For this 53rd edition, the Taittinger – International cooking Prize – chose scallops as this year’s theme. To mark the occasion, we wanted to share this beautiful passage written by the starred chef, Bruno Verjus.
Isle of Yeu. Plage des Corbeaux (Ravens’ Beach). One September morning, I can taste the dawn.
The numbers have spoken. The tidal coefficient is 117. The equinox makes just one promise, night and day shall be of equal length and here I am, fishing from this sandy shore, under the spell of that promise fulfilled…
The day before, a strong sou’wester wind had tossed the waves like blades of grass in an ocean of meadows. The school of wild shells, embedded in the golden sands of Ravens’ Bay, ambushed by the rolling waves and jagged rock. Tirelessly spinning. Armed with a simple tablespoon, I probe from rock to reef. How much effort to extract the precious shells wrapped in bands of emerald algae! Here they are, fickle captives to be extricated from their shrines with dogged patience. The patience of the hedonist above all, body and soul. I break in to rob them of their sweetness. With the back of a spoon, to scoop up this ode to the sea…
The adductor muscle, a small, delicate, milky pearl, quivers with a thousand tremors. In my mouth… again, and again, always. Salty droplets of sea spray on my lips devilishly enhancing the sweet flavour of these scallops. Ode to life, ode to the moment. I relish the vitality of this experience and taste the intensity of life.
At Table, my restaurant, I only serve scallops from November to February. They come exclusively from underwater harvesting off the coast of Saint-Malo. Diving down, the real thing, where the treasure is brought up by hand. Every year, I return to this pilgrimage of the senses, which ends in the perfect circle of the plate. Isn’t beauty, like goodness, sacred?
To preserve the intensity of marine freshness as much as possible, I only serve shells harvested the day before. I open them just a few seconds before serving them to the guest.
The blade of the knife slides down to the bottom of the hollow of the shell, severing the smooth muscle to loosen the striated muscle… Here is the flat side of the bivalve exposed, a small saucer shaped to transport its bite-sized cargo to iodized shores. Cleared of its digestive organs, gills and mantle, the flesh shivers.
A quick rince in seawater, then I season it little and well – quite a philosophy! and yet the simplest, most obvious : a few drops of olive oil or toasted parsley oil – with its hint of vibrant algae -, one or two grains of salt from the Saltworks of Millac located opposite the Isle of Yeu, and the frosted diamond of salt, with an almost peppery taste, shines on the pearly flesh. I sometimes adorn it with black truffle – tuber melanosporum. Then it shakes and the thin slice of truffle slips off to perch on the side. Dishes also have their mischief.
I pay tribute to this pilgrimage, at Table, through the emotion procured by a dish which is a narrative of its journey through the waves.
But bringing this tale of the sea to your ear is quite an art.
Table, 1* Guide Michelin – 3 rue de Prague, 75012 Paris
Text : Bruno Verjus
Illustration : Éric Dabancourt