I did a three-week stage at Septime in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris during the second semester of my third year of law school.
Imagine this: girl studying European Law during a semester abroad at Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas has a 28-euro, three-course lunch and realizes that she’s doing it all wrong. She’s more interested in learning how to make a duck breast so crisp and perfectly salted on the outside and so juicy inside, than learning EU Competition law. Something clicks inside of her and she decides that she needs to become one of those navy-apron clad cooks in the tiny, open kitchen, n’importe quoi that her professional cooking experience is limited to a couple ice-cream scooping gigs and a week at an Italian bakery.
That’s the gist of my path to Septime. With the persistence of a law student and the motivation of a girl under the spell of her first real crush, I emailed Chef Bertrand and convinced him to let me do a stage for a few weeks in his neo-bistro, where people are saying he’s democratizing fine french cuisine.
A stage (stah-zhje) isn’t necessarily the time when you learn how to sear the duck breast or how to make the rich sauce that you sopped up with the crust of your sour dough bread. At least not in my experience. My stage at Septime taught me to pay attention to all of the details. You need to taste everything to make sure it’s salted just right; to check if it needs a splash of lemon or vinegar. It’s imperative to wash garden-picked greens three times to ensure that not one diner will feel the grainy sensation of a piece of dirt while eating her first-course. And when you’re preparing herbs or vegetables, each piece should be one bite, no larger, no smaller.
So I was kind of a newb in thinking I could walk into a Michelin-star restaurant in Paris with a conversational level of French and next to no French culinary vocabulary, and jump right into the kitchen. Simple instructions were frequently lost on me. I struggled to understand what size dandelion greens I should select amongst the piles before me. One of my fellow stagiaires, Marie, made no secret of her impatience with my linguistic difficulties. But the sous chef, George, an alum of Alain Passard who would go on to open his own restaurant, noticed me holding back tears after Marie berated me for selecting the wrong size greens again.
“Look, Caitlin, you see the leaf?” and he grabs one leaf and holds it in front of his face.
“Each one must be just enough to fit,” and he opens his mouth and closes it as if popping the leaf inside, “inside the mouth in just one bite. Okay? One bite.”
From there it was easy. Every time I make a salad, for myself or for anyone else, I think of George’s instructions. So maybe you’ll note that every piece of garrotxa cheese on my salad is just large enough for one bite.
Garrotxa is a cheese from Catalunya. Despaña, the Spanophile’s New York City oasis, describes the Garrotxa I bought as follows:
Goat’s Milk / Cataluña / Aged 3 Months
This moist, compact, semi-soft cheese packs a lovely white pepper punch. Woodsy in aroma with mushroom and earthy back notes, it is best when paired with wine and striking a perfect harmony with a clean, crisp Cava…
I would describe it as a medium smelly, assertively goaty cheese, with an earthy zing to it.
This recipe is inspired by the similarly-named plate from Gato, Bobby Flay’s newish Noho restaurant, via the recipe pages of Bon Appetit. Take some time, make sure your dressing is properly salted and all of your ingredients are just one bite. Cocinamos.
- ½ loaf bread, cut into 1-inch pieces (BA says ciabatta but I used a sour dough with olives from Bread Alone)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- crunchy salt, freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons drained prepared horseradish
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 ounces membrillo (quince paste), divided into ¼-inch pieces
- 4 ounces Garrotxa cheese; BA says to finely grate the cheese on a Microplane so that it will spread throughout the salad – I like to leave the cheese in bite-sized pieces
- Baby arugula (for serving)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss bread pieces with 2 Tbsp. olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet to nicely coat; season with crunchy salt and pepper. Spread out in a single layer and bake, tossing halfway through, until bread is golden and crisp on the outside but still chewy inside, 8–10 minutes.
Whisk horseradish, vinegar, mustard, and honey in a large bowl to combine. Whisking constantly, drizzle in vegetable oil, then remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. ** I used pure olive oil because I don’t have any veg oil ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Add arugula to bowl with dressing, drizzle horseradish vinaigrette over, then toss to coat. Taste salad and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Plate a portion of salad on each plate, then divide garrotxa, membrillo and bread among plates.