The influence of French cuisine is a worldwide phenomenon and the Newcastle – small but growing – foodie scene is no exception.
Le Petit Deux, the year old replacement to Restaurant Deux, seeks inspiration from the traditional French bistro to create a relaxed and airy atmosphere serving high quality dishes where a contemporary touch is added to well known French fare: a deconstructed salade Nicoise with seared tuna fillet, quail egg, white anchovies, potato and olive dust or for dessert, a caramelised white chocolate parfait served with banana tuile, ‘torched’ banana, honeycomb and framboise.
The words and techniques are definitely French but the Australian climate (both meteorological and cultural) means that the emphasis remains on bright fresh ingredients, a combination of flavours and textures and a high level of experimentation. In other words, French cuisine that isn’t stuck in a rut.
I caught up with Lesley Taylor, owner and head chef of Le Petit Deux, to chat about inspiration, innovation and the essentials of French cooking. And because I asked nicely, Lesley talked me through her very delicious Rosemary Panna Cotta served on a Macadamia and Honey crust so that I could share it with you. Read on…
+Hi Lesley, where does your passion for French cuisine come from and how did you learn?
I started my apprenticeship when I was 16 years old working for French chef Robert Molines in the Hunter Valley. I stayed there for 13 years so I was obviously deeply influenced by all the techniques he passed on to me over the years. I then moved on to Cafe Albion and in my time there, brought the first chef’s hat to Newcastle as well as becoming the first female in the area with a chef’s hat. In 2009, I opened Restaurant Deux which served high quality and high priced French fare. While I enjoyed the gastronomical side, I always wanted to open a bistro type restaurant so I opened Le Petit Deux, which essentially serves the same food but at a much more reasonable price range in a more relaxed setting.
+ What do you enjoy about French cuisine?
It’s rich and honest food. The French use everything and show a great respect for the ingredients. I love to cook with offal because you can create some sensational dishes provided you have a little bit of technique up your sleeve.
+ Do you make a lot of room for innovation and experimentation in your kitchen?
I love classic dishes – boeuf bourguignon, blanquette de veau, coq au vin… – but we try and give them a new presentation or play around with the flavours and textures to make them modern while respecting the essence of the dish. We play with a lot of things in the kitchen: powders, isomalt, gels… At the moment, we are trying to ‘fossilize’ food… The point of all experimentation is to explore the different dimensions food can have: flavour, texture and presentation to create a balanced dish.
+ What are your ‘essential ingredients’?
Definitely butter. We go through about 30kgs a week. We clarify it here and tend to use it to make most sauces – Bearnaise, hollandaise… Good stock is also essential to make a great sauce. For every 4 litres of stock, we get about 1 litre of sauce after reducing it greatly.
+ What do you enjoy cooking at home?
I love cooking at home and cook dinner almost every night. At the moment, we cook a lot of fish or chicken on the barbecue with a nice tomato salad. The other day, I slow-cooked 2 legs of lamb and a bunch of roast vegetables – zucchini, swedes, carrots, pumpkin… – all thrown together into one baking dish. Simple but delicious!
+ You have agreed to share your Rosemary Panna Cotta recipe. What do we need to know to get the best result?
One of the most critical point is to get the gelatine content right. Gelatine leaves are sold in three different strengths: Silver, Gold and Titanium – Silver being the softest and Titanium the firmest. The best way is to weigh the gelatine leaves: Silver weighs 3 grams, Gold weighs 4 grams and Titanium weighs 5 grams. This recipe asks for 12 grams of gelatine so you can either weigh it or if you don’t have such precise scales, then you can use 3 Gold gelatine leaves.
I like to use bottomless cylinders with sides which go straight up (as opposed to dariol moulds which have cantered sides) and line them with acetate. This will make un-molding the Panna Cotta much easier. In fact, you can use any cylindrical shape – toilet paper tubes, paper towels tubes… – as long as you line them with the acetate first.
The other thing is to be patient and to refrigerate between the different steps. First, make sure the macadamia crust is pushed down firmly and let it rest so it hardens a little. When pouring the Panna Cotta mixture, start with a small amount and let it set in the fridge for a little while (20/30 minutes). This will avoid for the mixture to seep out the bottom of your mould when you pour the rest in.
Finally, rosemary has a strong taste so use it accordingly. For 4 or 5 servings, the leaves from 1 or 2 long sprigs of fresh rosemary will give the right balance.
- ROSEMARY PANNA COTTA
- Serves 4
- 680ml cream
- 100g sugar
- 12g gelatine (3 x Gold gelatine leaves)
- 1 or 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 100g macadamia nuts
- 10g honey
METHOD – MACADAMIA CRUST
- Roast macadamia nuts until golden brown.
- When cooled, put in food processor and blend with 1 tbsp honey.
- Press crust into moulds about 2mm thick.
- Rest in fridge.
- Pour a small amount of mixture on crust and allow to set (this will stop the mixture from leaking out of the mould).
- When set, pour in the rest of the mixture.
- When set, carefully un-mould the Panna Cotta and serve with raspberry coulis or red wine syrup.
METHOD – PANNA COTTA CREAM MIXTURE
- Bring rosemary, cream and sugar to the boil.
- Soften gelatine in cold water
- Squeeze out excess water from gelatine and whisk into hot cream mixture
- Whisk rosemary leaves into cream mixture
- Allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes
- Strain out rosemary leaves, pour into moulds and allow to set.
Follow Le Petit Deux on Facebook for opening hours, contact details etc…
Follow The Essential Ingredient on Facebook for links to recipes, articles and news. You can also subscribe to this blog and receive regular updates directly to your email.