EXPAT FRENCH CHEF DISCOVERS THE FLAVORS OF CALIFORNIA OLIVE OIL
Invited to a neighbor’s tasting party in northern California recently, I entered the house through the kitchen to see if I could help in any way. The chef was splashing water onto a tray in the oven which was emitting billows of smoke. She worked quickly, carefully eyeing what she was baking inside the oven. I worried about the smoke alarm going off, but she gestured in that direction and assured me she had turned it off the day she arrived six months ago, declaring “You can’t cook properly in this country!” In a corner of the room, I saw a mise en place clearly meant for an unusual appetizer: Comice pear, avocado, blue cheese and walnut bread. To the side were a few bottles of extra virgin olive oil. I suddenly realized these ingredients were meant for me and knew this was going to be a memorable evening.
Sophie Le Doré, French personal chef, cooking instructor, and author of the book Ce que nous devons savoir sur la pomme de terre (What We Need to Know About the Potato), moved to Palo Alto, California with her husband in 2011 and has already made a big impact in the area. She creates delicious, healthy and well-balanced dishes, always prepared with the freshest seasonal, local and, whenever possible, organic, ingredients from the farmer’s market, and from scratch. Taste is paramount, but it is her focus on presentation that sets Le Doré apart.
“I know we also eat with our eyes, so I pay special attention to the crafting and presentation of all my dishes,” said Le Doré. I could tell from the mix of quality ingredients, though, that she enjoys experimenting with the best ingredients just as much. Like her penchant for liberally using the best olive oils in her menu over the classically preferred French ingredient, butter.
Sophie’s “Fougasse,” home-made bread from southern France, was perfect – crispy on the outside, light in the inside; and served hot, straight out of the oven. Many other dishes – appetizers to dessert – had been prepared for the tasting party, almost all featuring olive oil, one of her very favorite ingredients.
“Everyone knows a good product speaks for itself and it is exactly the case with olive oil. I remember vacations in Italy: just pasta al dente and olive oil, and il mondo è meraviglioso!” she declares. “Since moving to the U.S., I have been pleasantly surprised by so many great Californian Extra Virgin Olive Oils. They have been a great discovery for me!”
Sophie Le Doré’s dishes were all delicious and beautifully presented, but I was most struck by her not-so 'secret ingredient' - a contagious enthusiasm for her craft and joie de vivre. She is also a strong believer in the importance of spending quality time à table to enjoy food and the company of others. The feast, accompanied by Le Doré’s passionate radiance and lively explanations, taught me much about the real ingredients that make the meal. Le Doré may be discovering the wonderful value of domestic olive oil in her kitchen, but she shared an equally important ingredient with me.
In honor of her first Christmas in California, Sophie Le Doré created this recipe for The Olive Oil Source:
Holiday Amuse Bouche
Roasted Sea Scallops, served with black olive tapenade and bacon powder
For the bacon dish:
- 3 slices of organic bacon
For the tapenade dish:
- 12 pitted Kalamata olives
- 1 small clove of garlic
- 6 basil leaves
- 6 unsalted pistachios
- pinch of fleur de sel
- 1 tablespoon of crushed dark, red and white peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon of strong olive oil such as The Olive Oil Source Italian Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil
For the scallops dish:
- 6 large fresh sea scallops
-1 tablespoon mild olive oil such as The Olive Oil Source Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
Preheat the over to 400°.
Place the bacon on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and let cool to room temperature.With a mortar and pestle, crush and grind the bacon into a fine powder and set aside in another bowl.
Put the dark olives, garlic, basil, pistachios and olive oil in your mortar and crush them with the pestle until they are blended into a smooth paste. Taste and add fleur de sel and peppercorn to taste.
Prepare the scallops:
Pat the sea scallops dry on a paper towel. Put some olive oil in a hot pan and cook the sea scallops for about 3 minutes on each side. Add some salted butter in the pan and baste each sea scallop with it.
Arrange the 3 elements of this amuse bouche on small, warmed plates.
Read Sophie Le Doré’s blog and look for more of her recipes at The Olive Oil Source!
And, by the way, she was only kidding about the fire alarm.