French and Bulgarian kitchen hopping

By Tamlyn Martin

It’s no secret that most cultures are passionate about their food but after my  2 months extensive research on this front I’m happy to confuses  that I’m totally blown away by French cooking … I’ve always loved French food and Cordon Blue and gourmet French cooking as a young person – what a treat to find myself working side by side with French Chef Simon Dague who trained with Michel Guérard, three Michelin stars, at Eugénie-les-Bains. Simon has such a cool intuitive way with flavours. “I often visit really fine restaurants and it’s like doing a workshop for me, trying to imagine how the chefs created the food “… “I never create the same recipe the same twice there I are always subtle variations that make everything new and fresh – poetry in motion “… Simon’s chocolate and pear tart comes with a warning – you might not be able to stop yourself from indulging!  

Tarte poire chocolat / Chocolate and pear tart 
for 6/8 people

  • 1 sanded paste  / shortbread dough
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 20cl milk
  • 150g cream
  • 3 spoon of honey or pear syrup
  • 20g butter
  • 4 pears in syrup
  • Almond and sesame seeds
  • A beautiful Bulgarian dancer to help you

Use the oven at 180 degree, cook the dough during 10min,

Melt the chocolate in bain-marie, when it’s melted add the butter, cream and milk, cook it slowly for a few minutes still in the bain-marie, add the honey or the syrup at the end. Turn off the fire but keep it warm. Mix the almond to make them smaller, Roast them in a pan, roast the sesame too. Don’t burn them, just grill them. Put the chocolate ganache on the dough. Put all the pears in slice on the tart, add the almond and sesame seeds.
Put it in the fridge for 2 hours, Bon Appetit! 

Nota bene: If you don’t have a sexy Bulgarian dancer to help you in the kitchen, sorry for you.

Simon also loves working with wonderful fresh organic produce and during the projects we became really great friends with the most amazing young farmer – I’ve never tasted such beautiful tomatoes, beets, aubergine, herbs, zucchini… all just needing very minimal flavouring – the tomatoes we just chopped into wedges and drizzled with hood olive oil, salt crystals, fresh chopped Basil flowers and a splash of good balsamic. But Simon also tossed veg in a wonderful coating see below and either baked or flash fried the veg in lovely oil / peanut / sunflower – the huge crisp aubergine wedges tasted like veggie steaks! …. 

Aubergine au Paprika fumée / Fried Aubergine with smoked paprika 
for 6 people

  • 5/6 Aubergine
  • 100g flour
  • 2 tsp of oregano or thyme
  • 2 tsp of smoked paprika
  • salt and black pepper

Cut every aubergine in 6 pieces (in the length), in a big bowl add the flour, herbs and paprika, mix them several time and be sure that every piece are covered. Fried them, add the salt and pepper

Nota bene: You can keep the extra spicy mix to re-use it another time – you can also do the same with zucchini- peppers – potatoes- beets

Simon also made the most beautiful dressings for the hundreds of salads we made – this one is great for a dip – a sauce on breads or with some roasted veg or as a dressing … 

Sauce tartar 
for 6 people

  • 250g Homemade mayonnaise (egg yolk, mustard, arachide oil)
  • 2 charlotte or 1 red onion
  • 1 spoon of cider vinegar
  • herbs: tarragon, Persil, chives, chervil, or dill 
  • salt and black pepper

Prepare the mayonnaise, finely chisel the herbs and the charlotte, add them to the mayonnaise with a bit of vinegar, salt and pepper

Our other master chef was Nikolay from Bulgaria, and he made the most beautiful cold soups with thick creamy Bulgarian yogurt and just the most perfect seasonings… He also made lovely tangy dressings for his amazing salads using couscous, Bulgar wheat and polenta often.  My favourite was his plump vegan burger patties made from either beans or lentils. Big flavours with kilos of chopped fennel & dill – I’ve never seen someone use so much fresh garlic… he soaks whole heads of garlic  – blends them whole without peeling – then strains out the fibre… he cooks to loud beautiful music dancing, mixing his dishes with his hands, hates peeling anything and thinks metallic knives and forks mess with the flavour of food… and he uses litres of olive oil and lots of lemon… here is his recipe for one of his cold soups… I had to laugh!!! 
‘The recipe for the cold soup is cucumber, garlic, fennel, yogurt, water and salt.  ‘… I’m adding lots of garlic, fennel, cucumber as a suggestion – ha ha! Oh, and a big splash of fresh lemon or lime juice!

Finally, my very favourite Bulgarian delicacy that is also one of Nikolay’s favourites. Basics is a breakfast food eaten semi warm with a drink of salty watered down Bulgaria yogurt… that’s cold… Bulgarians don’t do sugary sweet breakfast! It’s really the most Beautiful type of tart and you can eat it with lovely fresh salads too… this is Nikolay’s recipe… ‘Oh the banica, ok, the recipe is yogurt, eggs, cheese and banica crusts” 

Let me explain… you butter a baking dish and layer with filo pastry – butter dollops – thick creamy yogurt – cheese ( we used world famous Cantal cheese – a good feta / cheddar or Greer cheese would work ) – sprinkle each layer with some salt crystals – make at least 4 layers – then beat 4-6 good quality farm eggs with a cup of yogurt and drizzle over the top with some dollops of salty butter – bake at 180 till golden and set – leave to cool for 20 mins – needs to be warm not hot ! You can add herds and onion and flavoured cheese – blue cheese with figs and onion could be Devine (don’t tell Nikolay I told you this) ha ha… please send some pix to me if you make any of these so I can let my kitchen comrades know!