
It all started in 2013 when he saw a dog running, sniffing oak leaves, scratching the ground to dig up an 800g Tuber Melanosporum, queen of all truffles. “I was like an 8-year-old boy participating in a treasure hunt”!
Listening to Julien Allano talking about truffle-growing, you may think he was born here. “I can tell you from which terroir a truffle comes by observing the earth around it. Lime, dense soil, give more subtle aromas than draining soils”. The chef has learned a lot from local suppliers during truffle hunts which have become a monthly ritual. “It’s a lot of fun, very friendly and they usually end with a glass of local white Viognier wine, the perfect match to truffle dishes”.
When winter comes to an end, he confesses feeling quite nostalgic about the prospect of having to wait a year before hunting, cooking and eating truffles again. “Grief does not last long as I project myself into the next season which brings new tastes and flavors”.
Building special relationships with local producers, translating their stories in the language of gastronomy is what keeps Allano going, whether it’s the baker who provides a single variety of bread made with cereals he cultivates and mills himself, or the asparagus farmer whose production comes from an unheated greenhouse to protect crops from bending. “That’s my definition of luxury,” Allano says. His eyes start glowing when asked about delicatessen small potatoes served in earthen pots. “Some people are stunned but that’s the way they grow and are delivered. My nurseryman plants, turns, sorts potatoes one by one like flowers”.
Throughout the year, it’s these suppliers and mother nature that make up the menu. If there are only 40 pigeons in a week, the chef calls one of his farmers to see whether he can get 30 additional poultries. “Wolf fish are often completed by red mullets, all depending on the last fishing. That’s part of our market cuisine concept.”
The chef intends to go further by removing dishes made with products or animals which do not grow or live in the area. “What’s the point of offering Foie Gras duck, beef or scallops here?”
In Julien Allano’s case, this back-to-basics approach to cuisine is not because it’s trendy, it’s a personal belief. The self-made down-to-earth chef inherited his love for nature from his mother who had her own vegetable garden. When he was younger, he even contemplated working as a forest ranger. We are happy he chose to be a chef instead.
Le Clair de La Plume (one-star Michelin restaurant)
Address: LE CLAIR DE PLUME, 2 place du mail , Grignan, Provence, France
The article was reproduced with permission from hi-europe.net.