One chef, one ingredient: artichokes by Sébastien Prenot

By Source : Relaxnews | Published on March 10, 2014
One chef, one ingredient: artichokes by Sébastien Prenot

Sébastien Prenot has been appointed as head chef at the Café des Concerts, a new restaurant at the Cité de la Musique in Paris. He shares his love of cooking with artichokes.

What led you to choose this ingredient?

Sébastien Prenot : I think this ingredient is representative of French gastronomy, and particularly of Mediterranean cuisine, which has played an important role in my career. It is also a simple ingredient, but one that can be prepared using a variety of different techniques to give it a refined, noble quality. It is also a popular motif in art nouveau, which I am fond of, and it is stunning as a flower!

What is your best kitchen memory associated with this ingredient?

S.P A situation in the kitchen on my first day at 59 rue Poincaré, Alain Ducasse's restaurant:

Chef: You know how to trim and prepare artichokes?

Me: Not very well...

Chef: Do you want to know how to do it correctly and efficiently?

Me: Yes...

Chef: OK, then have a nice afternoon of training with the sous-chef -- there are 50kg to prepare for tonight!!!!!

When is this ingredient in season? 

S.P : Depending on the variety, from January to July. And depending on the region of origin, large artichokes, such as Camus artichokes from Brittany, may be available year round.

What is the best way to prepare this ingredient? Can you share a recipe?

S.P: I can't claim to know the very best way to cook them, but I have learned to take into account the quality and freshness of the product at hand and adapt the ingredients to the context and guests that I am cooking for. Personally, I lean towards simplicity. My wife, who is from Normandy, cooks them whole in a pressure cooker after breaking off the stems by hand, for around 15 min, depending on their size, for the Camus variety. She serves them hot with raw double cream seasoned with finely sliced shallots and chives, in which we dip each leaf of the artichoke.Otherwise, for baby artichokes, when the tough outer parts are thoroughly removed and the inside is sliced into fine rounds, they make a wonderful accompaniment to a few leaves of arugula, seasoned with olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

What other products can be combined with artichokes to delight and surprise the taste buds?

S.P: Truffles are an ideal partner for artichokes, because neither dominates the other and each brings out the other's flavors. Or, a less pricey ingredient that is slightly easier to work with: lemon, in all of its forms (zest, juice, preserved, etc...). It's an excellent match.

What are the most common mistakes made when preparing this ingredient?

S.P: Artichokes are often poorly pared. Either too many of the outer leaves are removed and there is not much left to eat, or not enough are removed and the tough outer fibers are unpleasant to chew. Secondly, they are often not stored correctly: between preparing them and cooking them, it is imperative to place them in water with lemon juice or vinegar to avoid discoloration. After cooking them, it is best to serve them right away or to create preserves, as this is a product that is best eaten fresh. Artichokes do not hold up well in the face of excess: avoid excess cooking, excess seasoning, excess acidity (antioxidant), excess conservation...

Do you offer this ingredient on your current menu? If not, how do you offer it when it is in season?

S.P: Not currently, as this is not the season when the best possible quality artichokes can be found. Otherwise, I generally offer them raw, in thin slices, or as antipasti, cooked and marinated for several days in oil infused with thyme and bay leaf.

What wine (or other alcohol) is best married with this ingredient?

S.P: Depending on the recipe and the other accompanying dishes, generally a dry white wine, but in a more succulent dish (for example, artichokes and truffles) a headier red wine can be appropriate. To accompany an artichoke served with cream, I recommend a Riesling to highlight the acidity and freshness. Or a Tokay Pinot Grigio to add a fruity note.