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The Four Hour Lunch

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Lunch with my father at the best restaurant in Switzerland - and beyond. Don't miss the exclusive behind-the-scenes 360 panorama of the kitchens!

Last Friday I was lucky enough to be invited to have lunch at Philippe Rochat, Switzerland best restaurant and twice named as best restaurant in the world by Gault Millau, the leading French restaurant guide. Although I work only 10 minutes away from the restaurants, I had never been invited at the chef table. I just get to peek at the kitchens every time I go buy them a truffle. But this time we were eating with a friend of the chef-owner. Let me share with you this extraordinary four-hour lunch.

The chef table where regulars get to have a drink with Rochat before the meal DON'T MISS MY 360° PANORAMA! Chef Rochat is standing up in white apron, heated up before the battle but exchanging pleasantries with us, the guests. On the table, three Swiss gentlemen. One of them is my father. On the back wall the clock says it's 11h45 sharp. As you turn the panorama to the right you discover the kitchen, with a TV monitor showing the reception area. This is the first 360/180 panorama I publish and in the future I hope to make more and better panoramas.

We were sipping of champagne as other people came to sit at the table. I absconded to visit the kitchen. This is a rare honor and Mr Rochat only narrowly allowed me to take the pictures. All the cooks were silent, working purposefully in deep concentration. Stock pots were quietly simmering on the stoves. The large square you see is set on top of burners and is ultra hot. A cook was carving scallops while another cook cut little pockets in pork slices. like in all efficient restaurant kitchens, you get the impression that one false move and you'll get a pan on your head. The cooks discover with interest who they are cooking for - a world apart behind the kitchen wall.

Making the potato purée - Hard work, whisking butter, milk and cream in the sieved potatoes directly on the hot stove.

I see this gentleman, Franck Giovannini, almost everyday on TV in a beautiful short promotional film where you see him side-by-side with a Swiss watchmaker both making delicate preparations. Watches and truffles. I believe he is the second in command and usually sports the blue-red-wide collar showing him as Meilleur ouvrier de France, a high distinction for French chefs. He also won third place in the Bocuse d'or last year. Here he is peeling what looks like a good two pounds of black truffles.

We move back to the dining hall. What shall we eat? Let the chef decide. I manage to convince my host to order duck rather than pig's foot and off we go for an amazing succession of starters. The trademark Rochat dish rests on a strong contrast between a sweet or blandish produce resting on an flavorsome, intensely tart juice. Duck foie gras on a tart quince jelly. Sole in a carrot and orange juice reduction emulsified with butter - my favorite. Then some fancy sea shells on a lemon - lemon oil jus. This divine contrast was intermixed with local cardoons in the most gorgeous black truffle juice and caviar macaroons as an interlude. The only dish I didn't like was the lobster flesh in a salty violet artichoke jus. But again, I usually choke on them so don't let this detract from trying it. This is such a brilliant binary composition I wonder why young chef spend their time fooling around the plate with a thousand and one ingredients. If you know what you want to achieve, let's go for it and be done. A sharp contrast is a strong backbone for any dish.

My friend Mr Villeneuve brings in the three-persons duck. He has carved over 20,000 ducks at Rochat's. He is such an exceptional maître d' that he was recently awarded l'Ordre National du Mérite medal by the French President, a rare honor bestowed on a Frenchman living and working in Switzerland.

While Mr Villeneuve is carving, his assistant starts to garnish our plates with the vegetables.

Villeneuve cuts extremely thin duck breast slices with a long knife.

There we are. The most marvellous rosy duck in bigarade sauce with a few hand-carved vegetables. Bigarade are very sour oranges grown in Nice. Rochat changes his menu four times a year but he always has two different roasted birds in a tart sauce. The only thing that changes is the type of bird and the sort of sauce. The Tour d'Argent might have a better view, but Rochat's ducks are definitely superior. No question there.

Duck is a tricky bird. If you want to keep the breast rosy - the only proper cooking - then the legs will be rare. French chefs start by serving the breast, then return the duck to the kitchen for further roasting. Here is my second helping - a duck leg deboned in the kitchen with two more dollops of potato purée.

«A meal without cheese is not a meal», an old French professor always tells me. Well, the very best place to taste cheese in any cheesemaking country is a gastronomic restaurants. Chefs make a point to offer the best local cheeses served at perfect maturity. I usually don't take the cheese to keep the calorie bill down, but the gentleman we were having lunch with is an important man in the Swiss cheese industry. I just had to. «Close your eyes and think of Switzerland», I told myself.

Let's keep this simple - fresh goat cheese with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Then a slice from the Roquefort guillotine to go with Rochat's marvellous dried fruit bread.

A bit of perfectly aged Vacherin Mont d'Or...

My father's choice, by order of pungency. You start with the tamest cheeses and finish with the most fiery so that you get to feel the formers.

An extraordinary dessert of Sicilian tangerine custard in a hazelnut biscuit I saw the pastry chef prepare moments before. Simple perfection.

Chef Rochat is very considerate in that he always, always come and talk to every last table in the restaurant after his service. You may come there only once in your life and he will come and greet you and, as long as you speak French, he will answer any questions you ask him. Some chefs only greet the regulars, others never enter the dining room. But Rochat is a decent man. Some nights you can see he is really exhausted and tense from the long hours, but he still makes a point of coming to greet the clients. He doesn't clown around to be petted by clients. He comes only because he knows the guests are just thrilled to meet him. This is the right thing to do and makes very good business sense. And he was kind enough to pose for a picture with my dad and his friend (I asked for the picture).

One for the road? We are well into our fourth hour as this plate of delicacies arrive, one per guest. The nougat is the best I've ever had. The whole meal was light - difficult to believe that after 12 courses I didn't feel heavy in the least. «What's for dinner?» I asked. Please consider that this was an exceptional meal in every respect. I don't eat like this very often, maybe once a year, and I never to 4 hour business lunches. But hey, lunch at Rochat with my dad is just an offer I can't refuse.

Restaurant Philippe Rochat
www.philippe-rochat.ch
Crissier (just outside Lausanne)
Switzerland

Rochat is nothing like these stiff-upper-lipped British restaurants that demand jacket and tie and a reservation two years in advance. You can get in any week day for lunch if you call the day before. You can come as you are. You can be a communist or a wickan, nobody will judge you as long as you're not vegetarian. The staff is extremely courteous and their job is to make you feel welcome and at ease. And tell them FXcuisine sent you, maybe I'll get a free duck for Christmas!


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37 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by parshu.narayanan
Thank you, fx, for enriching a man from a faraway culture with an extraordinary insider's glimpse of what must be one of the most special inner corners of European/Western culture.
What a lovely way to spend the afternoon with your dad...The cheese plate blew me away... but really, I wouldn't throw even one of those dishes out of bed...
You have to be a supremely confident chef to have a table IN your kitchen ... but it looks from your photographs as if he is right to be confident.The 360 panorama is wonderful - how do you do that?Joanna
  • #4
  • Comment by Dave P
What is going on in the custard/hazelnut cream dessert, is the top layer floating in the air, or is that an optical illusion?Enjoyed the story a great deal.  What are the cheeses in the 6,3,12,9 o'clock positions on that cheese plate?
Wow, that is a cheese tray I can only dream off. Great photos of the kitchens in action.
  • #6
  • Comment by thuan
Love the 360. Neat guillotine!
"You can be a communist or a wickan, nobody will judge you as long as you're not vegetarian."Oh dear, that rules me out then!Great story, and the 360 panorama is fantastic.
  • #8
  • Comment by David
Reading this makes me want to live near there so I could go once a month:) The panorama was wonderful. And the cheese plate has my mouth watering for some roquefort!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Thanks for visiting Parshu!
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Claudia I'm glad you liked the article and will try to make one just about the cheese tray one of these days. A tall order but it could be very interesting!
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
Joanna, chef Rochat does not invite many people in his kitchen, and I don't know anybody who actually ate their whole meal in the kitchen, altough there are some. But kitchen people and restaurant clients are two very different worlds and the ambiance is not really mutually compatible. I think Mr Ramsay in England has a chef table that is enclosed in glass to insulate the guests from the foul language and flying pans!
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
Dave I was too lazy to write down the names of the cheeses and now don't remember. Sorry! The top layer actually rests on the whole tangerine pods on the second layer. This one was really every bit as gorgeous as it looks.
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
Barbara, thanks for visiting!
  • #14
  • Answered by fx
Susie, I'm sure they would treat you all right if you are vegetarian, but you'll have to stick to the cheese and dessert!
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
David, I think you'll be fed up if you go too often. Mathematically, you could go 8 times a year to try both menus on each of the 4 seasonal menus, but more would soon have you meet the law of diminishing returns!
  • #16
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
Lovely article but the duck was only part cooked to my way of thinking.Semi cooked poultryonow way !Anyway I now know of the restaurant and will look out for it on my travels.Who paid the bill........?Paul
  • #17
  • Comment by Ben
«Close your eyes and think of Switzerland» That made me laugh so loud at work my boss thinks I'm demented. I'm definitely going to try that in the next few months since its close to Geneva and I deserve a birthday treat! Thanks for the great photos and recommendation.
  • #18
  • Comment by Mascha
Hi FX,Thanks for your wonderful blog, it is my favourite! A lovely combination of good pictures and interesting, funny, useful information. Your kitchen looks fantastic, the equipment makes my mouth water almost as much as the food. Any chance you’ll treat us to another article about the Indian cuisine any time soon?
  • #19
  • Comment by Gina in California
«Close your eyes and think of Switzerland» Oh me too! Laughing so hard! You are too much, FX. Thank you for sharing your stellar experience with us.
  • #20
  • Comment by Gayle
Thanks for the panoramic view of the kitchen and the meal descriptions. I am impressed with the windows in the kitchen. Those probably help inspire great cooking.Gayle
  • #21
  • Comment by Luke
Great food, witty prose, stunning photos, *and* some amazing connections. Truly, you are the King of kings of food bloggers.
  • #22
  • Comment by Elizabeth
Amazing!  Looked like the best four-hour lunch one can have.  The Sicilian dessert was beautiful.  Everything looked beautiful!
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
Paul, I think duck breasts are best rosy, but personal tastes might differ. However this is the established credence in the French cooking world and they don't ask you how you'd like your duck - it will be rare unless you ask different. I didn't pay that bill.
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
Ben, I'm sure you will find the courage and abnegation to make this sacrifice for your country - the cheese tray at Rochat's is indeed delicious. And you can come as you are with no need for Sunday's bests or fancy ties. A most lovable restaurant!
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
Mascha thanks and I will try to post another Indian recipe soon. There is 4 feet high pile of Indian cooking books waiting teasing me right now!
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
Gina thanks for reading my article, I'll have more about fancy truffle restaurants in Paris soon if you like this.
  • #27
  • Answered by fx
Gayle, Rochat's has a huge kitchen on the ground floor that looks out on a private garden not accessible to the guests. I think any chef who could design his own kitchen would want the same, many of them never really see the light of day before they retire or go bankrupt. It's really a privilege!
  • #28
  • Answered by fx
Elizabeth I think this must be my favorite restaurant in the world but since it's local I usually don't say this as people would assume it's the only restaurant I know. But after this, who would need to look somewhere else?
Wow!  What a spectacular inside peek at a wonderful experience.  Thanks so much for sharing it.
  • #30
  • Answered by fx
Chiffonade, thanks for your visit and I hope you get to eat at Rochat's one day, it's worth every calorie!
  • #31
  • Comment by Dueep J. Singh
Apres avoir lu  cette experience gastronomic et exotique , on doit vous implorer de nous faire expliquer,  Alors, Monsieur combien ca coute? Being an aspiring gourmet with pockets permanently to let, I have to ask you this very practical question, because it is only then I can start saving up for an experience of a lifetime!

  • #32
  • Answered by fx
Dueep, a meal at Rochat will set you back about 300 Swiss francs, that's about 300 dollars and change at today's unfavorable (for the American gourmet) exchange rates. I know several French restaurants of not quite at the same level who charge more. Clearly it's a hefty price for a meal, but most clients go there for some birthday or other anniversaries, so in a way it boils down to 1 Swiss franc a day per person, not so expensive after all!
  • #33
  • Comment by AnaMaria D
I have to say something... your site is seriously interfering into my work.. :)) I have opened it in the morning for "only 2 seconds"... and it was 3 hours ago...
  • #34
  • Comment by Donna Young
Wow! I was right there at the table with you—your desriptions were were so vivid! Thanks for that very delicious review! If only I knew about this restaurant while I was living in Lausanne... Don't know when I'll be back again, but when I do, Rochat's will be on the itinerary for sure!!!
  • FX's answer→ Donna, thanks a lot for your kind words, I'm really glad the article conveyed the experience of eating there. In the future I hope to make a video version, that ought to be way better!

Fantastic.
I am available for adoption, please inform your father.

Standards and cooking there are magnificent!
  • FX's answer→ Gaetano, I was reading the comments on my cellphone this morning and nearly had a car accident. This is the best line I've had this year! But hey, sorry mate, but I have all the brothers I need right now. Hope you get to visit Rochat one day, they have lunch formulas that won't require a second mortgage!




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