If you want to test a chef's huevos, then make him cook an egg. For decades, heads of kitchens have vetted potential protégées by having them prepare prefect eggs. It sounds simple, but therein lies the challenge. Well-cooked eggs are judged by their texture, color, consistency, and delicate flavor that won't mask mistakes. One misstep and you, plus your eggs, are done.
"I can get into a whole dissertation on why or how people have forgotten how to cook," says Jason Paskewitz, chef and owner of recent Jean Banchet Award-winner The Blanchard. "Kids go to culinary school and they forget about the basics. They just want to go buy all these chemicals and their liquid nitrogen and start freezing shit and blowing it up. Cook first, man, then blow shit up."
Before opening The Blanchard in June, Paskewitz put his now chef de cuisine through the egg ringer by asking him to prepare a perfect omelet. "I've never done that to anyone before," Paskewitz says. "I ate the whole thing." Since then, the egg has played an important role at the classic French restaurant, as the premier item on the menu. Oeuf Outhier, or egg Outhier, is named after chef Louis Outhier, who ran Restaurant L'Oasis in a village outside of Cannes, France from 1954 to 1988. The dish embodies the pillars upon which Paskewitz built his own French restaurant: Simple, elegant, thoughtful, but not contrived.
"Kids go to culinary school and they forget about the basics. They just want to go buy all these chemicals and their liquid nitrogen and start freezing shit and blowing it up. Cook first, man, then blow shit up."
Like much of The Blanchard's menu, the dish starts with a traditional combination of flavors, in this case it is eggs, chive, crème fraiche, and caviar. A shot of Grey Goose vodka in the crème means the combo also mimics caviar service. "There's nothing contemporary about it. Zero," Paskewitz says. "Except for the cutting device that we use to take the shell off. I wanted to make sure that the eggs were super creamy and it was just a couple bites, and then make it really decadent with the caviar."
The egg filling is hardly what you're whipping up in the morning. Farm fresh, brown eggs are scrambled with heavy cream in a double boiler to prevent large, chewy curds from forming. The mixture is whisked for five minutes with cayenne pepper and butter. The different between perfectly cooked and overcooked is a matter of seconds, so Paskewitz keeps a close eye on the eggs as they transform into fluffy clouds of tiny curds. Salt and chives are added before the eggs return to their shells, which have been peeled and blanched.
Proportion is just as important as preparation in the Oeuf Outhier. Paskewitz fills each shell nearly to the top with egg, leaving a centimeter for the spiked crème fraiche and dollop of Ostera caviar. VIP diners are given what is called a "Sunday egg," AKA double caviar, named after the rush of chefs and other industry professionals that often dine at The Blanchard on Sundays. A single sprig of chervil and exactly two chive straws are the final touches to this eye-catching dish.
The small portion means it acts as an amuse to the meal, and at $16 a pop that is one expensive amuse. "I've had a couple people complain about the price," Paskewitz says. But that's not stopping them for ordering the Oeuf. The restaurant goes though several dozen during a busy evening. "I wanted to make it special and simple at the same time. I didn't want it to be something so over-the-top that no one could order it. And it's not, because I sell so many of them every night."