We were lucky to be invited to the Four Seasons at the First Residence's Strada restaurant, where executive chef Erwan Laurenceau spilled his culinary secrets...
When Erwan Laurenceau came to Cairo 11 years ago, he intended to only stay for a couple of years. One marriage, one daughter and one hell of a career later, his is one of Cairo's go to addresses for an outstanding culinary experience. This week, we had the chance to watch him cook at the Four Seasons Hotel at the First Residence and indulged in his talent when we got to taste his creations after. We have accumulated the biggest lessons we have learned from Strada's executive chef, and we're about to share some of his secrets.
Laurenceau started off with demonstrating how to prepare scallops and, most importantly, present them. "Cooking is a question of what you want to do," he explains, "every day is different." And so he doesn't just adapt his cooking to his mood but to the diner's eye. To him, the plate is a canvas. After cooking his scallops he presents them on a glass platter on top of a piece of solid ice. As he pours water on the ice underneath the plate, the ice starts fuming, laying the scallops on a bed of warm fog. Needless to say, his presentation of his extraordinary plate is right up there with the taste of it. "I cook scallops on one side only so one side is crunchy, the other one remains soft and smooth," he says, adding them to a bed of pea puree and asparagus.
While preparing a beef mignon, the Frenchman shares private stories. "My mother has never tasted my cooking," he says while whisking his sauce. "Whenever I am home, I have to have her food!" He never planned to stay in Egypt, initially planing to return to the States where he had lived previously. The war in Iraq ended his US visa approval and brought him to the streets of Heliopolis where he met his now-wife. He considers Egyptian food heavy, however, enjoys playing around with ingredients. The other day he made Eggs Benedict with Ta3ameya and Basterma. "You have to get to know your locally sourced produce and get creative," he tells us.
For his sauce he uses beef stock but no flour. He tells us he can make much more sauce using flour, however, it is absent from his kitchen unless he's preparing pastry. Flour assumes taste therefore Laurenceau despises it. "I don't want quantity, I want flavour," Laurenceau says while his assistant adds two bowls of butter to the table. As the audience gasps, Laurenceau tells us how much he loves butter. Some prefer to use olive oil but for him it is all about the butter. For his mashed potatoes he uses 400 grams of butter per kilogram of potatoes. The result is astonishing though, as the carrot and potato mash melts in our mouths.
While Laurenceau retreats to the kitchen to prepare our lunch, his associate Benoit takes over, demonstrating how to prepare the restaurant's signature dessert Strada Susie. Strada Susie is a mix of chocolate mousse, fresh cream, mixed berries and a dark chocolate fondant cake. Benoit tells us to always use eggs at room temperature because cold eggs don't mix well with butter. Again, Laurenceau's favourite ingredient makes an appearance and creates a beautifully moist chocolate cake. Presented with a coloured crumble this taste explosion made a perfect conclusion for lunch that is served in the beautiful dining hall of Strada.
Unable to move from the delicious taste explosion, the Four Seasons at the First Residence offered us some complimentary coffee which was very hard to drink at that point. The tasty glory of Laurenceau's scallops, beef mignon and Strada Susie had filled our bellies. Good thing the Four Seasons has a gym...