The executive chef and co-owner of Westport Cafe and Bar shares four classic French recipes and the memories they inspire
For me, French cuisine is about its origin and its memories.
Origin, because French food is the fabric of my family and is in my genes. My family is from the Eastern mountainous region of France—the Jura.
Gerard Millard, my maternal grandfather, was a successful butcher who taught me to enjoy the simple pleasures of finding and using the best ingredients. Every year in November I would go with him to La Foire de Dijon, one of the most important food events in France. We would walk around to the different food trucks and eat all day long. I think it was at that time that I started to enjoy the pleasure of eating a good meal.
Monique Petit, my paternal grandmother, still eats only what she can grow. She takes care of her food in the same way that she devotes herself to her garden. When I need inspiration, I think of her with her head near the ground working in her garden.
Her father, Desire Petit, started a vineyard in 1932, and my family still today nurtures the same vines when making wine for their meals.
My uncle, Michel Monnoyeur, owns his own vineyard. When I used to visit him, we would talk about wine for hours. I wanted to understand how he made his wine. His lessons help drive my passion for cooking. Learning from my uncle always included great wine and cuisine.
Sharing a meal in France may take three or four hours, because it is not just about food but also about spending time with friends and family. These meals provide some of the deepest memories that I bring to my Kansas City kitchen.
Besides cooking in my restaurant, I really enjoy cooking at home with a nice pinot noir and some jazz music, because both slow me down and help me better appreciate my first passion, cooking.
At the tender age of 16, Romain Monnoyeur’s love of cooking led him to study French cuisine and restaurant management in Poligny, France. After graduating with honors, he served stints at restaurants in Lons-le-Saunier and Lyon, France. An internship with Cafe des Amis in Parkville in 2012 brought him to the United States—and to Missouri—for the first time. After that, on to Florida and a chance to work as a commis de cuisine under the tutelage of Paul Bocuse at his brasserie in Orlando. Monnoyeur’s last position before coming to Kansas City was as the chef de partie at Le Caillebotte in Paris, voted best bistro in Paris in 2014. The opportunity to work as an executive chef and co-owner of his own restaurant brought him back to Kansas City last year, where he’s put his own imprint on the French-inspired classics at Westport Cafe and Bar.
Gnocchi with Ginger and Comte Cheese
We are going to start with my favorite snack. Gnocchi is a form of Italian pasta that we love making at home in France. This recipe was inspired by my grandmother. It’s one of her signature dishes.
4 cups of warm, riced potatoes (it’s important to make the gnocchi when the potatoes are warm)
2 cups of sharp Comte cheese, shredded (you may substitute Gruyere or Parmesan)
Additional cheese for garnish
2 cups of flour
8 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pimiento de espelette or cayenne pepper
2 ounces of grated ginger
2 tablespoons of butter
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Empty the contents onto a counter or marble slab. Knead ingredients until they are evenly mixed. Roll into a long cylinder (about an inch thick). Cut the cylinder into 1-inch by 1-inch pieces.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the gnocchi in several batches and boil until the gnocchi pop up to the surface (al dente). Then put them in ice water to stop the cooking. After they cool, with a slotted spoon, remove from the water and coat with olive oil to prevent them from sticking together. Heat the butter and sauté the gnocchi until lightly browned. Add additional cheese to finish.
Cauliflower Soup with Ham Cream
Soup before dinner is my favorite appetizer. This soup is very traditional in France. We call it Crème du Barry. You can also find this soup on the menu at Westport Café and Bar.
1 head of cauliflower, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 cups water
½ cup unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the chopped cauliflower.
Saute the cauliflower for 2 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat and add the cream, milk and water, simmer for 30 minutes. Purée the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender. Meanwhile, in another pan brown the remaining 1/4 cup of butter, then add that to the soup. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Tip: Keep some chopped cauliflower and add at the end for crunchy texture.
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup diced ham (preferably Black Forest)
1 teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste
Whip the cream and fold in the diced ham. Season the cream with salt, pepper and Tabasco.
Top the cauliflower soup with a dollop of the ham cream.
8 tablespoons butter
2½ pounds carrots, sliced
The zest of 2 oranges
2 cups of orange juice
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the sliced carrots and orange zest. Mix together and add orange juice. Cook the mixture on low heat for 30 minutes, then purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
FOR THE DUCK
3 duck breasts (a pound to a pound-and-a-half of duck meat is enough to serve two)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the duck breast with salt and pepper, then skin-side up, score the skin in a crisscross pattern. Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium heat, then place the duck breast skin-side down in the skillet to crisp and brown and render fat. Turn over and sear for a minute or two. Flip it over again to skin-side down and transfer skillet to the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until medium rare. Top the duck with the Carrot-Orange Puree and serve with Fennel-Orange-Celery Slaw.
½ cup celery, diced
½ cup fennel, diced
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, roasted
½ cup orange segments with pith and membrane removed, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
In a large bowl, mix ingredients and toss with olive oil.
Mixed Berries with Lime Mascarpone and Spiced Syrup
Each year near the end of August my grandmother picked fresh berries from her garden. She mixed varieties of berries and added a syrup to marinate overnight. This dessert is inspired by her recipe.
1 pint of raspberries
1 pint of blackberries
½ pint of strawberries
1 pint of blueberries
Cut the strawberries in quarters, halve the blackberries, leave the raspberries and blueberries whole. Toss lightly in a large bowl.
RED WINE SYRUP
2 cups of red wine (cabernet sauvignon is a good one to use)
2 teaspoons of chai spice or one packet of chai tea
½ cup of sugar
1/4 cup of honey
Mix ingredients in a saucepan over low heat. Simmer until it thickens. This will take about about 40 minutes.
MASCARPONE LIME CREAM
1 cup of mascarpone
The zest of 3 limes
The juice of 3 limes
½ cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
In a large bowl, mix the ingredients thoroughly.
Serve the berries in a shallow bowl, pour on syrup and top with dollops of mascarpone lime cream.