In this series, columnist Sibylle Eschapasse interviews some of France’s top chefs, the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France.
Currently working as a traveling chef
Years of Experience with French Cuisine:
Maître Cuisinier de France Since:
Sibylle Eschapasse: What does it mean to you to be a Maître Cuisinier de France, a most admired title?
Sylvain Portay: The recognition of my peers and the opportunity to meet and exchange our experiences.
Ms. Eschapasse: Why did you choose to become a chef?
Mr. Portay: I used to often go to restaurants with my parents, and I always liked the atmosphere.
Ms. Eschapasse: If a close friend were to describe your cooking in three words, what would they be?
Mr. Portay: Fresh, flavorful, and simple.
Ms. Eschapasse: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Mr. Portay: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a croupier in a casino, a jeweler, an Egyptologist, or a winemaker. I still envy the people who do these jobs.
Ms. Eschapasse: How would you define French cuisine?
Mr. Portay: French cuisine was codified by Auguste Escoffier, and it’s always changing and adapting to different ways of life.
Ms. Eschapasse: Of France’s many regional cuisines, which do you prefer to cook?
Mr. Portay: Mediterranean cuisine because it focuses on vegetables, fish, and meat with light sauces.
Ms. Eschapasse: Tell us about the recipe you chose.
Mr. Portay: It’s flavorful, with a good balance between the fennel and the acidity of the tapenade. There are only three components, and it’s easy to make.
Sibylle Eschapasse is from Paris and lives in New York City. In addition to working at the United Nations, she contributes to various publications and was the host of “Sibylle’s Top French Chefs,” a series on PIX11’s “Celebrity Taste Makers.” She may be reached at [email protected]
Striped Sea Bass With Fennel and Tapenade
- 5-ounce portion of striped bass filet
For the Tapenade
- 12 ounces pitted Kalamata olives
- 15 basil leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 3 1/2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
For the Fennel
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 baby fennels
- 1 mild red chili
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 dry fennel stick (available in spice stores)
- 2 ounces unsalted butter
Fillet the fish and remove the skin. Trim and cut a 5-ounce portion. Set aside.
For the Tapenade
Place olives, basil leaves, black pepper, and vinegar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to form a paste.
Slowly incorporate the olive oil, pulsing between additions, to form an emulsion. Set aside until ready to use.
For the Fennel
Clean and trim the baby fennel. Cut the chili widthwise into 1/8-inch-wide pieces.
In a small sauté pan over medium, heat the olive oil, then add the baby fennel and the chili pepper. Sweat the vegetables for 3 minutes. Add salt and fresh pepper to taste.
Cover with water, and add the dry fennel stick.
Let cook until tender, checking with the tip of the knife to test the resistance. When the knife goes through, it is cooked.
For the Bass
Heat the oven to 370 F. To the sauté pan with the fennel and the cooking liquid, add the portion of striped bass seasoned with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then place in oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
Reduce the cooking liquid of the fennel and the fish over medium-high until it coats the back of a spoon with a slightly thick consistency.
Remove the fennel stick and add the butter.
Spoon a little of the tapenade onto the serving plate.
Place the fish on top and the baby fennel around.
Pour the sauce around the fish, arranging the chili pepper on the fish, and add a line of tapenade on top of the fish in a diagonal line.
Recipe by Sylvain Portay