Michel Bras Signs, Shreds and Slices!

Michel Bras at Williams Sonoma in NYC

 

Earlier this week I drove three hours down to Manhattan to attend an unusual and special event to which I had the honor of having been invited. It was a unique opportunity to meet Michel Bras, the legendary Chef from Aubrac near Laguiole, France, where he grew up, learned to cook from his Chef-mother, took over the family hotel/restaurant, Lou Mazuc  and opened a new one, the eponymous Michel Bras in 1992 that finally earned 3 Michelin stars in 1999. Bras was joined in the kitchen by his son Sebastien and in 2003 the restaurant was renamed  Bras Michel & Sebastien.  Bras, the famous chef from the famous French knife making city of Laguiole, teamed up with the family-owned Japanese knife making company KAI (makers of Shun knives) to come up with a unique line of high quality culinary knives that were introduced in 2005.  The have since come up with additional cutlery items including two types of kitchen shears a variety of peelers, shredders and graters.

Alex Talbot has his books signed by Michel Bras

 

Amidst passed hors d’ouvres and wine, Williams-Sonoma introduced the new kitchen tools along with Bras’ knives and books at their top NYC store in the Time Warner Center in a private event that featured Chef Bras himself demonstrating all his tools. Prior to his demonstration, he took the time to sign copies of his book, Essential Cuisine. My friend, Alex Talbot brought his copies of not only Essential Cuisine, but Bras’ other books as well, all of which Chef Bras happily signed.

Spread throughout the store were stations where the guests could examine and try the various tools with the assistance of Williams-Sonoma sales staff. Still, it was Chef Bras that the crowd, which included luminaries like Chris Cosentino, Amanda Hesser, Kate Krader, Dorie Greenspan, and Francis Lam amongst others, was here to see. Not a large man, Michel Bras is trim and wiry, looking much younger than his actual age. Quite fit, he joked that he came over to New York to scout out the NYC Marathon Route. He is planning to compete along with his son, who he hopes to beat.

Introduced by the President of KAI, Koji Endo, Bras situated himself behind the Williams-Sonoma demonstration kitchen island, which had been decorated to resemble a large scale precursor version of Bras’ famous Gargouillou, the seasonal assemblage of vegetables, roots, flowers, herbs, seeds and leaves along with the occasional slice of ham. Gathering his tools, he spoke of his relationship with KAI and launched into demonstrating the abilities of the various tools using the foods set out before him.

Using a paring knife to peel and trim a broccoli stem, Bras waxed about the values of  all parts of a plant and how they could be used to advantage. In regards to broccoli stems, I agree with Bras, who considers them to be the best part of the broccoli plant.

He employed the serrated bread knife on two loaves of very fresh bread, one a baguette and the other a rustic loaf to explain the technique and motion of slicing with a knife, basically rocking into the slice with a graceful, rounded, forward motion. His slices were, in fact, clean and precise, with the crusty, soft interiored bread left uncrushed.

The chef went back and forth demonstrating various instruments. He used a peeler to shave the tough, fibrous outer strands from celery, to create ribbons of cucumber, pithless lemon peel and most impressively ribbons of banana from which he constructed a banana millefeuille using grated nuts, dried fruit, cookies and other ingredients. A moment of levity occurred when he asked for some vanilla and was handed a bottle of vanilla extract. Bras took one look at the bottle, shook his head and huffily refused it. A moment later, a store employee located vanilla beans, which Bras diced finely with his knife to add to his spontaneous creation.

His graters and shredders received much attention having been utilized to grate fresh carrot, the afore mentioned nuts and cookies, hard cheese, daikon and other things. He made it look all so easy!

An artichoke was the beneficiary of two tools as Bras used the paring knife and the peeler to trim away the outer leaves to expose the flower’s deliciously naked heart.

Still Life composed by Alex Talbot & Kate Krader from Bras' Banana Millefeuille

While it was a long way to travel for what essentially was a glorified infomercial, Bras is no huckster and I am glad that I did. I got to meet and see one of the world’s greatest chefs, hang with my son and some friends new and old and came away with a personally signed copy of his book, a set of the grater/shredders and a few other goodies. Bras’ KAI line of goods is not cheap, but they do appear to be of the highest quality and are beautiful to boot. I look forward to trying out my new tools and maybe some day springing for some of those gorgeous knives.

 


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4 Responses to Michel Bras Signs, Shreds and Slices!

  1. Reid says:

    John,

    What an amazing experience this must have been. I have been wanting to dine at Bras for years, but have not made it out there yet. Maybe next year. I am planning to travel to Spain, France and Italy.

    • docsconz says:

      Reid, I am not proud to say that I have yet to dine there as well. While I look forward to dining there under the helm of Michel’s son, Sebastien, I regret having missed the opportunity to dine there when Michel was in complete charge of the kitchen himself, if only to be able to compare the then, now and future for myself.

  2. Hello there,

    Hope you don’t mind the intrusion, but your piece on Bras at Williams-Sonoma was lovely.

    I have a house in the Aveyron, and this year will be my 19th consecutive visit chez Bras. If the style has changed since my first visit, it’s barely noticeable, so don’t worry about lamenting Michel’s disappearance too much! Sebastien has been in the wings for long enough to know how to propel the place, and Michel still cooks on many nights, ar at least sits in his little office cube watching the stoves like a hawk. The gargouillou is every bit as good as it always was, if a wee bit more colourful, and in recent years there’s been an acceptance of spices into the regimen that wasn’t there before – this, no doubt, due to the family’s frequent holidays to South America, Africa and the Far East. Out front, Ginette has gone, but Véro, Sebastien’s charming wife, is just as effortlessly efficient on the floor, taking time to talk with every table, whilst co-ordinating the young staff, who are always courteous, witty and relaxed, something refreshing, which many more formal 3-star joints should take note of. I reckon. And my favourite sommelier Sergio Calderon, can still pick me a winner from the list without fail. A superb fella.

    Last year I was very kindly invited to Michel’s home garden, and spent an hour walking between the plants with the great man himself, talking recipes and gardening tips. I will never forget it.

    I urge you, of all the places in Europe to eat, Bras should be the booking around which you work your itinerary. Save up, and take a room. Heck, stay a couple of nights to do the menu justice. The views from your bed, even on inclement days, are truly breathtaking.

    It is, without doubt, my favourite foodie place on Earth, and I never tire of telling people about it.

    Cheerio!

    • docsconz says:

      Thank you for reading and for your comment. While I have always wanted to go Bras, your comment has made me want to do so that much more.

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