I can count on one hand the number of successful requests for chef recipes I have had over the years. Actually, I can count on one finger. (FYI, it’s the granola from the Plaid Apron here in Knoxville. Fave granola, fave lunch spot, skilled chef, lovely staff. Go go go!)
It’s not for lack of trying. If something completely blows my mind and it’s remotely within my skill set, I love to seek out the chef (usually via email because I don’t want to be that customer) to get the 411. If someone does that to me, I’m doing cartwheels and handstands with excitement that someone loved a dish of mine so much that they want to recreate it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, no? But… I am not always met with gymnastics when I’m the one doing the asking. I do respect that some chefs want to keep their secret recipes just that… but when I do come across a chef who will do acrobatics across the room to share a recipe with me, I am warmed to every corner of my heart and soul.
And if it means I have to travel all the way to Monaco to have that experience, well, I’ll make that trek. It’s a rough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Although I have been gushing and gushing about my recent trip to Paris, we actually spent half of our time in Monaco… and I’m pretty sure when Guns’n’Roses recorded ‘Paradise City,’ they were referring to Monte Carlo. In fact, I had always envisioned us retiring back to Hawaii… now my goal is Monaco. Come onnnnn, retirement fund!!
Of course I was excited to see the casino and drink 26-euro-per-glass champs (true story) at Hotel de Paris. Of course I was excited to see the shimmering Med. Of course I was excited to have the Booze Hound snap a picture of me looking like I was getting into a Rolls Royce before the actual owner came out of the private casino salon with large personal body guards ready to squash me on the windshield like a fly. But what was I really excited to do?
If you guessed eat, you’re right. You know me so well.
When we travel, we like to mix it up with a nice balance of small bites here and there to sample all of the local specialties, as well as killer sit-down meals. Our killer sit-down meal is where our story begins.
Butter is still my main obsession, but a close second is Trip Advisor. I take restaurant selection very, very seriously, and I’m a total review junkie. I happened upon La Montgolfière Henri Geraci and decided to strike. It sang to me from every angle: intimate ambience, local ingredients, family business. I was prepared to be very, very impressed.
Turns out, it made my 5. Like, my top 5 eating experiences ever. I’ve been blessed to eat some pretty great food in some pretty great places with some pretty great stories, and our experience at La Montgolfière made the short list. It was the warm interaction with Fabienne, the hostess and general liaison between her chef husband, Henri, and their guests. It was the expertly-prepared food. It was the outdoor table along a tiny cobblestone street in the old town one block away from the palace. It was the conversation with lovely friends.
And it was the acrobatics when I asked for the chef’s gazpacho.
Let me start out by saying that one of my courses involved fois gras… foie gras… aka my most favoritest politically incorrect food on the planet… and it was the peasant-y dish gazpacho that left my heart a-flutter. Gazpacho has never made me take a second glance in all of my illustrious years of food-loving, and something about this was sublime. Maybe it was the thought that it was the one thing I ate that I could actually recreate at home. Maybe it was the fact that I was living the dream in Monte Carlo on a warm autumn night. Maybe it was alllll that glorious wine. Either way, I wanted to take it with me. And since customs frowns on take-out containers full of soup from Monte Carlo (especially with the reduced number of agents from the shut down), taking it with me meant getting the recipe.
Somehow, my French + their English = I left with instructions + a warm smile from Fabienne and her husband that is the international language of food love. I also left with their business card and a promise to let them know how it turned out. This post is for them.
Nothing in my brain tells me I would like this soup- I really don’t care much for cold soups, and gazpacho usually reminds me of chunky V8. But this is an Italian riff on traditional Spanish gazpacho and it’s completely different. It’s heavy on the basil. It’s simultaneously refreshing from all the vegetables and solid hit of white balsamic, yet incredibly rich from the gobs of luscious olive oil. They also served it pureed to silky smooth consistency, not chunky like the more traditional recipes. It was seasoned perfectly, and it tasted like the entire country of Italy concentrated in a little shot glass (minus gelato because that would just be weird).
I know it’s late for such a summery recipe; I’m pulling out my blanket and Smartwool for bed tonight. But I have been giddy with anticipation to make this and write about it since I sat at La Montgolfière Henri Geraci two weeks ago, and believe it or not, I had some late-season tomatoes in my last CSA basket. I think it was a sign from heaven. You might have to buy the expensive, off-season, vine-ripened tomatoes, or you might even want to wait till next year’s local tomato crop to truly showcase this soup as it’s meant to taste.
I never thought a cold soup would warm my soul. Merci, Henri et Fabienne!!
- 6 tomatoes
- 2 sweet onions, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 handful basil (about ½ cup packed)
- 150 ml white balsamic vinegar
- 250 ml olive oil, additional for drizzling
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fill a large pot with water deep enough to cover your tomatoes by about an inch. Bring water to a boil over high heat. While water is heating, core each tomato and cut 'X' through skin at the bottom. Add tomatoes to boiling water for about 20 seconds, just until you start to see the skins curling up from the X. Remove tomatoes from water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking (but reserve the boiling cooking water). When the tomatoes are completely cool (about 3-5 minutes) remove them from the ice water. Peel off and discard the skins, then add tomatoes to a blender.
- Add 2 tsp salt to the boiling water, make sure it continues to boil, then add the onion and garlic. Cook for 4-5 minutes, just to soften. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and add to blender with tomatoes. Add basil, white balsamic, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper to the blender and blend. While motor is going, add olive oil in s steady stream. Blend for about a minute (or less if you want to keep it chunkier- I like it as smooth as possible). Season further to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl and chill for at least 4 hours before serving. Stir well (from the bottom) before ladling into bowls, and serve each portion with another drizzle of olive oil.