Happy and successful cooking doesn’t rely only on know-how; it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life. – Georges Blanc
I used to worship quite a few famous chefs when I first began my cooking career. I believed by studying and role modeling the chefs I idolized, I could glean bits of information and techniques to add to my growing repertoire. Georges Blanc was a perfectionist chef who really spoke to my sensibilities. One bite conveyed the story of his family’s long culinary heritage, the products of his region, a strong sense of seasonality and an essence of simple purity. Virtues I strived to incorporate into the foundation of my personal cooking style.
The Blancs started in the restaurant business in 1872 when Georges’ great grandfather Jean Louis Blanc began serving soup to a clientele of merchants who would stop in after the nearby markets closed. Jean Louis was succeeded in the family business by his son Adolphe and his wife Elisa in 1902.
Elisa, who later became known as “la Mere Blanc”, one of the infamous Meres Lyonnaises, learned by instinct and taste and had a natural inclination to cook. She prepared simple, fresh foods like veal chops with sorrel and Bresse chickens with morels in a style that reflected all Burgundy had to offer. Elisa was awarded her first Michelin star in 1929 and second by 1931.
The great food writer and gourmand Curnonsky considered her “the greatest cook in the world”. Her reputation helped the Blanc legacy to grow even greater. By 1934, the eldest son Jean took over with his wife Paulette, who quickly learned all the family dishes and secrets. They successfully ran the restaurant till 1965 when young Georges returned to train for three years under his mother’s tutelage. By 1968, Georges had taken over the reins and began to incorporate his own style into the family legacy. In 1981, Georges was awarded a third star and forever launched the Blanc name into superstardom.
One dish I used to prepare often was a potato pancake made famous by Elisa Blanc. Georges started serving it placed over smoked salmon and creme fraiche and topped with a generous spoonful of caviar. I made it this week and wanted to share this treasure of a dish from an early mentor.
Potato Pancakes: Vonnas Crepes
A classic dish from the Blanc family in Vonnas, France
- 500 grams Yukon Gold potatoes peeled
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup flour
- 3 eggs
- 4 egg whites
- salt, pepper, and nutmeg
finishing the dish
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- 4 ounces cold smoked salmon
- caviar (as much as you can afford)
- 2 chives cut into 1/2 inch sections
Boil the potatoes in salted water till they are tender and soft.
Put in a food mill with fine mesh or a ricer and mash.
Mix in milk, heavy cream, flour, and whole eggs. Beat egg whites to medium peaks and fold in. Season with salt and pepper to taste and nutmeg. The pancake batter will last one or two days.
finishing the dish
Cook potato pancakes the same way you would cook breakfast pancakes. Put a spoonful of creme fraiche on four room temperature plates. Top with sliced, cold smoked salmon then a warm potato pancake. Put a smaller spoonful of creme fraiche on top and as much caviar as you can afford. Garnish with chives and served immediately. I love eating this with Champagne.