Every five years the fine food provisions firm D’Artagnan has held celebrations to mark their continued success in business, and recently they staged a series of events over a week for their 35th anniversary. The culmination of this for the New Jersey-based company were two sumptuous events held in Manhattan – a lavish feast at the Metropolitan Pavilion, and what is now an annual seasonal cook-off among noteworthy chefs, which took place at the Second Space at the Eventi Hotel on 6th Avenue.
Attendees to the grand party at the Met Pavilion on Saturday February 22nd were encouraged to don festive attire – as most of the D’Artagnan crew themselves did – while enjoying music and the handiwork of some 20-odd chefs representing prominent restaurants of the region; what better way to savor the artisanship of a leading food producer than to have their fare featured in the creations of epicurean professionals? Most chefs and gourmands alike know that the secret of fine cuisine rests in the quality of the ingredients – one need not try to mask or over-season things if one uses the best available components, but simply prepare dishes to allow the inherent freshness and goodness to shine.
Accordingly, the bill of fare on the menu given to guests highlighted the D’Artagnan products each chef used. Chef Justin Bogle of Le Coucou featured Young Rabbit, Chef Andy Knudson of Peasant by Marc Forgione used Ossetra Caviar, Chef Harold Moore of Harold’s used Plains Bison and Chef Richard Farnabe of Francis & Staub Brasserie prepared Grass-Fed Venison. Organic Mushrooms featured in the dish prepared Chef Garrison Price of Il Fiorista, Colorado Lamb was the ingredient of choice for Chef Yuu Shimano of Mifune, Wild Boar featured in the dish by Chef Charly Rodriguez of OCabanon, and Berkshire Pork was prepared by Chef Felipe Donnelley of Colonia Verde.
With the D’Artagnan logo featuring a stylized duck, of course fowl would be central to several chefs’ creations – Chef Ben Vaschetti of Mokum prepared Magret Duck, Chef Danny Brown of Estuary used Coturnix Quail, Chef Jack Logue of The Clocktower prepared Green Circle Heritage Chicken, there was Free-Range Chicken by Chefs Lauren Gustus and Lawrence Duda of Sweet Chick, Chef Pierre Landet of Félix worked with King Breed Squab, and Chef Danila Bogdan of Queensyard prepared Foie Gras. Chef Daniel Boulud of Daniel prepared Milk-Fed Porcelet, Chef Laetitia Rouabah of Benoit cooked Milk-Fed French Veal, Chef Patrick Nollinger of Tender Greens prepared Pastured Beef, Chef Michelle Palazzo of Frenchette used Jean Reno Olive Oil, Chefs Tom Colicchio & Bryan Hunt of Crafted Hospitality featured Black Truffles, and the Grazing Board – including a delectable assortment of patés and the like – was overseen by Charcutier Christophe Gondeau of D’Artagnan and Cortador Fernando Maillo Ferran of Mangalica. Guests were truly spoilt for choice, and it’s unimaginable that anyone left the space hungry or unsatisfied.
Two days later, on Monday, February 24th D’Artagnan hosted the 6th Annual Cassoulet War at the Second Space at the Eventi Hotel on 6th Avenue. Guests voted for their favorite dish, earning the winning chef the ‘People’s Choice’ or ‘Most Popular’ award, while a team of judges determined awards for those chefs they felt created the best cassoulets in two seemingly opposite categories – the ‘Most Authentic’ dish being the one they felt was the most faithful to a traditional preparation, and the ‘Most Daring’ being that which most successfully conceptually re-imagined the essential basis of a cassoulet.
While there is a basic ‘standard’ recipe for cassoulet, with prime ingredients being beans and a variety of game meats, D’Artagnan’s Ariane Daguin notes that “between Toulouse, Castelnaudry, Carcassonne, and Auch, there are different variations” – the nature of the dish itself is the sort of thing that inspires a lot of creative leeway among anyone preparing the dish, professional chefs and amateurs alike. Ingredients for a classic cassoulet would feature 1 pound or so flageolet northern beans (northern or navy beans can substitute), 10 cups of unsalted chicken broth, 3 ounces of salt pork, 2 duck confit legs, 8 ounces of fresh French garlic sausage (such as saucisse de Toulouse or saucisse à l’ail), 4 ounces of boneless pork shoulder or belly, optional pork skin, 3 cloves of garlic and seasonings of nutmeg, pepper and salt.
Some years ago, there was a ‘Provender’s Ball’ at the Puck Building space now taken up by an outdoors clothing retailer, and D’Artagnan was one of the exhibitors. I was among attendees who were in luck that most exhibitors didn’t wish to truck their wares back into storage, and so I walked out with all the basic ingredients of a classic cassoulet; the only thing I didn’t have was a crock pot to cook it in – so I went out and bought one. The great thing about making a cassoulet at home – even if you live alone, as I do – is that it can provide a hearty meal over several days and is not necessarily less enjoyable as leftovers; indeed, if done right the longer cooking time only enhances the melding of the rich meats.
On February 24th a goodly assortment of chefs faced off with their own versions of cassoulet, varying by degrees from the standard traditional recipe, and whatever leftovers there may have been it’s no doubt guests helped themselves to. Appropriately to pair with the assortment of stews were generously poured spirits from the south of Frances, Cahors wines and Armagnac brandy. The winner of the judges’ award for Best Traditional Cassoulet was chef Dieter Samijn of Bar Boulud, and winner of the Most Daring Cassoulet – for fashioning the most successfully adventurous interpretation of the dish – was chef Andy Knudson of restaurant Marc Forgione. The People’s Choice Award – who at the end of the evening had amassed the votes from guests sampling the cooks’ efforts – was chef Laetitia Rouabah of Benoit Bistro.