Shaun Hill is one of John’s chefs and mentors, a master chef and a Irish man who spoke beautiful French and listened to Gregorian chants as he drove his car, literally, over the moors of Dartmoor looking for short cuts home after a long night of cooking. Southwest England was where they met and where Gidleigh Park Country House Hotel was located. A mock Tudor mansion that stood at the end of a winding hedged lane, Gidleigh was a magical place in the late 1980’s where you could run into Andrew Loyd Weber or Pete Townsend. Sylvia Plath’s Ted Hughes lived down the road and in the local village of Chagford the population was under a hundred yet there where four pubs.
Gidleigh Park was where Shaun Hill made the most beautiful Foie Gras terrines. Marinating well cleaned livers overnight in Armagnac and Port, this almost curing process left you with a product that needed almost no cooking at all. Foie gras is mostly fat so it is crucial to cook slow and low when making a terrine (quite the opposite when sauteing: cook hot and fast). Placed in a bain marie and barely cooked at 200 degrees until the fat just started to melt, Shaun would pull out of the oven and then sit weights on top as the terrine would cool in the water it was cooked in while the pieces of liver melded together.
At Rupperts we made quite a few Foie Gras terrines. I guess the question is given our shift toward more health and ecocentric practices is: If Rupperts were open today would we serve Foie Gras? The city of Chicago has banned it. PETA constantly protests its production. I can only guess that Shaun would find this question ridiculous. A chef in Europe at the level of a Shaun Hill has many times over earned enough, lets call them, “sustainable” credits to be granted the pleasure of working with a completely non-factory farmed product such as the Foie Gras that a Shaun Hill would be working with. Chefs in Europe at this level have been practicing so called slow food, so called locavorism, so called non-factory farming not for any reason other than that they are best practices and produce Superior meals.
Today we started a terrine for a Rupperts guest. They asked us to make them a Terrine to go with a ‘glorious’ Sauternes they are drinking this weekend. And even though we really enjoyed making this and the livers are excellent from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, I don’t think we would serve Foie Gras if Rupperts were open today. The reason I think more than anything is that eating Foie Gras just doesn’t fit with what we are doing now, maybe just a bit too complicated… although I do think we need to find away to get more pleasure into our politics, especially our food politics.
The French have a saying that “eating is learned” and that pleasure is a practice.