The Napa Truffle Festival’s spectacular lineup of guest Michelin Star/Master Chefs for 2019 include Marc Lanteri of Ristorante Marc Lanteri, Cuneo, IT; Molly Nickerson of Marea, Chicago, IL; and Laurent Quenioux of Bistro LQ, Los Angeles, CA.
Why are these famous chefs participating in a truffle festival? We asked them to share their truffle stories and culinary passions. And you can hear more truffle chef talk with Foodie Chap Liam Mayclem at the Dig Truffles? A Foodie’s In-Depth Guide to Truffles experience on Saturday.
1. What is your first memory of eating and/or cooking with fresh black truffles?
- Marc Lanteri (ML) – I am most impressed by a memory from the La Bonne Auberge, Antibes France where I worked in 1990 with chefs Philippe and Jo Rostang. We made Ravioles du Royans, a small postage stamp size fresh egg pasta filled with farmers cheese, fresh parsley and organic egg sauced in alpine butter with abundant black truffle shavings.
- Molly Nickerson (MN) – My first experience eating and cooking with black truffles was at my first job out of culinary school. It was a little French bistro that made black truffle mac and cheese, and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. I’ve been lucky enough since then to be exposed to some pretty amazing truffle dishes.
- Laurent Quenioux (LQ) – Well, I am blessed that my godfather is from the Périgord region in a small town called Alles sur Dordogne. He was the owner of Le Château de Lasfond (now Le Treillac) where we would spend our winter holidays. The village is a few miles from Le Bugues, which is quite well known for black truffles, so I was exposed to them at the early age of six years old. We used to fish crayfish, harvest morels and pick truffles up right there on the property. At 5am, my godfather would throw whole black truffles into the ashes of the chimney with chitlin sausage. Then he would walk the dogs and upon his return, the truffles and sausages were ready. That was our breakfast!
2. Why do you like cooking with truffles?
- ML – The mystery that surrounds truffles makes it an exotic and foreign ingredient for gastronauts and chefs alike. Their origin, the hunt required to harvest them and their use in culinary preparations adds to their unique aromas capable of enriching the most simple authentic dishes.
- MN – When paired with simple and familiar ingredients, like butter, parmigiano, creamy risottos and pastas, the incredible fragrance of the truffle is perfectly balanced by the rich ingredients.
- LQ – The fragrance of fresh truffles is so unique and ‘enivrant’ (intoxicating), like alcohol on your brain. Also, the elegance of truffles! Black food stands out on a dish (we have so little black food available). Then there’s the magic of knowing that this is a very unique ingredient that over the years has become very much more democratic, but in the 18th through the 20th centuries, it was considered a special ingredient. The pungent aroma of black truffles has many memories for me.
3. How would you describe the flavor/aroma of truffles?
- ML – Forrest floor, humus, garden soil, dark cacao, hazelnuts, coffee…also, the top of my son’s head after playing in the grass and the place at the nape of my wife’s neck after dinner service…truffles are living, seductive and pleasant.
- MN – Black truffles have an intoxicating and earthy aroma that is softened and perfected when matched with the right ingredient.
- LQ – There are psycho-sociological and cultural factors at play in the perception of aromas. Psycho-sociological because the context of the degustation is fundamental. To get a first time gustative positive experience of the truffle aroma, you need a favorable context – like trying truffles for the first time with wines, which will make it an even more positive experience. And culturally, I personally love the earthy, acidic, rustic aroma of truffles that, as it’s eaten, takes on woodsy, vanilla notes that trigger the brain to make you want more.
4. How do you describe what a truffle looks like?
- ML – A fallen star, a meteorite!
- MN – Dark, dusty and misshapen, almost rock like.
- LQ –Truffles are on their own turf, it looks like a truffle (lol!!). Nothing equals that look, but maybe a moon rock, or a deep black sunchoke.
5. What is your favorite truffle dish?
- ML – Pheasant terrine with black truffles on warm levain toast is my very favorite.
- MN – Soft scrambled eggs with shaved truffles is probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
- LQ – For me, the simpler the better! My three favorites are: #1 – cooked in ashes and eaten with Sel de Guerande, #2 – shaved over beautiful scrambled eggs with a tablespoon of salted Bordier butter, and #3 – with braised veal feet and ginger. Whatever makes the truffle sing on its own!
6. How would you entice someone who has never tasted truffles before to try them?
- ML – I would invite my guest to discover the truffle with their sense of touch and smell, removing the preconceptions of sight, and then have them taste the shavings raw and unaccompanied. Heat is required to release the unique aromas and flavors leading to the creation of an unforgettable trtuffle memory, so I would then entice them to taste my fresh egg pasta filled with Raschera dop from alpine meadows made in the Cuneo province of Piedmont.
- MN – Honestly, you really only need to put a truffle to someone’s nose to get them interested.
- LQ – In this day and age if you use the lure of aphrodisiac you will win! However, I think the complexity and the genuine taste is totally worth giving them a try them for the first time. That funky smell and taste is so intoxicating – woods, the earth, the vanilla…and the addiction!
Throughout the festival weekend, you’ll have many opportunities to meet these culinary wizards, along with Host Chef Ken Frank of La Toque, as they discuss, demonstrate and prepare astounding truffle dishes for you to feast upon for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Don’t miss the Chefs Talk Truffles with Foodie Chap Liam Mayclem at the Dig Truffles? A Foodie’s In-Depth Guide to Truffles experience on Saturday.