The next time you eat at Delifrance, you’ll only be a degree removed from a brush with royalty. Michel Roth, the French chef who has created a new menu as part of a consultation deal with the cafe chain, often cooked for Princess Diana at the Ritz Paris Vendome, where she ate her last meal.
“That sad night I did not see her,” he says of the princess, whom he did not meet on the night she died, “but I’m lucky to have met her several times at the Ritz table, she loved and respected good cooking. She had a kindness and a natural benevolence, and was a very beautiful person, very calm, very classy.”
Over 17 years at the storied hotel, Roth guided its L’Espadon restaurant to two Michelin stars, serving his fair share of celebrities, regular Joes and even some high-profile Emirati families.
“Some of the Ritz customers can be very, very ‘creative’, and can have very surprising requests, asking for an incredibly specific dish,” he tells Gulf News tabloid!, explaining that the helicopter was often pressed into service to find ingredients or materials not available in the Paris area. “Anything is possible!”
“One occasion was to fill a request from a client to be able to eat sea urchins (oursins in French), which were out of season. We went looking for them in Brittany by helicopter,” he laughs.
Another time, the whirligig was sent halfway across France to Valence to get some live snails for a prince.
“The concierge sent someone to get five kilos of live snails in specialised escargot de Bourgogne farm, to be able to organise a snail race in a garden, then ending by a snail soup for diner!”
He isn’t saying, of course, whether it’s the tourists from the UAE who are making all the demands.
Thankfully, home customers at Delifrance want more accessible fare, although Roth says he was brought in as a global consultant to create new recipes and introduce new products with a “good gastronomic level and quality presentation”. Roth introduced new dishes at the chain’s Dubai outlets last year, including a handcrafted Roule de volaille aux fruits secs — or chicken breast stuffed with mushroom and dried fruit, the Tartuffon chicken, a croissanwich with truffle sauce, and his own version of the Pain Surprise, a posh French sandwich with gourmet fillings.
While this is his first collaboration in the UAE, he says he’s open to the idea of a restaurant here. “Dubai is such an open window to the world. The city fills you with energy, motivation and ambition for the future. This creates endless possibilities,” he says. At the very least, we could expect Dubai-inspired flavours on future menus. “You know you are in a remarkable place when you leave full of inspiration and motivation to create new culinary recipes.”
The Delifrance collaboration also extends to Milan and Shanghai, and will this year expand into Indonesia, Oman and Philippines.
The biggest challenge with overseeing such a large chain operation, he says, is to create inspiring menus with basic ingredients available in every country — but to ensure the dishes bring punters through the door.
“The hardest thing to get right when it comes to serving the same menu around the world is to make recipes that are duplicable in order to be able to serve them everywhere,” he says, although he does leave local chefs with the freedom to adapt to market tastes.
When he isn’t travelling between the different markets he’s consulting in, Roth spends a lot of his time in Geneva, where he is presently executive chef of the Hotel President Wilson, a favourite with regional visitors each summer. A new book of Swiss recipes for the hotel was published in November in French; an English version is due this spring. In keeping with his love for local produce, Les recettes de Michel Roth au Président Wilson features 80 recipes using ingredients from all over the Alpine nation, from game and fish to cheese. “In the Geneva region, the tradition of authentic and natural local ingredients is still very pronounced. It is a noble way of life that respects ingredients’ quality and origin. You live with your environment,” he says. That’s a philosophy he’s tried to bring to the cookbook.
But where he’s most recently been winning plaudits in his attempt to take fine dining to a wider audience is at France’s train stations, alongside Alain Ducasse, Michel Rostang and Thierry Marx and the French national train company SNCF. In December, Roth opened a bistro at the station in Metz, a town in the La Lorraine region where he was born and raised.
“Expectations are very high,” he agrees. “I need to respect the local values, the tradition of the city [because Metz is not Paris] and bring them the best cuisine possible.”
Yet, he has modernised the region’s culinary favourites, bringing to each dish “different gastronomic touches while keeping the spirit and the origin of the dish.”
That’s something he says he’d like to be part of his legacy. “I’d like to transmit to the new generation of chefs the art of emotion, how to communicate emotions through the kitchen and through food, and how to cook and care for people. And to be recognised for taking French food to new markets abroad.”
Who’s Michel Roth?
Although Roth doesn’t cook at the Ritz Paris Vendome any more, frequent visitors to Paris might recognise him from the one-star Michelin restaurant Lasserre, just off the Champs Elysees. With a focus on produce sourced from around France, it has been at the forefront of the locavore movement, serving caviar from the Sologne region and duck reared by the Burgaud family in Challans.
Plebs might recognise his food from Air France; besides consulting to the F&B industry, he is a fixture on the airline’s business- and first-class culinary team, developing signature dishes for different routes.
One of the most-awarded French chefs, Roth, 58, won the prestigious Bocuse d’Or cooking competition in 1991 (named for Paul Bocuse) and is a knight of the Legion d’honneur.
Get set for an Indian food takeover
Indian food could be the biggest breakout cuisine over the next few years, says French culinary wizard Michel Roth, who was in the UAE recently.
While we’ve seen a wave of regional cuisines break onto the international stage recently, including Mexican and Peruvian, Roth believes in the power of a good curry.
“Indian cuisine is becoming very trendy, and I think this will become the next big cuisine that’s likely to go international, but in a very influential way,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary cuisine to me with lots of potential.”
The subcontinent’s spices are what makes its food so alluring, he says, although he believes the heat will need to be softened for European audiences. “From coriander and the various spice aromas to marinated meats and slow-cooked curries, there’s a wide variety of dishes that the Indian cuisine offers — whether savoury or sweet. There’s a very deep gastronomic culture in India.”
His own favourite, then? Coconut milk curry and rice cooked with cardamom.
Le Pain Surprise recipe
Layered sandwiches for parties and picnics
• 70g canned tuna, flaked
• Half tsp parsley, chopped
• 30g shallots, chopped
• 1 tsp lemon juice
• 4 tsp butter
• 4 tsp mayonnaise
• 50g tomato, sliced
• 35g Romaine lettuce, chopped
• 35g Mixed salad
• 3-6 slices brown bread, toasted
Turkey ham and dried fruits cream
• 45g Turkey ham, diced
• 30g onion chutney
• 4 tsp butter
• 20g cream cheese
• 30g mixed dry fruits and nuts
• 20g old-style grain mustard
• 35g mixed salad
• 3-6 slices white bread, toasted
• 70g smoked salmon
• 30g shallots, chopped
• 1 tsp yuzu juice (or lemon juice)
• 1 egg, grated and hard-boiled
• 30g cucumber, sliced
• 4 tsp mayonnaise
• 4 tsp mascarpone cheese
• Half tsp dill, chopped
• 3-6 slices tomato bread, toasted
• 35g mixed salad
1. For the tuna cream tartine, mix together all the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste. Take a slice of toasted brown bread and top with the cream. Repeat with the other slices and serve open or closed as desired.
2. For the turkey ham and dried fruits cream, mix together the ingredients in a bowl and season as desired. Take a slice of toasted white bread and top with the cream. (Make a variation using the same ingredients, but swapping the onion chutney for caramelised onions.) Repeat with the other slices.
3. For the salmon cream sandwich, in a bowl mix together the shallots, yuzu juice, egg, cucumber, mayonnaise, mascarpone and dill. Season as desired. Take a slice of toasted tomato bread and spread with cream. Top with smoked salmon. Repeat with the other slices and garnish as desired.
4. When all the layers have been placed cut into quarters and place on a plate.