Slow-cooking techniques popularized by top restaurants are key to improving meals eaten on the go, according to chef Raymond Blanc, who has set himself the goal of creating an authentic Boeuf Bourguignon for passengers on Eurostar International Ltd.’s Channel Tunnel expresses.
Blanc, whose Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons holds two Michelin stars, is introducing methods including the fashionable sous-vide style, in which food is poached for hours in plastic bags, to Eurostar trains linking London with Paris and Brussels.
At Blanc’s urging, Eurostar’s suppliers have switched to state-of-the-art steaming, blanching and grilling equipment that allows food cooked in advance to retain its flavour and colour when reheated before serving. The Frenchman, who moved to England in 1972, said he’s also stepping up local sourcing to get seasonal produce from the ground to the train in 48 hours.
“I want to feel proud to put my name to it,” Blanc said in an interview at Eurostar’s London’s St. Pancras terminus. “At Le Manoir we serve produce from my garden the same day, when for the train the logistics mean it must be refrigerated. But we choose very carefully and we’re improving the technique and understanding. It’s a great adventure.”
Blanc, who has been working with Eurostar for three years, said he’s about half way through the process of transforming and updating the rail operator’s food and drink offerings.
The chef ordered a change in the company’s cooking process after visiting the kitchens of suppliers in Burgundy, Kent and Brussels, according to Yann Bayeul, Eurostar’s catering contract manager, who said adoption of the sous-vide -- meaning “in a vacuum” -- approach has made the biggest impact.
“Sous-vide was completely new for our suppliers,” he said. “It takes more time from a productivity point of view, but the food is so much more tender. It improves the taste of meat in particular. Our chicken now is always cooked this way.”
Other technology introduced by Blanc includes equipment to smoke meat and fish, and Spanish-style “plancha” flat-plate grills that encourage food to caramelize and improve its colour.
Eurostar serves premium passengers with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner, with a choice of two meals for each drawn from six menus that rotate weekly and change completely twice a year, maximizing choice for frequent business travellers.
On the menu this week is a starter of smoked salmon with artichoke and crème fraiche, followed by beef braised in English red wine with truffle mash and carrots or duck breast with duck confit salad. Dessert includes a white chocolate champagne tart.
The ultimate challenge would be to present a meal such as Boeuf Bourguignon, which Blanc typically cooks for 4 1/2 hours at 85 degrees, according to the chef, who said his aim is to introduce methods that ensure passengers always receive appetizing dishes, rather than mimic Michelin-standard cuisine.
Le Manoir, in Great Milton, near Oxford, has held two Michelin stars for 30 years. The 32-room country-house hotel’s autumn menu features spiced cauliflower soup with roasted scallops, cornish mackerel with a soy, honey, ginger and lime sauce, and braised beef ribs with cep mushrooms and smokey mash.
Blanc, whose television work includes BBC series “Kitchen Secrets,” “The Very Hungry Frenchman” and “The Restaurant,” said that while his cuisine was originally inspired by the rustic cooking of his mother, the Eurostar menus aim to be modern, light and international rather than classically French.
The chef, who turns 65 next week, spoke yesterday on a Siemens AG e320 express after Eurostar ordered seven more of the 200-mile-an-hour trains, taking its backlog for the model to 17 units, with the first due to enter service in a year’s time after the commencement of trials in the UK.
After two decades with a timetable built around routes from London to Paris and Brussels, Eurostar is preparing to add trains to Amsterdam and Marseille while boosting connections with other operators across France and to Switzerland.
The 900-seat e320 has 20 per cent more capacity than current Eurostar trains, which were built by Alstom SA based on the French company’s TGV design. The new units have bigger seats, free Wi-Fi and interiors from Italian auto stylist Pininfarina.
Bloomberg News, edited by Hospitality Ireland