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Monday, July 30, 2012

Taste le Tour 2012: 21 Stages of Eating for the Tour de France

cooking instructions

Imagine if there was a Tour de France for eating. Wait a minute. There. is. Last weekend I was invited along to Taste le Tour, a 21-course epic feast that mirrors the cuisine and wine of each stage of this annual professional cycling race.

This Taste le Tour is the brainchild of Alyssa and Mark, two food obsessives who are equally besotted with the Tour de France. Each year they invite their friends over for a night of inspired feasting during the final week of Tour de France racing. Each person or couple is tasked with bringing along a wine or spirit that comes from the region of their allocated stage. The most important instruction was to arrive at 5.45pm for a 6pm sharp start, because "21 courses can't wait for you"!

welcome instructions

It's hard to fathom that anyone would undertake a dinner party like this, but even more incredulous to realise this is the sixth time Mark and Alyssa have hosted this event. It takes place in their small two bedroom unit, soon intimately cosy with thirty assorted friends perched on chairs and stools that run from the kitchen to the living room. Some guests are recent inductees, others have been to every event since its inception.

Mark and Alyssa have the whole event organised with superhuman efficiency. At the door is a pile of menus detailing every dish for the evening. Glasses and plates are labelled with guests' names to avoid confusion, and each glass is marked at around 30ml for equal pouring.

The kitchen is tiny, but everything is at an advanced stage of preparation so each course can be plated reasonably quickly. The aim is to have each course out in fifteen minute intervals. There's an army of cooking notes stuck to the wall in the kitchen, but mostly it's an impressive display of efficiency and teamwork as Mark and Alyssa keep everyone fed and happy.

veal meatballs
Stage 1 – Liege, Belgium
Veal meatballs with a "Rabbit" Sirop de Liege and dark ale sauce
Aperitif: Filliers Graanjenever, Belgium

Twenty one courses is a lot of food, but tonight it's a series of small mouthfuls that take us from Liege in Belgium to the finale in Paris. We start with veal meatballs cooked in a pear and apple reduction. We'd been responsible for the accompanying alcohol for this one, eventually tracking down a Filliers Graanjenever, a Belgian version of gin also known as peket.

liege salad of beans and potatoes
Stage 2 – Liege, Belgium
Liege salad of beans and potatoes with maple syrup Prosciutto crisps
Beer: Leffe Blond

Course number two delivers witlof cups of bean and potato salad garnished with maple syrup prosciutto crisps.

maple prosciutto crisps
Maple prosciutto crisps

There's an excess of maple prosciutto crisps that gets passed around and quickly demolished. These have been made by Mark and taste like the most amazing bacon candy you can imagine.

maple prosciutto crisps
Maple prosciutto crisp

Hear that sound? That's the chorus of angels singing.

hoegaarden wheat beer soup
Stage 3 – Visé, Belgium
Soup of Hoegaarden Witbier, thickened with celeriac
Wine: Chimay Pères Trappistes Grande Réserve

Beer soup? It's not as boozy as you'd expect, helped along by the nuttiness of celeriac. The assortment of Japanese tea cups is half the fun.

preparing the mussels
Ben preparing the mussels

There are a couple of courses cooked or provided by friends, the most ambitious of which is a recipe from Modernist Cuisine.

homemade thermal immersion circulator
Homemade thermal immersion circulator 
- for instructions on how to make your own, check this post

mussels reverse spherified in their own juices
Stage 4 – Nord
Spring Bay Tasmanian Mussels reverse spherified in their own juices
Wine: Pol Gessner, Brut, Champagne, N.V.

Reverse spherification is an ambitious undertaking, especially for such a large crowd, but we're rewarded with glimmering almost alien-looking orbs that burst in the mouth at first bite, releasing a intense rush of mussel flavour before we savour the tender cooked mussel at its core.

Brillat-Savarin triple cream brie
Stage 5 – Normandie
Brillat-Savarin triple cream brie from Normandy
Cider: Etienne Dupont, Normandy Cider

We segue to a Brillat-Savarin triple cream brie (my kind of happiness) before progressing to two types of terrine, a delicate duck terrine for the meat-eaters and a multi-layered fresh beetroot terrine for the vegetarians (both if you happen to be in the right place at the right time).

duck terrine and beetroot terrine
Stage 6 – Normandie
Rouen is the home of pressed duck, and what better way to appreciate duck than a terrine!
Thirlmere Duck terrine with Seville Oranges and smoked duck breast
Cider: Le Père Jules, Poiré Cider

potato cakes height=

Stage 7 – Champagne
Alsace potato cakes garnished with fresh curd and chives.
Wine: Bollinger, Special Cuvée, Champagne, N.V.

Stage 7 takes us the Champagne region which we celebrate with crisp little mounds of potato cake and swigs of Bollinger champagne.

double-baked cheese souffle
Stage 8 – Alsace-Lorraine
A double-baked soufflé of Munster and Gruyere topped with cream and served with lightly pickled red cabbage.
Wine: Domaine Mader, Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2010

A double-baked Munster and Gruyere cheese souffle is light and fluffy, refreshed by a side of red cabbage pickles.

tarts with truffled quail egg and Tasmanian truffle
Stage 9 – Franche-Comté
Triple truffle treat! Tartlet with truffle perfumed quail egg, truffle mayonnaise and finished a slice of fresh Tasmanian truffle.
Wine: Domaine de Savagny, Côtes du Jura Savagnin, 2007

There's a collective sigh of appreciation when Stage 9 arrives, mini tartlets filled with truffled quail eggs, truffle mayonnaise and topped with shavings of fresh Tasmania truffle. The aroma is incredible, and the brittle delicacy of the fresh truffles is a reminder of how joyous Mother Nature can be.

escargots snails
Escargots or snails

escargots snails in garlic herb and Pernod butter
Stage 10 – Franche-Comté
The French classic of snails swimming in garlic herb and Pernod butter sautéed with Douglas' home cured bacon
Wine: Domaine Jean-Claude Bessin, Chablis, 2008

Escargots, or snails, are the French classic served for Stage 10. These are meltingly tender, cooked at a low temperature for a long time before frying in garlic, herb and Pernod butter and cubes of bacon, home-cured by their friend Douglas.

Sherry-braised chicken
Stage 11 – Bourgogne
In the style of the famous Bresse chickens, Holmbrae farm free range chickens have been braised in the sherry-like white wine of the Jura region and master stock
Wine: Domaine de Savagny, Côtes du Jura Savagnin, 2007

At the halfway point we're onto the first major proteins, a sherry-braised free range chicken that reminds me a little of Chinese drunken chicken.

The night is a casual affair with everyone volunteering to pass around and serve dishes to everyone. Before each course is served, there's a brief announcement of the dish and why it was chosen for that region. The wine provider also gets up to present their drink, and share any interesting facts they've uncovered.

Mushroom consomme with chestnuts
Stage 12 – Savoie
A light mushroom consommé with chestnuts from Laura’s auntie’s farm and nameko mushrooms
Wine: Bernard Faurie, Saint-Joseph, 2005

Stage 12 is one of my favourite dishes, a simple-looking but complex-tasting mushroom consomme that is generously studded with slippery nameko mushrooms and chestnuts from Laura's auntie's farm in Batlow, another friend in attendance.

silverbeet gratin
Stage 13 – Savoie
A simple Alps dish of a gratin of silverbeet
Wine: Domaine William Fevre, Petit Chablis, 2010

Melted and grilled cheese makes all vegetables taste better, especially in the silverbeet gratin which appears for Stage 13, a creamy dish that is warm and comforting.

six hour saltbush lamb shoulder
Stage 14 – Provence
6 hour Saltbush lamb shoulder, slow pot roasted with port and served with ratatouille and tapenade
Wine: Le Blason du Prince, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2009

Saltbush lamb shoulder has been slow roasted for six hours until the connective tissues have softened into an unctuous kind of bliss. Sides of ratatouille and tapenade make this a mini main for Stage 14.

roasted duck
Stage 15 – Languedoc-Roussillon
Limoux-style Redgate Farm roasted duck, braised in an orange and saffron sauce with whole garlic cloves
Wine: Domaine la Sarabande,  Faugères, 2009

We seem to be eating every type of animal tonight as we progress to Stage 15. It's fat slices of orange and saffron roast duck, amped up with a puree of whole caramelised garlic cloves.

Stage 16 is a palate-cleansing salad of celeriac, celery, walnut and pears (and also the only course I manage to miss photographing!).

Stage 16 – Midi-Pyrénées
A refreshing salad of celeriac, celery, walnuts and pears.
Wine: Château de Lagarde, Grand Millésime, Bordeaux Supérieur, 2005

blue cheese
Stage 17 – Midi-Pyrénées
The famous blue ewe's milk cheese, matured in limestone caves.
Wine: Château Gravas, Sauternes, 2009

It's back to cheese for Stage 17, a generous wedge of Roquefort blue cheese served with crackers and slices of fruit bread.

filo and apple tart
Stage 18 – Midi-Pyrénées
A flaky filo and apple tart.
Cocktail: Spiced Armagnac Cocktail

At Stage 18, we're finally cresting the hill and heading into the land of desserts. Squares of flaky filo apple tart are the first sweet off the ranks, paired with an armagnac cocktail made with armagnac, mint, fresh grated nutmeg and an orange and lemon rind infused sugar syrup.

cognac prune ice cream
Stage 19 – Gascogne
A delightfully grown-up ice cream made from Cognac-soaked prunes.
Digestif: Château du Tariquet, Classique Bas Armagnac

It's boozy ice cream time for Stage 19, a cognac and prune ice cream that is wonderfully alcoholic. Prunes are way overdue for an image change, far too often relegated as food for old people. Here they're plump and swollen with cognac, offering a burst of sweetness against the rich and smooth ice cream.

flambe crepes suzette
Crepes ON FIRE

crepes suzette
Stage 20 – Centre
Mark’s take on the 1970’s dinner party favourite – Crêpes flambéed in a Seville orange and rum sauce
Wine: Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon Carte d'Or, 2006

We've kept surprisingly to schedule up to this point, but the Crepes Suzette are a production process that warrants more than 15 minutes. The crepes have been prepared by Mark's sister, Jinny, but they need finishing in a warm orange and rum sauce and are then flambeed in a crowd-pleasing spectacle.

chocolate truffles
Stage 21 – Paris
Jinny's World Famous™ chocolate truffles
Digestif: Château du Breuil, Calvados, Pays d'Auge

It's midnight by the time the final course is served, homemade chocolate truffles and a shot of Calvados apple brandy that would put hair on anyone's chest.

Mark in the kitchen

Thanks and applause to the amazing hosts Mark and Alyssa. Twenty one stages through the hills of Belgium and France have never been so rewarding nor delicious!

Now who's up for an Eating Olympics?!

Alyssa plating the snails
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 7/30/2012 02:28:00 am


  • At 7/30/2012 2:41 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    holy moly that's a helluva lot of food! i want to eat EVERYTHING but woot FIRE

  • At 7/30/2012 3:18 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is amazing! This should be spread around the world for all to try! :D

  • At 7/30/2012 4:09 am, Anonymous Toanisanidiot said…

    Haha Glad to see Alyssa is still doing her Taste le Tour. I remember her describing it to me years ago!

  • At 7/30/2012 8:34 am, Blogger K said…

    EPIC!!!! They are so creative with their menu. And to be able to pull of something like this is truly amazing. I really want to try the mussels!

  • At 7/30/2012 8:57 am, Anonymous Andrea said…

    Wow, amazing effort by Mark and Alyssa. A lot of planning and research to match the race route, and wine regions.

  • At 7/30/2012 10:18 am, Anonymous Em said…

    Wow, what an amazing dinner. Well done to all involved.

  • At 7/30/2012 11:39 am, Anonymous Donna said…

    WOW, it's a huge task to find dishes for the 21 regions but to have them fit into the progression of the dinner as well! Some very interesting wines there and I probably will "borrow" a few ideas :)

  • At 7/30/2012 11:55 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    What a mammoth effort from Mark and Alyssa. And what a tasting!

  • At 7/30/2012 11:59 am, Anonymous Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    Wow, that's so much food! Don't know how one could stomach that much. Love the idea and concept of this feed though. Eating Olympics? Can you imagine the events? Creativity!! Now that's definitely something I'd participate in but for sure would come dead last... hahaha

  • At 7/30/2012 12:19 pm, Anonymous Esz said…

    Holy crap that is an insane effort! It looks like it was 100% worth it too. YUM

  • At 7/30/2012 12:25 pm, Anonymous Noel@truffleharvest.com.au said…

    Ahh.. fresh truffle season, stage 9 is clearly my favourite!

  • At 7/30/2012 1:46 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    holy moly! your stomach must of been close to exploding with all that food!

  • At 7/30/2012 2:05 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    Interesting of course and an imaginative menu! Am a little suprised Gabriel Gate and SBS have not objected to the name tho', since we have enjoyed the particular segment on the SBS telecast for years and there is GG's book by the same name? :) !

  • At 7/30/2012 3:11 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    What an epic feast! I wonder if Mark would consider selling packets of the maple prosciutto crisps - they look awesome!

  • At 7/30/2012 8:25 pm, Anonymous jammy cow said…

    Wow so inspiring! And the thermal immersion circulator, what an effort. The whole night looks amazing, thanks for sharing.

  • At 7/30/2012 9:50 pm, Anonymous tania@mykitchenstories.com.au said…

    What amazing energetic passionate cookies they are

  • At 7/31/2012 5:34 pm, Anonymous gaby @ lateraleating said…

    You guys are crazy (in an amazing kind of way).

  • At 7/31/2012 8:27 pm, Anonymous Ollie said…

    This looks awesome :) Have never seen such tour de France for food! So glad I'm flying back home to get some canard à l'orange, your pics have definitely ignite my craving for French food!

  • At 8/01/2012 9:17 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Such a great night, and a great blog! If anyone is interested, my sous vide machine was built roughly following this idea, with a few modifications: http://seattlefoodgeek.com/2010/02/diy-sous-vide-heating-immersion-circulator-for-about-75/
    All up, they cost about $150 each (I built 3).

  • At 8/01/2012 12:47 pm, Anonymous SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said…

    How wonderful! You know I'm a HUGE fan of in-home dining experiences like this. Nice work!

  • At 8/03/2012 2:10 pm, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    What a truly amazing feat to undertake. Amazing looking food from a tiny kitchen. I love the look of those mussels, quite different.

  • At 8/03/2012 3:46 pm, Anonymous Anna @ The Littlest Anchovy said…

    Epic! I am so impressed by this. Everything is impeccable, adventurous and I am betting delicious!

  • At 8/07/2012 12:56 am, Anonymous Christina @ The Hungry Australian said…

    That is just an insane amount of food - but oh so good!!!!


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