A winner of the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” and “Compagnon du Tour de France”, Benoît Violier has been the undisputed second to the great Swiss chef Philippe Rochat from Crissier. Violier’s passion for hunting has made him one of Europe’s top game and bird specialists.
A hunter and cook from a very young age, Benoît Violier knows all there is to know about Alpine ibex, Spanish ibex, Red deer, Alpine chamois, Eurasian reindeer, European hare and Variable hare. Practising every form of hunting (battue, blind, stalking, etc) has given him a knowledge of animals worthy of the best zoologists. Lst year saw the publication (in French) of his book, La cuisine du gibier à poil d’Europe (published by Gerfaut) “European Game Cuisine”, a magnificent work with outstanding illustrations and erudition.
So just who knows, these days, how to gut a chamois? Pluck a thrush? Shave wild boar’s feet? Tie a string neck tie to an elk? Bone and skin a deer? Make rancid venison? Season offal? As well as all these technical aspects, the flavours of game cooking are also being forgotten.
This autumn, Violier will be serving “the most sumptuous bird in existence”: the woodcock.
I still remember a scene from the kitchen at Crissier: Violier was holding up a woodcock that he’d hunted the day before near Grenoble to Philippe Rochat. Rochat took hold of the bird and sniffed it whilst looking up to the sky and exclaiming “wonderful!” Even before roasting or frying, the woodcock develops an exceptionally fresh aroma, reminiscent of the forest.
Violier finds woodcock in Ireland, Scotland, Belgium and Holland. Between October and November is when they are at their most plump. “I prefer young woodcocks because they are tenderer and you can recognise them by their ‘painter’s feathers’: Small firm and pointed feathers used by the Impressionists to finish their paintings and by hunters to put on their hats.”
Violier explains that woodcock hunters are elite hunters, equipped with small calibre rifles and accompanied by specially trained dogs. “The woodcock is a mysterious and intelligent bird. It often lives on the edge of ponds or lakes and you have to be sharp to spot it.”
In traditional cuisine, the woodcock would be hung for such a long time that the head would become detached from the rest of the body, often causing people to fall sick. “Today this is impossible! As far as I’m concerned, I prefer to cook them fresh. I pluck their feathers, cut them in two, flambé them and then roast them. Then they are pan fried with butter and seasoned with thyme, salt and crushed juniper berries.”
Seasoning game was one of the specialities of Freddy Girardet who developed a subtle mixture of 5 spices. “We are continuing this tradition” declares Benoît.
Woodcock meat is surprisingly firm yet also incredibly delicate and fragrant to the palate the. Its fat has a strong nutty flavour similar to that of Spanish hams. To sum up this is an exceptional dish prepared by one of the great contemporary chefs.
Restaurant Philippe Rochat
Tel: +41 21 634 05 05
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