Some months ago, I was asked if I'd like to attend a Gü Chocolate Dinner cooked by Gü's head chef (who leads their product development team), Fred Ponnavoy. Of course, I screeched "yes, please" as fast as I could and also suggested my very chocolatey friend Dom to come too.
Until nearer the time, we had no idea what the occasion was, what the format of the meal might be, where it would be held or even how many of us were attending. Even when we found out it would be held at Meghan Farren (Senior Brand Manager and Marketing Controller)'s flat we had no idea what to expect. It was exciting!
The day arrived and Dom and I made our way to a gorgeous penthouse flat in West London.
There, we discovered there would be just six of us sharing the evening – Fred and his sous chef in development, Jerome, Meghan and her husband, Ben and Dom and I.
Güdness Gracious Me!
Meghan and Ben weren't yet home. Fred and Jerome, we quickly learned, had been there all afternoon, prepping and cooking the various elements for the meal!
Of course, our first question was what the evening was about. And we were told about a challenge that Fred has been enjoying with his sous chef. Each came up with some challenge themes for meals they would then design and cook. Previous themes have included meals where everything had to be white, or raw. Hmmm!
When Gü's PR people found out about the chocolate themed meal that was next out of the challenge hat, they suggested asking a couple of bloggers along as guests. And that was that! No big marketing project, no carefully crafted media campaign, just an internal challenge that we lucky two bloggers got a glimpse into for this one fine evening!
Before long, Ben arrived home, shortly followed by Meghan, and she was quickly put to work making the simple but delicious cocktails with which we started our meal. Equal measures of chilled vodka and Crème de Cacao were shaken together and served over baby cacao pods (for decoration).
Cocktails in hand we were invited to enjoy the canapés.
We had foie gras, that had been prepared and preserved by Jerome's mother and kindly donated to our evening.
This was served with toast and an amazing spread made from caramelised shallots, passionfruit and milk chocolate.
There were crunchy balls served on funky spoons – pistachio and hazelnut around a 70% ganache. A liberal pinch of salt meant this hit the perfect balance between sweet and savoury.
How cute are these little cones?
Made from coriander seed, egg white and flour, they were filled with cocoa nibs at the bottom, then white chocolate and wasabi Chantilly cream, followed by a layer of tuna tartar and then topped with a tiny cocoa nib tuile.
Our actual starter, after the generous round of canapés, was a lovely snail salad.
The snails were coated with a chocolate vinaigrette made with 85% Sao Tome chocolate, black rice vinegar, olive oil and seasoning. In the salad were roasted hazelnuts, bacon and mixed leaves and some wonderful pleurote du panicaut mushrooms, with a balsamic dressing.
I had not encountered this mushroom before, though I mistook it for a small cèpe , which it resembles. Its scientific name is Pleurotus eryngii but it's also known as Pleurote du panicaut, Argouane, Kräuter Seitling and Oreille de chardon,
Next up was the wonderful chocolate goulash, or Gü-lash, as Fred and Jerome gigglingly called it! Served with the lightest, fluffiest potato gnocchi I've had, the goulash was mindblowingly good. Really, really, really good. Amazingly good. Suddenly, I regretted eating so much of Jerome's ma's foie gras, the cute cones and nutty ganache balls, that lovely salad (not the mention the enormous lunch I stupidly had earlier in the day). I could barely finish half of my generous portion. If I'd been able to do so without anyone seeing, I'd have scraped the leftovers into my handbag for a midnight snack or breakfast!
The good news is that Fred has shared the recipe (below) and it's one I shall be trying myself soon! In the original, he used dark Venezuelan criollo chocolate and Xocopili (tiny chilli and spiced pearls of chocolate by Valrhona) but he's substituted those with dark chocolate plus the relevant spices, which makes it easier to recreate at home.
If you thought the meal was nearly over, think again. Each time we asked Fred how many courses were left, no matter when we asked during the evening, he'd always answer "two, just two left". The fibber!
Next came a kind of light soufflé of chocolate and whipped egg whites, served with Illy coffee ice-cream (straight out of the ice-cream churner, which lives in Meghan's bedroom, by the way, kinky, no?) and a chocolate sauce. Madagascan, if you're asking. I adore coffee ice-cream so I just loved this!
Not a big dry wine drinker, I'd been steadily working my way through chocolate cocktails during the evening but couldn't help but grin delightedly when this bottle of Saint-Croix-du-Mont was served. This appellation is opposite Sauternes, on the other side of the Garonne river, next to another favourite of mine, Loupiac, yet I had not come across it before; it shares the characteristics of it's more famous neighbours with a wonderful balance of sweet and sharp. The colour was at the yellower end of the spectrum for dessert wines of the region – I don't know if that's a factor of age or simply individual vineyards.
The next pudding was an assembly job and quite a work of art – a modern take on Poire Belle Helene. The pear was poached in beurre noisette (brown butter) and sugar syrup. Over the pear was a layer of cardamom and mascarpone cream. On that were some crunchy caramelised rice crispies. This was topped by a chocolate dome (made from 61% Togo chocolate). Once served, a hot chocolate sauce was poured over the dome to quickly melt it revealing the contents inside.
Next came coffee and petits fours – financiers (made with Peruvian chocolate), mini macarons (made with Ghanian chocolate) and some moulded miniature bars (of Madagascan chocolate). The financiers were the best – moist, delicious and with the solid bite of the chocolate disc on top. For me the macarons had the ratio of shell to filling wrong – too much filling to shell for my tastes. But of course, that's me being picky, they were still very nice!
To cleanse the palate, a final course, and the only one without any chocolate – a granita of grapefruit, sharp and refreshing.
What I needed more than a palate cleanser, was a bovine-style second stomach! I was full to bursting!
It really was a wonderful meal and wonderful evening.
I hope to relive just a little of it soon by making the delicious chocolate goulash recipe that Fred and Jerome developed.
Fred & Jerome's Chocolate Gü-lash
1.2kg of diced beef (casserole)
3 sliced onions
2 sliced red pepper
2 sliced carrots
5 chopped garlic cloves
2 glass of red wine (strong like Merlot)
2 litre of beef stock
1 tsp. of hot paprika
2tsp of sweet paprika
Salt & pepper
3 tbsp. of flour
4 tbsp. of rapeseed oil
70g of dark chocolate (62%)
1 pinch of curry spice
1 pinch of chilli powder
1 pinch of ground cardamom
- Slowly cook in a pan the onions, garlic, red pepper & carrots together until they have softened using two tablespoon of oil, this should take approximately 15minutes. Remove from the pan and keep aside.
- Pre heat the pan with the remaining oil and lightly caramelised the beef, add all the spices and the seasoning. Sprinkle the flour on top and stir well.
- Add the red wine and reduce by 2/3, put the vegetables back in the pan & pour some of the beef stock to cover the meat.
- Cook at the simmering point for at least 3 hours, if needed add more beef stock to keep the Gü-lash moist.
- Check the seasoning and add the chocolate just before serving,stir well.
- Enjoy with gnocchi & fresh parsley.