France, much like China, has different schools of cuisine in different regions. For France, Paris is the Mecca of all culinary art.
All chefs have to be in Paris at least once in their lifetime to receive the most rigorous training known to the world, and to taste the gourmet cuisines from all of France. Then, they have a shot to be recognized as real chefs by their peers. However, you do not have to go to Paris to taste true traditional French food. There is such a French restaurant on the west coast in San Francisco, Café de la Presse, which literally means “the Restaurant of the Press.”
Patrick Albert, a chef de Cuisine at Café de la Presse, tells us with pride, “The restaurant has traditional French cuisine, and you can find any dish as you would in Paris.”
One uniqueness about Café de la Presse is that all the food and the ingredients are handmade. Some of the cheeses and spices are shipped directly from France, and vegetables are from California’s organic farms. Seafood is fresh off the fishing boats coming into San Francisco’s wharfs.
For Chinese and other customers, if you desire a special seafood platter, you must let the restaurant know ahead of time. This is so they may pre-order from the fishing boats the seafood to ensure freshness.
Their famed duck leg stew with potato is cooked for six hours. The result is that the duck meat is succulent and tastes special. Another typical French dish served is rabbit stew. Before they cook the rabbit they let the legs dry first, and then marinate them with olive oil, white wine, and other spices for a night. The rabbit is cooked with flour and potatoes, hmm…yummy.
Desserts and salads are also one of a kind, both delicious and aesthetic. You just won’t want to put your fork in as it will destroy the artwork.
“French cuisine began with the return of Marco Polo from his adventures in the Far East. Potatoes and many spices were brought to Europe,” said Patrick. “The chefs hired for Louis XIV created a variety of dishes with these materials. Later, these dishes went outside of the King’s kitchen to the commoner’s dining tables which marked the origin of the French cuisine today.”
At age 16, Patrick began cooking in France, and suddenly it has been 26 years before he even realized it. He has a Chinese wife from Singapore, who gives him a taste of Chinese food. He lowers his voice when telling me that the French use different kinds of wines for different dishes, not “one for all” sort of way as Chinese chefs assume it to be.
Café de la Presse is a stone’s throw away from Chinatown in San Francisco. So, in the shortest time you can have a taste of the cuisine and culture of two nations. The restaurant is always packed with first timers and returned patrons. “They are passionate about running the restaurant,” said Olivier, Café manager, from France. “For it is a good place to make friends from all over the world.” He comes afar from his home country to San Francisco not only for the money, but also for the love of French cuisine. For Olivier, having people get a feel of French sophistication and friendliness is way beyond the consideration for financial gain.
Café de la Presse has dozens of staff from all races, working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The food costs what it would in a medium to high end Chinese restaurant.
What impresses us the most is not only the food, but the true French romantic atmosphere that has been created. Surrounded by the old wall posters, wine cabinets, wood furniture, children’s reading area and the counter for beverages, you feel as if you were inside a street corner café in Paris.
Interview : Lillian Zheng
Translation : David Li
Photo : New San Cai