"I THINK I'M RUNNING a bit behind preparing the mousse, and the sauce for the chicken," Michel Blanchet says, checking the wall clock in his kitchen. "My guests are arriving at noon."
Blanchet, executive chef of L'Ermitage, worries that his friends may have to wait for lunch. "Perhaps my guests will give me a little help in the kitchen when they arrive. That's one of the good things about having chefs as friends."
Blanchet is not one to accept just any help in his kitchen, even when he's preparing a simple Sunday lunch for a few friends at home. But when Blanchet and Margaret Montoya's guests include chefs Michel Richard (Citrus), Antonio Tomasi (Chianti, Chianti Cucina) and Roy Yamaguchi (385 North), it's difficult to refuse.
The four chefs are soon at work--hollowing out cherry tomatoes, dicing zucchini, chopping peppers. Their wives and friends join in a vigorous kitchen conversation--in English, French, some Italian and a bit of Hungarian--that ranges from international race-car standings to the price of cocktails in the South Pacific. But the talk focuses on two pet topics--children and restaurants. "I suppose in certain ways they're alike," Yamaguchi says, showing a photograph of his daughter. "Kids and restaurants require a lot of time, discipline and love."
At his large commercial stove, Blanchet prepares sweet-pepper sauce for the baked chicken. "Taste this sauce," he insists. "It's only peppers, onions, stock and a little oil. Very light and few calories. You can save room for some mousse."
Blanchet, who was raised in Paulnay, France, a village of 800 near Tours, prefers to call his approach to cooking moderne . "I really don't feel comfortable with the term nouvelle ," Blanchet says. "There seems to be so much nouvelle now-- nouvelle French, Mexican, American, Italian--that it has, in a way, become somewhat old , lost its original meaning. Moderne means updating the best in French cooking."
MARINATED SALMON WITH LIME AND HERBS
18 ounces fresh salmon fillet, partially frozen for ease in slicing
Juice of 3 limes
2 ounces olive oil
1 bunch fresh tarragon, chopped
1 bunch chives, minced
Place about 3 ounces each thinly sliced salmon on 6 chilled appetizer plates. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lime juice, olive oil, tarragon and chives.
Marinate salmon in refrigerator 2 hours. Garnish rim of each plate with half slices of lime. Makes 6 servings.
ROAST BREAST OF CHICKEN WITH SWEET PEPPER SAUCE
1 sweet red pepper
1 green pepper
1 yellow pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
6 chicken breast halves
Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
Heat about 1 inch vegetable oil in skillet. Dip each sweet pepper in hot oil until pepper skin is blistered all over. When they are cool enough to handle, peel off skins. Dice each pepper, keeping separated by color. Reserve one-third of each pepper.
Prepare sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in saucepan. Saute onion until tender. Add remaining diced peppers, red wine vinegar and chicken stock. Boil 15 minutes. Place sauce in blender and blend until very smooth.
Remove bones from each chicken breast. Place in large baking pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bake at 450 degrees 12 to 15 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove skin from chicken breasts.
Cut each breast into 6 or 9 slices, then arrange in circular shape on each of six plates. Pour sauce around chicken. Top each chicken slice with alternating colors of reserved diced peppers. Garnish each plate with Sauteed Potatoes and Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes.
3 large russet potatoes, peeled
cup corn oil
2 tablespoons butter
Shape potatoes into small spheres with melon baller. Wash with cool water and dry. Heat corn oil and butter in skillet until golden brown. Saute potato balls about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
36 cherry tomatoes
1 cup finely chopped zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
teaspoon (or to taste) minced fresh tarragon
Dip tomatoes into boiling water 1 minute, then remove skins. Cut tops off tomatoes and reserve tops. Remove seeds from tomatoes. Saute zucchini in olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper and tarragon. Fill each tomato with sauteed zucchini. Replace tomato tops. Place tomatoes in heavy baking pan and bake at 400 degrees about 10 minutes or until heated through.
POACHED PEACHES WITH RASPBERRY COULIS AND VANILLA MOUSSE
6 large peaches
1 pound fresh or frozen raspberries
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 package unflavored gelatin
1 cup milk
5 egg yolks
1 cup whipped cream
Poach peaches in 2 quarts water mixed with 1 cups sugar for 5 minutes. Let cool. Peel peaches and cut in halves. Remove pits and slice each half into 6 equal parts.
Puree raspberries with 1 cups sugar and lemon juice. Strain through fine sieve to prevent any raspberry seeds from getting into coulis .
Soften gelatin in 2 tablespoons cold water until smooth. In saucepan, combine milk with 6 tablespoons sugar and vanilla. Bring to boil, stirring. Add small amount of mixture to egg yolks, then return to saucepan. Cook slowly until sauce thickens. Add gelatin, whipping well into sauce. Pour sauce into larger bowl. Cool. Fold in whipped cream slowly. Let mousse stand in refrigerator 2 hours.
Divide peach slices on 6 plates, arranging in circular shape. Pour sauce around peaches, then, with pastry bag, shape a dome of vanilla mousse in center. Makes 6 servings.
FOOD STYLED BY STEPHANIE PUDDY