Licking the bowl is a childhood rite of passage, no matter what culture you grew up in. For French-born Julien Audibert-Lebon, 43, the bowl he loved best was his grandmother's chocolate mousse.
A grandparent's signature dish is always going to be special, but his grandmother, Regine, was also a chef. She ran a popular bistro in the south of France where Audibert-Lebon spent his childhood summers.
"When I was about seven or eight, I was hanging around and help her mostly in her kitchen and watching everything she was cooking. I was looking, smelling, helping her chop stuff and always helping cleaning the dishes because I loved to eat the leftovers. I was greedy,” Audivert-Lebon laughs.
"I would fight her to do the cleaning, especially the chocolate mousse bowl. I would say, 'Please give it to me, I will look after it'."
"I would fight her to do the cleaning, especially the chocolate mousse bowl."
Despite working with notable French chefs in Paris, such as Pierre Hermé and Dominique Grel, when it came to putting together the menu for L'Heritage in Chowder Bay on Sydney's lower north shore, Audibert-Lebon chose his grandmother's recipe for the chocolate mousse.
"It's a very simple recipe, with good ingredients like 70 per cent Belgian chocolate," he says.
"The feeling I have today when I eat it is exactly the same as when I was a kid. At the moment, I'm having one every night. I'm not patient, I'm eating it before it sets. I just love the texture when it's soft, it is a little bit creamier and I put a lot of Chantilly cream to balance the strong flavour of chocolate."
Does he love it because it's good or because it reminds him of his grandmother?
"It definitely brings me back memories of when I was a kid. It's like the chicken and the egg, which one is the first one? Probably because of my childhood I would say," he reflects.
Regine's bistro was in Nimes, which is close to Spain and Italy, so her cooking was influenced by the Mediterranean.
''Where I grew up, in the north, we use more butter and the south of France use olive oil. The food is lighter, it's more like seafood in the south or a stew in the north, like beef Bourguignon. She (Regine) had a Spanish background and was cooking a lot of seafood, pasta and gnocchi and bouillabaisse, a typical fish stew of the area,” Audibert-Lebon says.
Her ricotta gnocchi also made it onto the menu at L'Heritage.
"We don't do gnocchi that much up north; it was more the south. She has been carrying this recipe a long time, her grandmother used to make it for her and I do it at home, a big batch all the time," he says.
"It is smoother and lighter than potato, we do it with a spinach cream sauce, peas, mushrooms, truffle paste and parmesan. My grandmother was doing more of a tomato sauce with chorizo and green pea and mixing a little cream in the sauce. Chorizo she was using a lot, she would do paella as well using saffron and pastis and that's what I'm using a lot in my cooking.
"Pastis is a French alcohol from the south of France, I flambe it through seafood, risotto and in the bisque for the base of the bouillabaisse. So, it's interesting, I don't like the alcohol itself, but I like it in cooking. It has a sweet anise flavour but without the strength of the alcohol, because we flambéed it."
Regine's beloved saffron also makes an appearance in the bouillabaisse, Audibert-Lebon gives what is traditionally a fisherman's stew made of scraps a luxe makeover with lobster and serves it with rouille, a saffron aioli.
L'Heritage's menu was also influenced by the French bistros of Paris and Audibert-Lebon's favourite dishes, which meant he had to include a proper beef tartare with condiments such as cornichons, capers and eschallots are served on the side, rather than mixed through the raw beef.
"In France, the condiments are served separately and people do it to their convenience," he says.
"When I eat beef tartare, I want to do it exactly how I like it. If they (the kitchen) do it themselves I'm a little afraid that it's not the same experience. It could be too spicy or too many eschallots. I like preparing it so I'm sure it will be how I like it."
Being a chef, he couldn't help a little twist and swapped the raw egg yolk for a 63 degrees Celsius egg.
"I am with a Japanese partner and discovered with her the 63 C egg. For a steak tartare, is good to know that the egg is cooked and still has the same texture as the raw egg. Normally just the egg yolk is done and not the white, but the texture of the white in the 63C egg brings something new to the dish," Audibert-Lebon says.
- 5 eggs
- 110 g Belgium chocolate 70%
- 100 g butter
- 115 g caster sugar
- Pinch of sea salt
- 300 ml pouring cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- 40 g caster sugar
1. Separate egg whites and yolks.
2. Make a meringue with egg white, sugar and salt.
3. Heat the butter and once simmering, pour into a bowl with the chocolate and stir until the chocolate and melted and the texture is even.
4. Fold the meringue gently through the chocolate mixture.
5. Let it set in serving glasses.
6. To make the chantilly, combine all ingredients and whip thoroughly.
7. Serve the mousse with a generous helping of chantilly and an almond biscuit, such as ‘Langue de chat' and toasted almonds for texture.
Tip: To achieve a smooth, even texture, all ingredients have to be at the same temperature when mixed together so ensure the butter and eggs are at room temperature before starting this recipe.