Feasting on French Classics with Matt Aita of Le Philosophe

Posted on May 26, 2014 11:27 pm

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This guest blog post comes to us from food blogger Layla Khoury-Hanold of Glass of Rosé. Follow her adventures in eating, cooking and drinking on Twitter @glassofrose and Instagram @theglassofrose. 

Chef Matt Aita isn't trying to reivent the wheel, but he is absolutely making tracks. At downtown hotspot Le Philosophe, he takes classic French bistro dishes and adapts them for the modern palate, adding a little citrus here, a little chili pepper there. The resulting menu reflects his classical French training (he knows he wouldn't be where he was without Escoffier) and skills honed under the tutelage of Jean-Georges and Daniel, but the style of cooking is distinctly his own.

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This was apparent from the amuse bouche, a smoked duck breast on toast. It's a classic French hors 'd'oeuvres but Chef Aita adds lemon puree to bring brightness to the dish (a nod to his former mentors) and black garlic puree for a sweet-savory dose of complexity. When you get what a chef is about from one bite of food, I'd say they've made their mark and I'm willing to bet that Chef Aita is destined to join the ranks of one name chefs.

The dishes we learned how to make have a lot of components, but when the end results are this good, it's easier to push past your intimidation. Or if you know what's good for you, booking a reservation at Le Philosophe. All in the name of research and finetuning your cooking skills, right? Here are the courses the whole class enjoyed, along with Chef Aita's ultimate piece of cooking advice. 

Filets of Mackerel Venetian Style

We actually had rouget with this recipe, which is a very Provencal food stuff. It's poached in a court bouillon, a flavored liquid often used for poaching seafood, vegetables and delicate meats. The key to a good court bouillon is acidulation, which comes in the form of a crisp white wine and lemon juice; that, along with water, mirepoix and a smattering of herbs (like fennel seeds, thyme and tarragon) make up the poaching liquid. Pro tip: after the fish is poached, you can keep the broth and use it to cok vegetables, like artichokes or turnips. Here, Chef Aita plates the fish with a bright herb jus (made from steeping herbs like tea) and pickled chilies.

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Asparagus with Various Sauces

There's nothing that says spring more than asparagus, except when they're accompanied by morel vinaigrette. I'd make this dish for that vinaigrette alone - it's earthy, nutty, zesty and bright, all at once, thanks to green Thai chili, lemon zest, Banyuls vinegar (made from sweet wine) and walnut oil. Rounding out the trio of sauces was a sauce Maltaise, a creamy hollandaise flavored with orange, and herb jus. The asparagus was the perfect dipping vehicle and was one of my favorite dishes to eat; if only all vegetables tasted this good.

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Filets de Soles Lady Egmont

Apparently Escoffier named a lot of dishes for people, but no one knew who this Lady Egmont was or why she had this dish named after her. What we do know is that she must've been one elegant dame with expensive taste. Dover sole is a notoriously pricey (but delicious) fish and one that screams refined French fare. For the delicate filets, Chef Aita employed the poaching method again, this time in a fish fumet (a from scratch stock made with fish bones, leeks, fennel and white wine), and plated with asparagus and morels sauteed in chives, lemon and butter (hey, this is still French cooking!). Whoever this Lady was, she made a fine muse.

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Poussin aux Morielles 

Poussin is quite literally a spring chicken. Well, it's technical definition is a young chicken, less than 28 days old before the slaughter. You could substitute a really good chicken here, but the preference is for this exceptionally juicy and delicate bird. Like many chefs, Chef Aita loves ramps, saying, "They're very aromatic. They're intoxicating; they have a smell that draws you in, like truffles." The prized (but fleeting) spring ingredient lent an herbaceous, grassy note to a robust cream, white wine and morel-based sauce, which played perfectly against the crispy skin and tender meat of the oven roasted poussin.

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Basil Blanc Mange

"Don't judge me. I love Fruity Pebbles." Believe it or not, Chef Aita was inspired by his favorite cereal to create this French-style panna cotta. The chilled vanilla custard gets his trademark touch of lightness from lemons and basil, while crushed almonds, ginger crumble, rhubarb-meyer lemon jam and Swiss meringue add textural components. I'm not judging, except to say that I wish I could've had another helping! But, that's another mark of a great chef - they always leave you wanting one more bite.

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And finally, Chef Matt Aita's ultimate piece of cooking advice:

"In cooking you have recipes but it's up to you to make it taste good. It's your experience and your intuition." - Chef Matt Aita




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