As you read this, a prestigious culinary competition is underway in Strasbourg, France. Its head judge is the most Michelin starred chef in the world, Joel Robuchon. And this year, for the first time, there’s a team from North America vying for ‘La Trophée des Frères Haeberlin’. A team from New York, think you? From San Francisco? Nope. From Chelsea, Quebec.
L’Orée du Bois is “le seul outsider”. Chef-owner Jean-Claude Chartrand gets a laugh as he describes his restaurant’s participation, but it’s pretty clear he’s giddy with excitement and pride. With good reason — it’s quite an undertaking to apply for the competition and an honour to be invited.
Last Tuesday, a group of fans and friends and food writers, along with experts in dining room service (retired Le Baccara maitre d’hotel Jean-Pierre Barbe was among us), had been invited to L’Orée du Bois for lunch. It was a practice run-through of the menu the competition had imposed: baron d’agneau d’Alsace, pommes Anna, vegetable “oubliés”. Our job was to offer constructive criticism of the three elements of restauration the competition judges: the food, wine pairings, as well as dining room and wine service.
Helmed by Chartrand, the team now carving the lamb in France includes sommelier Gabriel Duchaine and maître d’hôtel Yannick Allard.
If the lamb is as glorious as it was for us last week — slow-roasted with aromatics in a clay coffin stamped with the restaurant’s crest — they’ll be in fine shape. I do hope, though, they’ve been practicing the near-forgotten art of French table service. This past Tuesday, that part was a bit wobbly and Monsieur Barbe was all over poor Allard as he maneuvered vegetables from platter to plate with fork and spoon and shaky hands. Today, he does that for the likes of Robuchon. Gulp.
Still, they are there to learn. And as Chartrand reminded us: “nous sommes les outsiders.”