Le Menu de Cannes (Chefs Cook-off)

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This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles, who was just in Cannes during the Film Festival.

Film festivals are becoming prime showcases for chefs. Sundance spawned ChefDance, Berlin birthed Culinary Cinema and now Cannes premieres its Le Menu de Cannes – a cook-off challenge between Gallic flavor and a taste of Russia. The battle was to create a meal befitting Cannes jury president Robert De Niro and his co-jurors .

Chef Damien Duquesne
Chef Damien Duquesne setting a tray of potato gallets to be dried.

The winner was Parisian chef Damien Duquesne of “Les Cook and Roll” (his website boasts more than 40,000 recipes) who prepared the meal for the jury’s first deliberation meeting on May 16th.

At the challenge Duquesne and his Russian counterpart Denis Krupenya, director of Moscow’s Culinary School were given two hours before the four judges could taste the four-course meal and announce the winner.

A light, flavorful meal was designed by Duquesne. For starters, the potato gallette (dipped in a sauce of clay, lactose and squid ink and rolled in pistachio nuts) resembled a pebble and was served resting in a bowl of seashells and pebbles. Aioli for dipping was served in a small accompanying shell. Judges cautiously worked around the real pebbles. The second course offered a lobster-stuffed squash blossom on a bed of caponata.

Potato gallet
Potato gallet rolled in pistachio nuts served in a bowl of seashells and pebbles accompanied by aioli in a shell.

“The jury keeps a busy schedule and I don’t think De Niro would like something too sweet,” Duquesne commented on the mascarpone raspberry dessert accompanied by a fresh basil granita. The main course, fillet of salt cod was pan sauteed then finished in the oven and served floating in a light algae broth with asparagus, artichokes and peas.

Duquesne's lobster
Duquesne's lobster stuffed squash blossom on a bed of caponata.

While the French food and tablescape was all about romance, Russian chef Krupenya chose the abstraction of Kandinsky and Malevich as his inspiration for his traditional dishes. His home-made berry-flavored vodka kicked off the first course – a brillaintly deconstructed Borscht. The painted plate was awash with sauces: tomato, basil, beetroot, carrot and meatsauce. The bread roll was meant not only to soak up the sauces but also to be playful on the plate. “Each guest can create his own art,” mused Krupenya. A chilled strawberry soup blended with fresh basil, champagne and honey followed as a palate cleanser. Tenderloin of beef in red wine chocolate sauce served as the main course and dessert was berry sponge with carrot jam and Russian jelly.

Krupenya's deconstructed Borscht
Krupenya's deconstructed Borscht - a la Kandinsky.

Chicago chef Sandra Suria (one of the four judges) said, “It was a very close call.” Both the chefs excelled in technique, taste and visuals.