FCBL: Behind the scenes at a 12-star dinner

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Food writer, Christopher Barber, was on the ground for the 10th anniversary of The Festival Culinaire Bernard Loiseau (FCBL) last week where he also saw the climax of the competition. See the hashtag #Constanceculinary for how the whole event unfolded.

Dominique Grel at the helm of the 12-Star Dinner

Dominique Grel (R) at the helm of the 12-Star Dinner

On my three previous visits to FCBL, I have been privileged to attend a dinner created by six Michelin starred chefs, each creating a course. This year, the 10th anniversary, the bar is raised even higher as the guest chefs each have 2 stars; hence becoming a 12-star dinner. Is there another event like this anywhere in the world?

On the line

I squeeze my way into The Deer Hunter kitchen to get close to the action, and see how these culinary superstars will work ‘cheek to cheek’. Dominique Grel, executive chef of Contance Belle Mare Plage has the somewhat daunting task of ‘running the pass’. Essentially he is the conductor of an orchestra, making sure that timing, consistency and quality are delivered as and when he wants, and if he needs to exert a bit of authority, he will. However, this is no ordinary orchestra, the assembled 12-star team are equivalent to having Mozart, Bach and Verdi in your strings section – perhaps not so easy to manage.

Grel at the helm

Chef Grel has it under control. He said: “I need consistency, this is a long service with some big tables, we are under pressure, but we will deliver.” As service begins, Chef Grel is the picture of concentration, taking table orders and instructions from the service team, barking orders to his superstar team.

Double Michelin-starred chef, Denis Feix, compiles the dish

Double Michelin-starred chef, Denis Feix, compiles the dish

Is a small kitchen in the Indian Ocean hot? Oh yes, it is like being inside a pressure cooker on full steam, yet lead by Chef Grel and Patrick Travady (FCBL winner with Bruce Poole in 2010 and now executive chef of The Deer Hunter Restaurant), service continues. As another order comes in, the noise gets a decibel too high for Chef Grel, and with an authoritative command “quiet in the kitchen”, order is resumed. Time for me to get to my table for dinner and scurry out of the furnace.

The menu

Each chef creates a course: tempura oysters, fired palm hearts, foie gras with ponzu, steamed cod, Wagyu beef… and a thankfully light dessert of red fruits, rose and pistachio and passion fruit, all accompanied by exquisite and perfectly matching wines.

There are dinners around the world where star chefs create a menu, or on occasions post dinner ‘work the room’ with a handshake and ‘selfie’ twirl. The 12-star dinner is different – each of the chefs become part of the team and actually prepare, cook and serve the dinner.

It was a magnificent culinary triumph, and no wonder Constance could have sold the event many times over – this was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

See how this year’s event unfolded on our storify timeline.

Get the inside track by following Christopher Barber on Twitter.

Follow all the news from this year’s Festival Culinaire Bernard Loiseau.

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