Truffle cooking class at Le Très Bon with video
There is a very funny story about our discovery of Le Très Bon. Chef Christophe Gregoire and his lovely wife, Josephine, used to run Christophe’s in Manuka, where Soy brought me for my birthday 4 years ago. We really enjoyed the food, and I remember we were completely in love with the velvety fish soup. As we were leaving, we asked Christophe what was in the soup because it was so thick and flavoursome. He ratttled off about 25 ingredients, all the while thinking of the English words for them! We were so glad to have found another little place to go for good food with warm, friendly owners. Then, just as soon as we discovered Christophe’s, we lost them! A new restaurant was set up in its place and we had no idea what happened to Christophe and Josephine. Fast forward to last month, and the Capital Country Truffle Festival. Soy looked up the events that were being held, and told me she really wanted to attend the cooking class offered by Le Très Bon. When I looked up the website, my eyes popped at this:
“Christophe has been in Australia since December 1999, when he and his spouse Josephine established their first restaurant Christophe’s Restaurant in Manuka, Canberra”
We had already decided to book our places in the cooking class, but now we were doubly excited at finding Christophe and Josephine again.
So last weekend, on a typical Canberra winter morning- crisp and sunny, we drove the 30 minutes to Bungendore, just across the NSW border. The restaurant and cooking school is in a lovely weatherboard cottage with a really rustic frontage. You wouldn’t know the amount of space there is inside from looking at the front, though. We walked through the dining area where a log fire was going, to the large, sun-filled room where the cooking classes are held. There were individual stations set up, but we started by gathering around Christophe’s station.
Christophe and Josephine shared their knowledge and experience of French black truffles. What’s really exciting for us in Australia is that Christophe attests to the quality of Australian-grown black truffles. “As good as any you can get in Europe”, he says. And second in flavour only to the Italian white truffles from Alba. Christophe and Josephine are extremely passionate about imparting their knowledge to us- they encouraged us to pass around the humongous truffles, smell and touch them. Usually touching truffles is a huge no-no because the oils from our hands quicken their deterioration. But none of that in this class! We are encouraged to feel how firm the truffle is. We are also extremely lucky to have in our midst that morning, truffle growers from the Canberra region. Keith’s family runs a truffière in Braidwood called Terra Preta, and he has brought along his truffles to our class that morning. (Incidentally Soy purchased some truffle from them at the farmer’s markets the previous weekend!)
That morning, we learn how to make Christophe’s signature truffle crème brulée and truffled chicken à la périgordine. We start with the crème brulée as it needs to bake and set. Here is a video of Christophe making the truffle crème brulée. You can see how relaxed and warm the atmosphere in the class is.
After watching Christophe’s demonstration, we go back to our stations to make our own. We put julienned truffles into each ramekin, and top it up with the lovely cream. The one time I made crème brulée, the recipe was very complicated, and I wasn’t happy with the results. So I am very glad to see that Christophe’s recipe is so simple, and something anyone could really do at home. And this class is all about getting right into it. We handle the truffle and use the specifically-designed truffle cutter to shave paper-thin slivers of truffle for our dishes. And Christophe and Josephine are available to answer any questions, or just give us reassurance that we are on the right track.
After our hard work and seeing our crème brulées safely in the oven, we stop for a glass of champagne, and to celebrate this very special class. Then, it is on to the chicken!
Soy shaves lovely thin slices of truffle…
… to be placed on each piece of chicken. The chicken pieces are then folded over and tied with kitchen string such that the truffle slices sit inside them.
The chicken is then browned in butter. After carrots and onions are sweated off, we add Christophe’s chicken stock and bouquet garni, and leave the sauce to reduce. Christophe’s chicken stock is the thickest, darkest, most fragrant chicken stock I have ever seen. And when someone asks what his secret is to making his chicken stock: “For me, it’s no secret. I like to share everything with people who are interested”. Soy and I learn something important we didn’t know before- chicken stock should only be boiled for an hour, because chicken bones are softer and more delicate that meat bones, which can be boiled for beef stock for 4-5 hours.
We sit down as a group and enjoy a glass of red wine while we wait for our chicken to cook and our sauce to reduce. And we talk about everything from truffles to Christophe and Josephine’s yearly food and wine tour to France. Then, it is time to make the sauce!
Christophe takes out the cooked chicken and sets them aside, then strains the sauce and returns it to the stove to thicken. The final 2 ingredients that make a périgordine sauce are the 2 most famous products from the Périgord region, of course! Foie gras and black truffle! Christophe gets us all to taste the sauce, and if it was good before, it was DIVINE after. The foie gras and truffle added a depth of flavour to the sauce, so that it tasted salty, chicken-y, and robust, but with a roundness that just came full circle in the mouth. I can’t nearly give the sauce enough justice by trying to describe it.
And to show Christophe’s passion and belief in his food, when some members in the class asked if it might be possible to make the sauce without the foie gras (I suspect they felt the process of making foie gras was cruel to the geese- we have all heard horror stories), Christophe’s answer was a simple “No”. “It wouldn’t be périgordine otherwise”. Very good point. I have never been a huuuge fan of foie gras- I don’t mind it, but neither would I go out of my way to have it. But this sauce- oh I would have been happy just having a bowl of that sauce like a soup!
We go back to our station to plate up our chicken! Our group’s sauce has reduced much more than the other groups, but I think I prefer it this way as it is chock full of flavour. We happily distribute all our sauce (the first photo in the post is our group’s completed dish) and then sit down to polish it off! It goes perfectly with the cabernet merlot from Wamboin that Christophe has chosen to go with the chicken.
And then, it is time for dessert! We all have a turn with the blowtorch to caramelise our sugar, then immediately drop a truffle slice on top to release its aroma. This is one of the best crème brulées I’ve had, because of the simplicity of the flavours. The truffle really proved itself as having an affinity with any dish, because it was subtle in this case, and didn’t overpower the vanilla flavour in the cream.
After lunch, Keith answered our questions about truffle growing. Did he have a dog to find the truffles? His family trained a yellow labrador cross to do that, and no, she didn’t eat the truffles- she pawed the ground when she located a truffle, then waited for her reward that was usually a sausage. How did they inoculate the trees? It’s still a closely guarded secret, but there is a lot of science behind it. When will the truffle season end? Late July-early August.
Soy and I are very satisfied from lunch, and felt we could actually appreciate the truffle flavours in the dishes we cooked more than the Hyatt truffle dinner because we felt less overwhelmed by the amount of food. We strongly recommend Christophe and Josephine’s cooking classes as they are so relaxed, and open to sharing their knowledge. The classes also have a very informal feel, and by the time you sit down to lunch, you feel you are doing so with friends. Now that we’ve found them again after so many years, we will definitely be going back to dine at Le Très Bon.
We have been so lucky to get the opportunity to learn particular dishes from chefs who are happy to pass on their expertise. Leave a comment and tell us, what is your ultimate dish that you wish you could learn first hand from a chef?
Le Très Bon Restaurant and Cooking School
40 Malbon Street,
02 6238 0662
Terra Preta Truffles
Peter Marshall 02 4842 2677