From Provence with love

By To Nga, Thanh Nien News

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Michellin chef Xavier Mathieu and participants at the cooking class at Sofitel Saigon Hotel on March 21, 2015. Photo: To Nga Michellin chef Xavier Mathieu and participants at the cooking class at Sofitel Saigon Hotel on March 21, 2015. Photo: To Nga
Sofitel Saigon Plaza had a special guest this month. As part of Gout de France festival, Michelin chef Xavier Mathieu visited the hotel from March 17 to 21, giving French food lovers in Ho Chi Minh City a chance to discover legendary Provence flavors.
A cooking class with Mathieu took place on 21 March at Sofitel's L’Olivier Restaurant. Participants joined a "tour de Provence" in spirit by learning how to cook three special dishes: half-cooked scampi tails with fresh apple tartar, roasted sea bass with vanilla and argan oil, and crème brulee with liquorice and coffee ice cream.
Mathieu is from Le Phebus & Spa, a five-star hotel in Provence. Growing up in the region, he spent a lot of time in his grandmother’s kitchen. At a very young age, he started cooking with her.
Now he has been trying to cook the same style that his grandmother did but with a modern touch, smaller portions and less butter. But the taste is the same. 
“It’s difficult not to cook the same because people come to Provence for the traditional local flavors,” said Mathieu.
Speaking of regional variations in a country’s cuisine, Mathieu noted that Provence in France is like Da Lat in Vietnam, where the country’s best markets are located. Provencal cuisine has different products. “We use a lot of olive oil, tomatoes, vegetables and herbs,” he said.
In Mathieu’s cooking class, participants learned to combine many different natural ingredients to make delicious and beautiful Provence dishes. There are a lot of herbs, vegetables, juice, different kinds of nuts and healthy oils for cooking such as hazelnut and argan oils instead of using only butter for frying and making sauces.
The second of the day’s dishes reflected the Provencal spirit very well. Roasted sea bass with vanilla and argan oil, pistachio crumbs and beans from Provence. The taste was just like a wonderful perfume that you can eat.  

Roasted sea bass with vanilla and argan oil, pistachio crumbs and beans from Provence. Photo: To Nga.
Firstly, the sea bass was boned and cut into small pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper. Next, we mixed beans, tomatoes and olives together with argan oil and seasonings. After that, the sea bass was roasted in the pan on low heat, starting with the skin side. Then we placed the skin side up on pistachio crumble. Finally the bean mix was placed under the sea bass, and we simply added vanilla and pour some argan oil on top.
There were around 20 participants at the cooking class, mostly Vietnamese and French. Some of them are regular students at classes quarterly organized by Sofitel Saigon Plaza.
Xavier Mathieu was one of the more than 1,000 chefs from all five continents to join the Gout de France on March 19. The one-day event is an initiative of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to celebrate French cuisine and francophone cultures worldwide. 
 

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