Paris for Umami Lovers

January 2008

Mr. Barbot lends Ms. Nagae a hand in the kitchen

  • Report on the Umami Seminar, organised by the European Committee for Umami and The Ecole Ferrandi in Paris, on 28 January 2008.
    World-renowned both for its exceptional continental-style beauty and its culinary traditions, there could hardly be a better place for an umami seminar than gay Paris. Indeed, with the burgeoning prevalence of collaborations between those involved with French and Japanese cuisine, it seems that the time was also right. With the participation of reputed French chefs, an umami seminar, co-organized by Ecole Ferrandi and the European Committee for Umami and supported by the UIC, was held in the Ecole Gregoire-Ferrandi school on Monday 28 th January.


    The Heart of Culinary Paris


    The Ecole Gregoire-Ferrandi in the heart of Paris was created in 1920. While The Ecole Gregoire is specialised in craft-related industries, The Ecole Ferrandi, where the seminar was held, is a reputed culinary school with prestigious teachers and a diverse student body encompassing post-graduates, professionals, foreign students and those as young as 13-year olds. The seminar was attended by 52 people, consisting mainly of culinary students from The Ecole Ferrandi, chefs associated with the school, and culinary journalists from Paris. The event had a comfortable, intimate feel, and participants were very eager to get involved, engaging in lively discussion, asking plenty of questions and showing great enthusiasm towards the well-known chefs in attendance.


    A Palate for Umami


    The first event on the programme, which was commented and managed by Ms. Yumiko Aihara, was a speech given by Professor France Bellisle, Director of Research at the Research Centre for Human Nutrition at Paris 13 University. Having explained the basic concept of umami and preliminary scientific information about free glutamate and its natural occurrence in foodstuffs such as tomatoes and parmesan, Dr. Bellisle went on to discuss her own research relating to the role of glutamate in human taste experience, in particular her studies into its sodium-reducing effects and use for enhancing the palatability of food for the elderly. Her talk was met with a lively response from the audience, and many questions were asked in order to clarify the role of umami in flavour enhancement. There was also a question about the link between freely occurring glutamate and CRS (Chinese Restaurant Syndrome), to which Dr. Bellisle responded that CRS was never linked to glutamate in clinical studies, and that she had never encountered the syndrome in any of her own work.


    Taste to Believe

    In order to relate what they'd just heard about umami to the actual taste sensation, the attendees were presented with samples of umami rich food and drink to taste, such as green tea, kombu and dashi stock, and encouraged to try to experience the sensation of umami for the first time. Ms. Aihara gave an explanation of the ingredients which make up dashi stock. One student who had attended commented that he had never heard of umami before the seminar, but that through tasting the dashi, he had been able to understand the sensation which the word umami referred to, and thus the greater significance of its role in cuisine.


    A Shining Star of French Cuisine


    The next speaker was chef Pascal Barbot, owner of the 3 Michelin-starred Paris restaurant l'Astrance which he opened in 2000. Since then, Barbot has grown famous for his minimalist cuisine incorporating premium produce, where all his culinary nous goes into highlighting the very best qualities of ingredients. A veritable celebrity in the culinary world, the audience watched and listened rapt, as Barbot demonstrated two of his culinary creations, speaking as he did so about his relationship with the phenomenon of umami. "I didn't really understand umami when I first heard about it," he said, "but it has come to be extremely important for me in my cooking. Now, when I have a new idea for cooking, I consider the role of umami in optimising and harnessing the flavours involved." It helps when cooking, Barbot explained, to evaluate the umami content of any dish alongside its saltiness, sweetness, spiciness etc.


    Dishing up Umami

    The dishes prepared by Barbot left the seminar attendees in no doubt as to why he had achieved such acclaim as a chef, and the people gathered seemed honoured to have a chance to taste the creations by such a major culinary star. His first recipe was a 'Tartare de Saint-Jacques au bouillon', made from scallops, butter, truffles and the umami-rich bouillon dashi, which incorporated grated ginger and juice of Japanese citrus fruits (sudachi and yuzu). The second dish, 'navet a la pate de noix-parmesan et au fondu de parmesan', was an exquisitely presented plate of turnip with a walnut and parmesan pate and fondue of parmesan, made with eggs, butter and cream.

    Having Your Cake...

    The last speaker in the programme was Ms. Keiko Nagae, head patissier at La Table du Lancaster by Michel Troisgros. Trained and living in Paris, Nagae is of Japanese origin, and has recently rocketed to international acclaim for the creativity and delicate sense of aesthetics that she brings to her sweets, taking part in the prestigious Madrid Fusion event. Those around the world have become fascinated by Nagae's imaginative use of those ingredients usually reserved for savoury dishes, as well as her incorporation of Michel Troisgrois's trademark use of acidic and citrus flavours in all ways imaginable and many which are not. As she prepared her desserts, Nagae spoke of this success in incorporating umami-rich ingredients of both Oriental and Western origin into her sweets, working in a field which is dominated by the use of traditional ingredients like butter, sugar, jam and cream with little progression or innovation. Her original approach to creating mouth-watering desserts was clearly showcased by her 'gateau de lotus a la creme au the vert', a lotus root and green tea cream cake encircled with nor, and 'cappuccino de truffe', with whipped cream and truffles. Mushrooms and seaweed: not exactly standard dessert ingredients, but by the looks on peoples faces as they tasted these exotic creations, Nagae seemed to know how to put umami to good use.

    Delicious Degustation


    Considering all the fantastic culinary creations that had been produced, each one brimming with umami, it will perhaps come as little surprise that the participants were delighted when the event was rounded off with a 'degustation': a tasting session of everything which had been made in the workshop. Also, with the French edition of the UIC's 'Umami The World' book, 'Umami Le Monde', having been distributed at the start of the workshop, the attendees could go home and learn more about umami and its role in taste. After the seminar, the UIC spoke to some participants, who told how they felt that they had developed a solid understanding of what umami was and its culinary relevance, and seemed excited to try incorporating their new-found knowledge into their own dishes from now on.

    Ecole Gregoire-Ferrandi: http://www.egf.ccip.fr/ (French only)

    L'Astrance
    4 rue Beethoven
    75016 Paris

    La Table du Lancaster by Michel Troisgrois
    7 rue de Berri ? Champs Elysees
    75008 Paris
    http://www.hotel-lancaster.fr/

  • Mr. Barbot lends Ms. Nagae a hand in the kitchen

    Participants at the seminar

    Dr. France Bellisle

    Attendees listen to Dr. Bellisle's talk

    Chef Pascal Barbot

    Barbot making his dishes

    Patissier Keiko Nagae

    Participants browsing 'Umami The World'

    Enjoying the 'degustation'

  • Participants at the seminar

    Dr. France Bellisle

    Attendees listen to Dr. Bellisle's talk

    Chef Pascal Barbot

    Barbot making his dishes

    Patissier Keiko Nagae

    Participants browsing 'Umami The World'

    Enjoying the 'degustation'