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Nov 23, 2017
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Meals That Changed My Life

Meals That Changed My Life: Gian Nicola Colucci at Cielo

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

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Cielo executive chef Gian Nicola Colucci fell in love with food as a kid growing up in Turin, Italy. When he left Turin for the first time at 24 to work at Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia in New York, the city opened his eyes to foods and cultures he’d never experienced. Since then, he has worked at luxury hotels that have taken him all over the world and picked up influences from Capri to Hyderabad before landing at the Four Seasons in St. Louis. Here, he shares four meals from four countries that changed his life.

Turin, Italy
“My family [raised] rabbits. In Italy, the city where I grew up – Turin – rabbits are the famous ingredient. [My father] cooks rabbit with potato and tomato; it’s something unique, and today when I try to make it the same way it never comes out like his. I don’t know what he does to it. He doesn’t braise or anything – he puts all the ingredients together in a wood-burning oven, and 40 minutes later he takes it out and it’s perfect! Color, flavor, taste, texture, perfect. I say, ‘How you do that?’ and he says, ‘I don’t know.’

“I do the same – I don’t miss any ingredients – but the result is different. Then I try to sear the meat, roast the potato before, but some ingredients don’t completely cook or overcook; the color’s not there. I do it in the exact same oven. When he cooks, he doesn’t pay the attention I pay, but it’s perfect. Maybe one day he’ll tell me his secret. But it’s him – it’s just him. Food is really particular; a magic situation can happen from the beginning to the end, and even with the same ingredients different people give different results.”

Le Bernardin, New York, 1997
“We went to Le Bernardin – it was a kind of crazy moment of emotion. It was my first time in a three-Michelin star restaurant. What I remember is this parsnip truffle soup combined with escargot that was an explosion of flavor. The soup was creamy. Sometimes I joke with my guys that French people just [add] cream to make everything perfect. It was creamy, but the parsnip flavor was strong; a touch of garlic was there. The combination with the snails was amazing. That, for sure, is a plate you remember. When you do something correct, people come back for that plate. For that plate, I want to go back.”

Japan, 2011
“In Japan, I discovered matcha. Of course you can see this ingredient in the United States, but when you go there, you taste matcha in different kinds of items. I remember this matcha store where you can buy the tea, but you can taste [it in] their gelato, sweet items, cookies. That was really nice, to taste how one ingredient can be used in different items. There, I can tell you I tasted matcha in the right way.

“For chefs, it’s important to understand the ingredient, the flavor and how to use it in your style so that it makes sense, so everything is connected completely. Sometimes now in my gelato I use matcha tea; I use it in pastas. You can operate anywhere in the world if you’re able to open your mind, learn and accept different influences.”

Alain Ducasse, Monte Carlo, 2004
“We went out for dinner at Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo at this beautiful hotel, Louis Cannes. It was a kind of dream to go there to eat. Each plate had a huge component of vegetables, but presented in a different way. At that time, vegetables for me were just a side. I realized that vegetables were the main ingredients – all the other components were the sides. Something changed in my mind – I never thought of that.

“He did a fillet of turbot (a flat fish, really common in Europe with a white, flaky meat, really sweet) with different roots, vegetables, foam, a base sauce and cream. The vegetables became the main component. The fish was there – it was OK, but all the components he put with different textures and combinations and consistency made the plate special, unique. From that moment, I said, ‘I want to change my concept.’ I continue today to increase vegetables in my plates.”

Illustration by Vidhya Nagarajan

Meera Nagarajan is art director at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
Sauce Magazine: November 2017

• Meals That Changed My Life: Mike Randolph

• Meals That Changed My Life: Christy Augustin

Meals That Changed My Life: Mike Randolph

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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Chef Mike Randolph has opened a number of restaurants since working at Chicago’s now-shuttered Moto. Starting with The Good Pie in 2008, Randolph went on to open Half & Half, Little Country Gentleman, Medianoche, Randolfi’s and Público. As he gears up to open Half & Half’s second location in Webster Groves this summer, he told us about one meal he ate in 2001 when he was at a professional fork in the road and the late chef Michel Richard changed his life.

 

Citronelle, Washington, D.C. (2001)
“I was finishing school for political science and had just kind of realized I hadn’t done well enough to get the jobs I really wanted. I didn’t want to muddle around at the bottom of the industry, so I started thinking about culinary school. One night [my wife, my parents and I] went to Michel Richard’s Citronelle in D.C. It was in the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, and the restaurant had this beautiful glass-front kitchen. It was the first time I had seen four guys plating one plate of food. And I remember thinking, ‘Look how calm everything is.’ The kitchens I had worked in were like a mad rush, and here’s this place and nobody’s breaking a sweat.

“One of the things that really stuck out to me was that there was a sense of humor in the food. They had the toques, the pressed chef jackets, tweezers, all that … but at the same time they didn’t take themselves too seriously. I remember getting a plate that looked like a sunny side up egg with bacon and toast. I think the toast was marzipan, the bacon was something, the egg was set panna cotta for the whites and a mango for the middle. Now, that dish is the Food Network version of molecular gastronomy, like, ‘You can do this at home in six easy steps!’ But in 2001, it was eye-opening. Here you are at this French institution, and you expect this delicate little financier, and then here comes this cafeteria tray. There was the sense that Michel Richard was having fun with you at the end of your meal.

“This was before Moto and Alinea. Throughout the course of the night, I was just totally blown away that food could be something that I never knew about. It was perfectly seasoned small bites of food, tons of textures – that was Michel Richard’s big thing. Every dish had some crunchy element, some kind of creative textural contrast. It was absolutely my first exposure to any of that, and I think that’s what made me so interested in Moto. At this point in my life, [molecular gastronomy] is something I’ve grown out of – now I just want a perfectly cooked piece of meat with one sauce. But I felt like at that time it was cool to research and delve into what food could be – texturally and flavor-wise. I’ve had a lot of pretty transcendent meals, but that stands alone.”

 

Illustration by Vidhya Nagarajan

Editors’ Note: The print issue of this story incorrectly stated that the new Half & Half location would be in Kirkwood. This piece has been updated with the correct location. 

Meals That Changed My Life: Christy Augustin

Monday, June 6th, 2016

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Like a free dessert on your birthday, meals sometimes come with an unexpected extra. Pint Size Bakery co-owner Christy Augustin’s most memorable dining experiences came with a complimentary side of “Aha!” From staring down sprinkle cookies in Granite City to wiggling her toes in the warm Key West sand, here are the meals that changed her life.

 

Mrs. Siebold’s Bakery, Wood River, childhood
“The sprinkle cookies were (what) I had to have, always. Every time we’d go in, I’d stare at the case, eye-level with the cookies, and I had to have one. They were the one thing I knew we had to have at Pint Size. That memory of the smell of the bakery and the enjoyment and excitement – I love that. Mrs. Siebold’s is gone now, but I see it as part of Pint Size’s mission to carry on the old-fashioned bakery that welcomes children and makes things for kids or the kid in you.”

Chez Panisse Café, Berkeley, California, 1999
“It is the first time I remember being awakened by flavor. At that time, California cuisine was still getting out there in the world. (My husband Matt and I) had a lasagna that was just sliced tomatoes, pesto and cheese with fresh pasta, and the dessert was an apple or pear lightly cooked with a light syrup. Before I just ate to feed myself, not really for the enjoyment. And I had never thought much about where my food comes from, but here it was part of the conversation, and was even printed on the menus. It completely changed my perspective.”

Blue Heaven, Key West, Florida, 2002
“My husband and I eloped on a sailboat in Key West, and we went that night to a restaurant called Blue Heaven. It wasn’t anything fancy, but there was a swing in a tree and my feet were in the sand and we ate shrimp and crab and Key lime pie. That meal was the start of my life moving forward instead of being a kid and just doing whatever pleased me. I don’t remember much about the food, but it was making a conscious decision that my life was going to mean something.”

Home, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2004
“When Julia Child died, (my friends and I) did an homage to her. We were trying to cook this elaborate meal in her honor using what was seasonal. We made this torte with layers of ham and cheese and peppers and spinach wrapped in puff pastry. We made coq au vin and green beans amandine. Somebody brought profiteroles and we had chocolate mousse and a savory crab soufflé. We thought we were all so fancy. It was the pinnacle of our friendship.”

 

-illustration by Vidhya Nagarajan

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