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Pierre Calmels

Chef Pierre Calmels
Photo courtesy of Bibou

F&W Star Chef

Restaurant: Bibou, Philadelphia

Experience: Restaurant Daniel (New York City), Château d’Ouchy (Switzerland), Le Bec Fin (Philadelphia)

Education: École Hôtelière (Lausanne, Switzerland)

What dish are you most famous for?
We do a stuffed pig’s foot with foie gras. It is a three-day process: We drain the feet and simmer them overnight until they are soft enough to debone. While they are still warm, the trotters are stuffed with foie gras, wrapped in caul fat and sautéed. We serve them with lentils du Puy. When I put this dish on the menu people thought I was crazy because it’s so rich. But it’s classic French!

What is one cooking technique that everyone should know?
How to cook with butter. Butter acts like a thermometer: If it is bubbling or foaming, it gives you a good idea about the temperature of your pan. If you want to get perfect color on a piece of meat you should wait until you see nice big bubbles. When it starts to turn brown you can put anything in the pan and it won’t stick. If people knew how to cook with butter we wouldn’t need Teflon anymore.

What is your secret-weapon ingredient?
Shallots. You can add them to anything and they give such a good flavor, especially roasted or with vegetables in a sauté. It’s not something you should be able to taste—you might not identify the flavor of the shallots when you sample a dish, but it tastes better with them than without.

If you could invest in a dream project, what would it be?
I think I would build the perfect French brasserie. You can find places like this in Paris, with two- or three-hundred seats, serving dishes like tripe, brain, tongue, stomach and kidney. No one wants to eat this stuff anymore, but it’s so good.

If you were going to take Thomas Keller out to eat, where would you bring him?
I would bring him to France, and I’d have my mother cook for him. I would ask her to make poulet de Bresse à la crème. It’s a poached chicken dish, made with a special bird from Bourg-en-Bresse, in Burgundy. There’s cream inside and some egg. My mother used to make it for us on Sunday for lunch and serve it with simple rice.

If you were facing an emergency, and could take only one backpack filled with supplies, what would you grab?
I would take some saucisson and some bread, of course. Then butter and wine because you can’t have a good meal without it.

What is your current food obsession?
I can’t stop eating chocolate; it’s comfort food for me. I can eat a quarter-pound of chocolate in 10 minutes. One piece after another. If I open a chocolate bar I have to finish it, I can’t put it away. Right now I am more interested in dark chocolate—about 60 or 70 percent.

What is your favorite cookbook of all time?
Ginette Mathiot’s I Know How to Cook is a classic book that almost every mother gives to her daughter in France. That’s how my wife got it. It’s a very simple reference for everyday home cooking—I use it to get the base recipe for something.

What is your favorite food letter of the alphabet?
I would choose F, for foie gras and for fall, which is my favorite season for ingredients.

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