TUESDAY 19 OCTOBER 2010 • THE WAR OF THE RICE PUDDINGS
Cooking must be one of the most stress free activities… unless you are cooking for a hundred guests expecting the best in a two star Michelin restaurant.
I cooked under the eyes of the camera and I did a ravioli of exotic fruit and kaffir lime leaf and a coconut sorbet. That was special: it may be a lengthy recipe but it is hugely rewarding.
The other dish was a mirabelle tart: mirabelles are little damsons but packed with much more flavour!
The last dish I did was the famous riz au lait – and thereby hangs a tale: a battle between my Chef Patissier Benoit Blin and myself.
Every French mother believes that her rice pudding (riz au lait) is better than any other. I also believe that my mum’s is better than any other… but my chef Patissier Benoit Blin believes that his mum’s is the best! That is where the problems started.
Benoit is fanatical about his mum’s Riz au Lait so I decided to provoke him and set up a challenge. Completely childish but so much fun! Benoit is one of the best Patissiers in Great Britain: he is also Norman, very nationalist and his mum’s rice pudding is sacrosanct, the best; naturellement!
Benoit had practised all day, he was up for it; there was a funny light in his eyes. This was not a game, it was his mother’s honour at stake, her cuisine, his culture.
And for me, of course, the honour of my beloved Maman Blanc!
And so the challenge began: me in my corner of the kitchen, Benoit in his.
I preheated my oven to 150 c. I mixed my 150 grams of pudding rice with the 1500ml of whole milk, added 100 grams of caster sugar, 20 grams of my own vanilla purée (use vanilla essence). I brought the mixture to the boil and simmered gently. Then I stir every five minutes for 30 minutes. At this stage the rice is partly cooked; it has released its starch and thickened the milk, I taste - a little more sugar, yes it's just right. The perfumes are the ones from home. I need a bit more richness, a bit more gentle stirring to give more creaminess. I taste again: I am happy, Maman Blanc will be proud.
Benoit is concentrating over his pan, he is stirring lovingly his Maman Blin riz au lait. He tastes, he goes on stirring.
I pour the unctuous, creamy rice into the baking dish, almost to the top and slide the dish in the preheated oven for the second cooking of 30 minutes.
Then, let the battle of the tasting begin! Here comes the moment of truth: armed with spoon s we tucked into our rice puddings. First Benoit tasted mine. He scooped a spoon of the pearly, creamy textured rice. He slid it into his mouth…
Silence… more silence… then “Come on Benoit, how good was it? 1/10? 5/10?”
Eventually Benoit speaks: “I will give it… 9/10.” Aha! My first thought is “why only 9!” But I say nothing.
I thought it was very generous of Benoit to give me a mark of 9/10, and he took a risk in tasting first – this is the RB strategy! But not really. Benoit and I have a fantastic relationship going back over 15 years, and this relationship is built on mutual respect and trust. I did not play any games.
Now I must taste Benoit’s. I take a spoonful: it looks very good – different from my own, but still a glistening, creamy mixture. In the mouth, his tastes very good, great texture, lovely flavour, maybe something missing…? No, I am joking. Benoit’s was not the same as Maman Blanc’s but it was very very good, a reflection of Benoit’s own Normandy tradition.
So… I give Benoit’s riz au lait 9/10 as well.
Peace is restored in the kitchen at Le Manoir, and honour is satisfied amongst Frenchmen – and of course their mothers: Maman Blanc and Maman Blin.
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