American chefs — including from Seattle — make waves in Paris
Ever hear of a French shortstop, or a Gallic quarterback? American chefs in France battle a similarly obscure status. Yet Daniel Rose, one...
Spring restaurant: www.springparis.blogspot.com/
Hidden Kitchen: www.hkmenus.com/reservations.htm
Seattle Times travel staff
PARIS — Ever hear of a French shortstop, or a Gallic quarterback? American chefs in France battle a similarly obscure status. Yet Daniel Rose, one chef-of-the-moment in Paris, is from Chicago. And another place with buzz is run by a pair of recent arrivals from Seattle.
"I'm still washing trash cans," says Rose, whose 16-seat restaurant, Spring, is so tiny that until very recently he'd been the entire kitchen staff, from chef to dishwasher.
Good luck getting a reservation soon: At $50, Spring's four-course tasting meal is a relative bargain here.
Its huge success since opening last October owes much to Rose's French training; he scored his first restaurant job in France with chef Jean-Luc Hourre in Brittany. A Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or "MOF," Hourre is recognized as one of the finest artisans in the country. Watch Rose work in Spring's tiny open kitchen long enough and he'll do things like smell a knife before he uses it to make sure there's no flavor-razing soap residue on it — that's a MOF trick. But plenty of Parisian chefs pay attention to detail. Why has Rose struck a chord?
"I think it's Paris — it's a lonely city," he says, referring to a typical Parisian dining experience. Along with precision, he offers friendly, American-style openness. "People are looking for a connection and (instead), it's 'You're in, you're out — give me your money."'
"It's hard to find places where people are generous," says Rose, speaking of both personality and food. "There's a joy in surprising people and giving them a good deal. It's very satisfying."
A hidden kitchen
Nearby, in a secret restaurant aptly known as the Hidden Kitchen, is a Seattle couple who due to things like laws — have asked not to be identified here. A pair of hard-core American foodies, their beautiful Parisian apartment doubles as the restaurant.
While their operation on the sly, you I'd recommend it to anyone who's willing to look for it.
"Technically, we're a supper club," says the male half of the couple, who does the lion's share of the cooking, "but we ask for a 60-euro donation."
Asked where the ventilation system is, the woman points to the kitchen window. Asked about their restaurant experience, she replies, "None." Then she adds that she was a tour guide at a high-end Seattle chocolate factory.
He, on the other hand, chalked up several years at some wonderful high-end restaurants on both coasts of the United States — but as a bartender. It all sounds ridiculous until the 30-year-old says: "We're making our own ricotta."
"The ricotta (in Paris) sucks," he says, explaining that he's found a place in town to buy raw milk, which, with a bit of buttermilk and some good technique, becomes a ricotta that does not suck.
Gnudi (think: wrapper-free ravioli) are nestled on top of sauteed zucchini and red pepper. The taste is subtle. The gnudi have a delicate pillow-like texture which highlights the raw ricotta flavor.
The Hidden Kitchen's cuisine is a mix of high-end fresh American food and what the French call "market cooking" that relies heavily on food in season that looks good at the market.
"People like the hush-hush underground feel, but you're also inviting people into your home," says the 24-year-old woman who, along with being in charge of the pastry, acts as waitress and the face of the enterprise.
For Parisians and visitors alike, the couple has keyed in on a dinner party-like intimacy that's hard to find in the City of Light.
"It's about meeting people, engaging in conversation," says dinner guest Dennis Kercher, who runs a similar, unrelated setup also called the Hidden Kitchen in Sacramento, CA. "It's also like, 'You're in our home. This is our dog."'
Clients eat up this intimacy.
"Besides," rationalizes Kercher, "there's nothing illegal about having a dinner party."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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