Pistachios – the American Ingredient Inspiring Top French Chefs
Chefs Laurent Manrique, Roland Passot and Gerald Hirigoyen hold the most envied title of their profession: Maître Cuisinier de France or Master Chef of France. Chefs are chosen to join one of the world’s most prestigious culinary associations through an exhaustive six-month review process that dates back to 1951.
For the three Bay Area residents and San Francisco restaurateurs, being named a Master Chef of France is “a lifetime achievement, significant career milestone and distinct honor” all in one. This year, they are also honored to play host to the organization’s annual Global Conference in San Francisco. They gathered in advance to discuss what’s inspiring them at the moment and how local ingredients shape their dishes. The common food item on their short lists? Pistachios, with which they are very familiar, having seen the many pistachio orchards that line the landscape throughout central and northern California.
“One of our duties as a Master Chef is to participate actively to promote products of ‘top quality,’” said Hirigoyen, owner of Piperade. “Pistachios grown here in California, not far from San Francisco, are superior in color and taste. I love to use pistachios because not only are they a great thing visually, they are healthy, too. They’re buttery in flavor, but the lowest in fat, actually. They can go in toppings, fillings and soups.” (See recipe below.)
The green nut’s versatility appeals to the proprietor of popular Café del la Presse, Manrique, as well. “When I came to California, I discovered the greatness of cooking with pistachios. There are so many things you can do, from savory dishes to sweet. The inspiration is endless. Put them on salads and in pates. Even when you cook pistachios, they keep that wonderful texture and crunch.”
At La Folie on Russian Hill, Chef Passot’s cuisine blends French tradition with contemporary culinary creativity, and features seasonal, fresh, organic and sustainably harvested fare that is locally sourced whenever possible. This includes pistachios. “French cuisine doesn’t have to be rich to be delicious. I use pistachios because of their natural, healthy fats and oils. Plus they have great flavor and give you energy, just eating them out of hand with an aperitif.”
All three attest to the power of pistachios outside the kitchen and snack on the nut for energy during their outdoor pursuits — Passot sailing, Manrique hiking and Hirigoyen cycling.
“Health-wise, pistachios are beautiful nuts in terms of what they contain: potassium, antioxidants and fiber. I call them the Super Nuts, and you will find them in my kitchen and in my bike pack,” said Hirigoyen.
Pistachio Gazpacho with Watermelon and Cucumber
By Chef Gerald Hirigoyen, Piperade, San Francisco
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups Pistachios, shelled
1 medium Cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced in 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup Celery stalk, diced
1½ cups Pain de mie (or other soft white bread), chopped
2 small Garlic cloves, degermed and finely chopped
4 cups Cold water
Juice of One lemon
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 cup watermelon, 1/4” cubes
1 cup Croutons
4 sprigs Fresh tarragon
1/8 teaspoon Ground white pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
In a large bowl, combine the pistachios, most of the diced cucumber (reserving a small amount for garnish), celery, pain de mie, garlic and water.
Working in two separate batches, pour half of the ingredients into a blender and puree on high speed until contents are smooth throughout, about 2 minutes, and then transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Stir in the freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Strain all of the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass bowl or airtight container, gently pushing all of the liquid through with a spatula or back of a ladle. Discard the solid ingredients.
Season the soup with salt; refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.
To serve, divide the soup into 4 shallow bowls and garnish evenly with the reserved cucumber and diced watermelon. Scatter croutons and a sprig of tarragon on top of each bowl. Season with ground white pepper to taste and drizzle small dots of extra virgin olive oil over the top.