Collaborations are opportunities to exchange knowledge, to widen one’s view and to share the limelight. While creative collaborations usually involve contrasting styles and backgrounds, a partnership between two of the most prominent French chefs in the country can only mean one thing—a meal that’s truly one for the books.
It was an honor to be invited to the Four-Hands Dinner by Dusit Thani Manila for this one-off event. I actually already begged off when Shariza Relova, Dusit’s director for marketing and communications, sent a message as I was scheduled to go out of town that day. But realizing that I would miss a chance at experiencing the best French food in the country, I had to make scheduling adjustments. If it meant driving in the middle of the night, I knew it would be worth it.
Four-hands, six-hands, eight…these dinners simply vary depending on how many chefs are collaborating. For the meal at Dusit Thani Manila, Master Chef Cyrille Soenen of Dusit Hospitality Management College and dusitD2 the Fort cooked with Chef Sébastien Charretier of Institut Paul Bocuse. The two Frenchmen lived up to the their reputation and produced one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. Of course, a French meal would be incomplete without fine wine and AWC Philippines made sure each course had the perfect wine pairing.
The dinner started off with oysters, plump and briny, complimented by decadent medallions of foie gras. The juicy oysters had the thinnest layer of aspic surrounding them, making them glisten against the black plate and keeping them perfectly round. Little pear “pearls” provided the crunch and sweetness.
Our next course was soup, a prawn “Bouillabaisse” with sea urchin flan. If this course didn’t have the taste of the sea, I don’t know what does. The soup was a departure from the traditional Provençal fish stew I know. What we enjoyed was more of a bisque in appearance and consistency, but packed with prawn essence all the same. Some caviar provided little pops of salt, breaking the monotony of the creamy soup and flan.
The seafood theme continued to the next dish, something in between a fish course and a second soup. Tender scallops were topped with a broiled hazelnut and herb paste, suspended above the squash velvet and hazelnut foam. Raise the scallops from the sauce was a hazelnut shortbread. The pairing of scallops and hazelnuts is a classic, often simply seared and doused with beurre noisette (browned butter) with some toasted hazelnuts thrown in for good measure. Nuttiness and sweet scallops, a classic combo, was given a new spin by Chef Sébastien.
The main course, inspired by Paul Bocuse, a legend in French cuisine, was the night’s best dish in my view. The Pigeon en Croûte, or pigeon in crust, is a Paul Bocuse signature dish. Done by Master Chef Cyrille Soenen, the impeccably prepared dish was the best I’ve had in years. Similar to a Beef Wellington, the gamey pigeon breasts were done to blushing pink, topped with foie gras and enveloped in buttery pastry. Earthy mushroom duxelle complimented the gamey bird and the creamy, sweet mineral taste of rich liver. I was nodding and shaking my head with each bite, trying to recall the last time I had something that good. You don’t get the title Maîtres Cuisiniers de France (Master Chefs of France) for nothing and Chef Cyrille’s dish exemplified his genius.
To end, we had a cheese course and Chef Cyrilles famous Kouign Amann, a sweet puff pastry that’s equally flaky and chewy. How he achieved both textures, again, is why he is regarded as a master chef. Honestly, I didn’t get to enjoy the courses after the pigeon too much. I was too caught up with how good that pigeon was to appreciate the cheese and sweets.
It was truly a meal to remember, especially with Dusit Thani General Manager Stanley Lo, ever the gracious host, seated beside me. In between bites, we chatted about the wines (of which he is an expert and I know nothing about), and golf (which we’re both fanatics of). Great food, great company and a dish I’ll be dreaming about for years to come. Not a bad way to spend an evening, if you ask me.