Savoir-Faire with Savoy Fare

An earthy yet ethereal winter starter from the Alps.


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Savoyard cuisine isn't "just about fondue, raclette and sausages," says Jean Sulpice, 30-year-old chef at L'Oxalys in Val Thorens, a mountain village in France's Trois Vallées ski area. Set at 7,500 feet, the restaurant holds the highest elevation Michelin star in Europe. "I want to bring lightness and originality to traditional dishes, to make them a surprise."

Tucked amid towering Alps, Savoy (la Savoie) was an independent duchy until becoming part of France in 1860. Its cuisine integrates ingredients from neighboring Italy including pastas and polenta, and pairs with regional wines such as Rousette (a dry white) and Mondeuse (a deeply colored red).

Sulpice draws upon the surrounding summits not just for inspiration, but also alimentation. An avid backcountry skier in winter and mountain biker in summer, he'll detour off the trail to gather meadowsweet blossoms or fir branches to flavor his dishes.

His recipes are ethereal and earthy at the same time. Served with lovage foam and braised celery root, sea scallops span the realms of ocean and land. Roast beef cooked in hay recalls peasant tradition, but Sulpice tinges the sauce with cacao and cardamom for exoticism.

Sulpice has a passion for les légumes oubliés (forgotten vegetables) such as Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and salsify."They remind me of my grandmother's cooking. They're synonymous with richness of taste and texture and add subtlety to my dishes."

Doting on vegetable drop-outs does not mean that Sulpice forsakes the showbiz aspects of dining. At L'Oxalys, the signature dessert involves flaming Chartreuse poured over a chocolate ball that melts to reveal blackberry sorbet inside."For me, cooking is a party, a show—I want everyone to have a good time," Sulpice
remarks. For information, go to www.loxalys.com.

RECIPE: Winter Vegetables Served with Polenta Pancake

Showcasing contemporary Savoyard cuisine—Chef Jean Sulpice's specialty—this appetizer can be served cold or warm, or accompany a main, like hearty braised beef or steak. If you can't find salsify (a "forgotten vegetable"), substitute parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes or artichoke hearts. Recipe courtesy Jean Sulpice, Chef, L'Oxalys, Val
Thorens, France.

6 cups vegetable bouillon
2 cups polenta
1 sweet potato (sliced 1/8" thick)
6 Brussels sprouts
(leaves pulled off)
1 small cauliflower (cut
into flowerets)
1/2 pound green beans (trimmed)
1/2 pound salsify
2 endives (cut in half
lengthwise)
Argan oil (or olive oil or
walnut oil)
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt

For the polenta:
Boil the vegetable stock in a large, heavy saucepan. Pour in the polenta gradually and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce temperature and simmer gently for one hour, stirring regularly. The polenta will be quite thick and starting to dry out when done.

After the polenta cools slightly, lay it out on a piece of baking parchment or wax paper. Cover the polenta with a second piece of paper, and then roll out the polenta with a rolling pin between the two layers until it is 1/4 inch thick. Reserve.

For the vegetables:
While the polenta is cooking, wash the vegetables. Separate the individual leaves of the Brussels sprouts. Steam or cook in boiling water each of the vegetables separately until done (sweet potato, Brussels sprout leaves, cauliflower, green beans, salsify), cooling them in ice water so they keep their original color.

Braise the sliced endive in a little olive oil until lightly browned.

To assemble:
Slice the polenta pastry into rectangles 4" x 6". Arrange the vegetables on top of each polenta rectangle, varying colors between the rows. Drizzle with argan oil and balsamic vinegar, and season with sea salt. Serves four.

W.E. WINE RECOMMENDATION: Consider a Beaujolais such as the Domaine du Vissoux 2006 Les Trois Roches Moulin à Vent for this dish. The concentration of the dark cherry fruits and edge of licorice harmonizes well with the thick, earthy texture of the warming vegetables.

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