Would I like to cook with Michelin-starred chef and DS brand ambassador Pascal Aussignac at his Club Gascon restaurant a Smithfield at the very first cooking class he has hosted there?
Opening in 1998, Club Gascon is tucked away in a corner of Smithfield, and specialises in imaginative cuisine from the South West of France, most specifically Gascony. Their food is monitored by “Le Comité Renaissance” who have a commitment to maintaining the highest standards of freshness and authenticity, and Aussignac himself comes from Toulouse where duck, fine charcuterie, cassoulet, good wines and Armagnac are the order of the day. He trained with French master Chefs like Gerard Vie, Alain Dutournier and Guy Savoy. and in 2013 he was named ‘Restaurant Chef of the Year’ at the Craft Guild of Chef Awards .
Whilst Pascal cooks at Club Gascon every day and, in addition to his role as Executive Chef, looks after the floral arrangements across all of his other award-winning restaurants Cellar Gascon, Comptoir Gascon, Cigalon & Baranis. This connection became evident when we took a short drive in the DS from Club Gascon to Cigalon to pick up an extra ingredient for our lesson – tulips, which eventually became our lunch.
This is the car that took us to Cigalon, from Club Gascon, the new DS which Aussuganac himself drives.
I knew that one can’t eat daffodils because they are poisonous, but it had never occurred to me that one could eat a tulip. (Aussignac recommends sourcing Italian flowers for gastronomy, as the Dutch ones are treated with pesticides.) To prep for cooking one simply needs to gently rinse the tulips and remove the stamens, before filling them with a stuffing – in this case, one made from quinoa and courgettes.
The menu that Pascal prepared for me was (this was the vegetarian option):
Landes White Asparague with Lemon Pulp and Spring Variations
Toasted Fennel, “Quinotto”, Trumpets & Tulip
Red Hot Chilli Berries
I was the first to admit that I have swerved Club Gascon in the past as I presumed it would major on the meat-heavy cuisine of the South West, leaving little room for vegetarians. (I never want to be the person having a tantrum about a lack of vegetarian options in a restaurant that wears its philosophy on its sleeve – which is why I don’t hang out at Pitt Cue, or line up at Burger & Lobster.)
How wrong I was – the menu at Club Gascon has thoughtful, complex dishes that make vegetables their focus and Aussignac visibly bristled when I explained why I hadn’t visited in the past, quite clearly taking it as an insult that a chef might be considered to be boxed in a meat corner. I believe he’s right, and was charmed by his insistence that vegetables can take centre stage just as readily as meat or fish; I just wish more chefs shared his point of view. (I’m still extremely angered by the small-minded insolence of one of the chefs in Phil Howard’s brigade when he discovered I was vegetarian in a general conversation at an event earlier this year.)
57 W Smithfield, London EC1A 9DS.
With huge thanks to both DS and Pascal Aussignac for the cookery lesson and for lunch