Cookbook Release - Fig & Olive: The Cuisine of the French Riviera

"The best cooking is like Francine's: simple, fresh, and in full, flavorful view on the plate and on our palate."
One of the aspects I have always admired about Fig & Olive was that not only is their food a point of inspiration for myself as a cook but it is also consciously created with health and untainted ingredients in mind. So, when I found out that a cookbook was being released on their 10th anniversary featuring the many recipes of Chef Laurent Halasz, I was more than excited to see what was in store for this publication. What I got to see during the official launch party and dinner was a little more than expected as I was previously unaware of the massive influence that the chef's mother, Francine Halasz, had on him and his cooking. FIG & OLIVE: The Cuisine of the French Riviera launched in October in association with renowned publisher Assouline and is the first cookbook for Fig & Olive. It features stories about the chef's culinary career, its start, and the results (recipes) of such a journey. I joined many others one evening in early November to celebrate the launch and indulge in exciting inspired dishes derived from the book.

"There is nothing to weigh you down and compromise your health, just the fresh, full, ripe flavors that are key to the Mediterranean diet I grew up on, and that are key to the recipes you will find throughout this book."
A side effect of being in the presence of his food-loving mother was the appreciation for ingredients that Chef Halasz possesses today. He and his mother frequented local markets in nearby towns throughout his childhood in the town of Mougins, south of France (five miles from Cannes) and approached cooking in a simple but refined way which motivated the chef to pursue opening his passion project in 2005. Even now with eight restaurants, Chef Halasz struck me as a humble but impassioned creative whose dedication to true ingredients bursts through the pages with insider's tips, techniques, focus on seasonal ingredients, advice on olive oil pairings, and nostalgic memories.

The launch party took place on November 4th to much anticipation and with very many fans who were eager to get their hands on the cookbook to try to recreate, at home, the beautiful dishes that Fig & Olive is well known for. Afterward, a special "Dinner on the Riviera" was held in the company of like-minded individuals and supporters where we were able to partake in dishes from the cookbook, hear more from the chef on his process, and discuss with each other the impact of his food philosophy. It was heartwarming to hear about how much influence his mother had on his path in life and how she was the main motivation for this cookbook. Growing up in the South of France and being exposed to many gloriously stocked markets and fresh produce, the chef and his mother have always being aware and appreciative of the true flavors and nature of the ingredients with which they cook.

As Chef Halasz visited each table, he conveyed a passion that I have not seen in many in this world for any subject. This passion derived from his willingness and enthusiasm to know more about the intimate details of each ingredient, how to cook with it, how to manipulate it, and how to bring out the very best in it. He spoke to us about green onions and its particular details that makes one better than another; he spoke about the richness and vibrancy of seasonal fruits and vegetables as if he were speaking proudly about his own children. To begin the evening's meal, we held a Champagne Toast (Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, Reims, France, NV) to his mother and to the appreciation of good food.

The very first course seemed simple on paper. In truth, most of Fig & Olive's dishes are simple in ingredients used but it is the craft and skill that sets them apart from others. The first course was Chestnut & Butternut Squash Soup paired with Grenache/Syrah - Côte D'Azur (Côtes de Provence, France, 2014). All of the non-liquid components were artfully placed before us by themselves; then, the astute waitstaff came by with carafes of the soup itself and slowly poured the perfect amount into each shallow bowl, creating an interactive experience. The flavors showcased autumnal beauty, highlighting the warm flavors of chestnut and butternut squash which was pureed to the smoothest consistency I've ever had.

The next course, Sea Scallops Papillote with citrus and chives paired with Vermentino - Côte D'Azur (Côtes de Provence, France, 2014), seemed like a gently-wrapped gift. Tender scallops bundled up in parchment paper were presented nestled in a herbaceous broth and alongside vegetables whose typical hardy natures were mollified during cooking. This style came from Chef Halasz's own experience when young and receiving such plating just as if a gift from his own mother. These scallops were absolutely perfect. The following course was Roasted Veal Filet Mignon with rosemary and braised endives, paired with Garnacha - Valserrano (Rioja, Spain 2008). Truly a treat, the expertly executed medium rare temperature led to a soft and succulent medallion of beef that maintained a hearty flavor.

Despite all of the courses, we did not feel overwhelmed or heavy because the dishes were simply made with ingredients balanced in a healthful way. Part of Fig & Olive's philosophy involves never using butter or cream in the cooking process but rather focusing on the versatility and varying notes of olive oils from around the world. We could not feel overindulgent by nature of the course composition.So when it came time to dessert, we were more than ready to enjoy portions of full pears per person. The Poached Pear in Spiced Orange Juice came with light-whipped mascarpone and Loxarel Cava (Penedes, Spain NV), rounding out the entire meal with a fine mixture of sweet and savory.

All in all, I am excited for the success of this cookbook because of what we saw that evening and all of my past experiences at Fig & Olive. There is no doubt that the recipes will delight and give people a new perspective on how to make amazing food with simple ingredients while using olive oil in the stead of heavy fat. A big congratulations to the chef and also a big note of admiration for his dedication to his mother through this medium in addition to his restaurants' success. If you are interested in FIG & OLIVE: The Cuisine of the French Riviera, it is available for purchase on the publisher's website for $50. One of the things that I love about it aside from the stories and recipes is the way it has been arranged. The cookbook is spiral-bound which makes it easier to place on your countertop or stand while trying to cook and not worrying about flattening the pages!

All photography courtesy of Fig & Olive.