If there’s one dish that pays homage to the simplicity and sophistication of French cuisine, it has to be the baked egg-based wonder that is the soufflé.
By deduction then, to respectfully honour the ingenuity of French food, the only decent thing to do is gorge on 20 kinds of salty and sugary soufflés for entrée, main and dessert when you next visit Paris…right?
“Our country is full of culinary specialties but soufflés are a very strong one because they are beautiful to look at, very good to eat and very hard to make."
The 50-year-old restaurant, Le Soufflé, is not only a fine dining restaurant with old-world charm, white tablecloths and French paintings, but it’s also the Parisian institution that you can visit to savour as many soufflés as your stretched stomach can handle.
“We welcome approximately 150 persons per day for lunch and dinner,” Le Soufflé’s manager, Nicolas Josnard tells SBS. “We make between 350 and 600 soufflés per day. To do that, we use between 400 and 500 eggs per day.”
Soufflés are a culinary tradition
Josnard, who is the son of Le Soufflé’s owner Eric Josnard, explains that each perfectly light and fluffy golden soufflé served here acts as a culinary ode to the traditional favourite, which was invented in the early eighteenth century.
“Until the 1990s, our mothers used to cook soufflés. This tradition is lost now, so French people come to Le Soufflé to find their childhood. International customers come here to discover French cuisine."
“Soufflé is a very old French speciality,” he says. “Our country is full of culinary specialities but soufflés are a very strong one because they are beautiful to look at, very good to eat and very hard to make.
“Until the 1990s, our mothers used to cook soufflés. This tradition is lost now, so French people come to Le Soufflé to find their childhood. International customers come here to discover French cuisine, especially the original soufflé dish.”
Josnard says the soufflé recipe is not difficult but it is hard to manage.
“You need a powerful oven and a good mix with your ingredients. If you put too much egg whites, your soufflé is going to rise perfectly in the oven but when you will take it out from the oven it is going to collapse immediately. And if you don't mix enough egg whites, your soufflé will never rise. You have to practice to find good proportions.
“Savoury soufflés are basically béchamel sauce, beaten egg whites and a filling of whatever you want: cheese, spinach, foie gras, etcetera.”
A soufflé degustation
Diners at Le Soufflé can visit for lunch or dinner and select a three-course soufflé menu. For entrée, you can choose between soufflés made with cheese, cheese and ham, fresh goats’ cheese with a millefeuille of beetroot, or salmon and spinach.
Be warned: the main courses are all significantly larger than the soufflé entrées, reaching up to around 20 centimetres high.
Fillings for the main course soufflés include mushroom poultry sauce, pike and crayfish, beef Bourguignon, or green and white asparagus. But be warned: the main courses are all significantly larger than the soufflé entrées, reaching up to around 20 centimetres high.
If the sight of a giant soufflé isn’t enough to excite you, waiters dial up the theatrics up a notch during the main course by pouring an extra helping of your chosen filling on top of the soufflé. This is where the magic happens – in a simple but elegant manoeuvre, the sauce delicately punctures the soufflé’s pastry hat and trickles down into its thick body. The waiter leaves behind any leftover filling in a silver sauce boat, so you can continue to decimate your soufflé with more sauce, again and again.
Once you’re done with the main, take a deep breath, sip some wine and dig deep for your third soufflé wind, because it’s time for dessert in soufflé heaven.
“Sweet soufflés are made with custard and beaten egg whites and whatever filling you want,” Josnard says. “You need to have the right proportions with your béchamel sauce and the egg whites, and the same for the custard and the egg whites for the sweet soufflés.”
Your choice of sugary filling spans Grand Marnier, chocolate, apple and calvados, white chocolate, rhubarb, vanilla rum and raisins, pistachios and chocolate sauce, lemon, vanilla, almonds and toffee ice cream, and chocolate with fresh cream and rum.
Of course, if it’s all a bit too much, you can also order non-soufflé meals from the traditional French menu. But where’s the excessive, extravagant, flaky pastry fun in that?
Hosting a dinner party? Rise to the occasion with sensational soufflé and check out our recipe collection here. Luke Nguyen's France takes us on a gastronomical flavour adventure. Double episodes air every Tuesday night from 7.30pm on SBS Food (Channel 33).
Finish off a special dinner with this frozen dessert. It’s made with softened dried apricots, and there is no last-minute preparation.
The flavours in this soufflé are simple but classic. I love the nuttiness of the Comté and the natural saltiness of the pancetta.