You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients. ~ Julia Child
Sat down for a chat with French pastry chef Thierry Marceaux this past week at Le Rendezvous, the Las Cruces bistro-bakery he owns and operates with wife, Jung-Sook. Actually, I was there with several students of “The Sweet Side of French Cuisine,” a course I taught at Doña Ana Community College this fall.
Our visit marked the fifth and final session of the course, which focused on the history of French dessert pastries. Chef Marceaux had agreed to answer our many questions about how he goes about doing what he does so well.
He did not disappoint or make us wait for the highlights.
The secret to making good French pastry is working with the finest and freshest ingredients.
I know, you were expecting maybe something obscure and almost impossible to attain. But there it is.
To that end, Chef Marceaux outsources a number of pantry items, including preserves and jams, to suppliers in Switzerland. Sure, the cost of importing is more than what you’d pay for similar local products, but you can taste the difference. No, really, you can.
And when Jung-Sook set this assortment of petits fours at our table, we did just that.
Kimberly immediately noted the “fresher flavor” of the raspberry preserves in the tartlet she sampled. I enjoyed how the taste of the lemon curd in one of my tartlets seemed to burst on my tongue, so smooth and sweet. The berries in the blueberry tart, my current favorite, were as bouncy as they ought to be. Here’s a photo of my plate, a fuller view of the image at the top of this post:
Every bite reminded me of the value ~ and pleasure ~ in treating myself and the people I love to the finest ingredients. “Finest” also means the “freshest” or “freshest tasting” ingredients.
Attention to and respect for seasonality, Chef Marceaux insisted, is key in preparing delicious pastries. Because no one wants to eat “strawberries that taste like cucumbers.”
Or strawberries that have no discernible taste at all, like too many of the tomatoes you find at the supermarket.
Most practical takeaway: Make the effort to buy the best-tasting fruit in season and save it for use later on. You can either freeze it or, if you have the time and the passion for it, can it. (I don’t have this passion, but that doesn’t mean canning is not a good idea.)
Blueberries, for example, freeze wonderfully. So if you love blueberries as much as I do, buy vats of them at your local farmers market at the height of the season and freeze them until the time comes to create seasonally delicious fruit tarts, smoothies, and even parfaits.
What could be fresher ~ and French-er ~ than that?
What are some of your strategies for eating as fresh as possible?