I have wanted to include this soufflé recipe in TMix+ since the magazine project began, but better late than never. It’s not so much about the brilliance of the recipe, but the memory of a wonderful occasion, the first time a new family—my wife Sally, our seven-month-old son Andrew and me—would dine in one of the world’s great restaurants.
This was the Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville at Crissier, on the outskirts of Lausanne, in Switzerland. The year was 1985, a time when its chef, Frédy Girardet was rated the number one chef in the world, a rating gained not by a formal assessment by a disparate team of pompous judges scouring the globe, as is the case these days, but simply because all his peers knew he was the man.
We took the TGV from Paris to Lausanne, a 520-kilometre trip that rushes by in just three hours; we left mid-morning for our lunch booking, and would return to Paris for supper. Even then, we wondered why fast train travel was not part of our home life.
The event was all we expected, and more. We were greeted like kings and queens, and our son was parked under the table, protected from noise and distractions by the heavy tablecloths. We received the menus, with a nudge from the head waiter: “Monsieur, the truffles have just arrived.” Hint, hint; it made the choice of truffle and cardoon soup natural.
This was the era that preceded theatrical gestures on the plate; this was real food, not dusts, or faux creations, not a hint of foodie trompe l’oeil on pieces of slate, and no sign of cameras, or selfies with chefs. The theatre was in the presentation; the soup was brought to table by a team of waiters; a silver dome covered the bowl, the dome lifted with drama by the head waiter as the intensity of the truffle enveloped the table.
On and on it went, in the classic three-star style of the era; a turn of the head, and the wine would be filled, a look at the bread basket, and it would be refilled. This was the sort of service that has made a trip to the great restaurants more a massage of the mind than a filling of the stomach.
The star of the show was Girardet’s renowned creation, a passionfruit soufflé. Soufflés, to the pros, are simple to create and serve without tension, but for the rest of us a successful soufflé elicits more oohs and ahs than any other dish in our limited repertoire.
If the soup was act one, the soufflé was the grand finale, presented with all the pomp and ceremony usually reserved for royalty. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if M. Girardet’s staff had done their training at royal weddings. All that was missing as the soufflé arrived was the trumpet fanfare, and the adoring customers—those served and those watching—made up for that with their gushing.
The bearers presented the little A-bomb gently to the table, stepped back, and as we bowed towards the heavenly dessert, the forever flamboyant maitre d’ wheeled in with a flourish, ripping away the baked top of the soufflé with a pair of spoons, carving up the airy concoction, presenting the guts of the soufflé on a separate plate. The show is ended with a mellifluous “bon appetit”. A curl of the eyebrows, and the cast, seemingly of thousands, is gone in a flash. They could have done it in their sleep, so many soufflés did they sell.
Girardet’s soufflé is so light because it is basically air, held together by sugar, egg yolks and whites, all intensely flavoured by passionfruit juice. The intensity is increased chez Girardet by the pouring of a passionfruit sauce around the excavated soufflé. The trick Frédy would like you to play out is to draw your spoon through the sauce, into the foam and into the gob. Guaranteed passionfruit purity.
Back home we couldn’t wait to try the dish, which was published in his book Cuisine Spontanee; it was during a period in the mid-’80s when I was running a restaurant and this dish, with our take upon it, won an award for desserts from Melbourne’s French Chamber of Commerce.
Back to memories of Girardet. Being the good child he was, our young man fell fast asleep as soon as we were seated, and did not move until the soufflé arrived at table. Then, he came from his resting place like a lion, attacking the soufflé and its accompanying ice cream and sauce with the sort of relish he has never lost when fine food appears before him. The soufflé has that sort of effect on you. (The recipe for Slow-Cooked Spicy Chicken on page 64 is Andrew’s).
You can make the soufflé for a pair, but it is far easier, especially for the inexperienced, to make it for at least four, preferably more. This recipe is for six. The Thermomix only comes into play, in my world at least, for the creaming of the eggs with the sugar, a method done by hand in the pre-Thermomix era.
Postscript: Girardet, now 79, retired in 1996, at the peak of his powers, selling his restaurant to his long-time understudy, Phillipe Rochat. Rochat maintained the restaurant’s three-star rating until he died of a heart attack while riding, in 2015. The restaurant had been taken over by his understudy, Benoît Violier in 2012. Sadly, Violier died, apparently by his own hand, in February 2016, a month after his restaurant had been named the world’s best by La Liste, a French Government-sponsored list of the world’s best 1000 restaurants; it was reported the strain of maintaining the restaurant’s long-held three-star rating, along with family and personal grief, had caused him to take his life.