Jacques Torres at Everest.
Tonight at Everest there will be a $500 dinner benefiting Share Our Strength with chef Jean Joho and guest chef Jacques Torres, legendary chocolatier who helped create our modern world of artisanal chocolate makers when he left his position as executive pastry chef at Le Cirque in New York to go out on his own in 2000. This isn’t actually a promo for that event, since it’s sold out, guaranteeing over $50,000 for Share Our Strength even before it gets to the auction items and so on. But last night Joho invited a small group for dinner with Torres, which at Torres’ request wasn’t a formal Everest meal but one of the most humble and traditional things served at Joho’s now-closed Brasserie Jo— the classic Alsatian dish choucroute garni. Here’s what it’s like to eat peasant food with Jacques Torres, 40 floors above the financial district of Chicago.
The bubbly and charming Torres was delayed at O’Hare because of Air Force One. “If it was anyone else, I would be mad,” he laughed. That’s his wife, fellow chocolatier Hasty Torres, in the center; she owns Madam Chocolat in Los Angeles.
He chats with guests with Everest’s dazzling 40th floor view for his backdrop.
Chef Joho welcomes the group into a private dining room by paying tribute to his guest and telling us about the dish, which he says is not a restaurant dish in his native Alsace— it’s something you make at home, and never until the fall. “With today’s weather, I think we’ll be all right,” he says. Then he says he’ll be back to tell stories, but not until we’ve had enough wine to drink.
How to serve mustard, Everest-style.
Torres says that when he was looking to leave Le Cirque to start a business, he chose chocolate because he liked working with it more than other desserts. (Then he mentions the modern craze of cupcakes… and wrinkles his nose in disgust.) He says he was one of the very first to blend their own chocolates, and that his goal was to bring fine chocolate to everyone— to be “the lowest priced of the best chocolates,” because it’s one of the few things left you can give as a casual gift without getting in trouble (cigars and whisky are frowned upon, flowers send the wrong message, but everybody likes chocolate). Another interesting fact: he says he’s basically the only French chef in history who never smoked, a fact he credits for his facility with chocolate flavors today.
Choucroute garni: a bountiful plate of housemade sausages, corned beef, pork belly, veal tongue, a foie gras sausage— and, delivered a moment later, hearty blood sausage, all cooked in the freshly-made sauerkraut.
After the choucroute, an Alsatian münster cheese— much more pungent than what Americans know as Muenster— along with the traditional accompaniment of caraway seeds to aid digestion.
Chef Joho joins us for the last course. Somehow the topic turns to music and Joho says that he prefers classical music and jazz… but then tells us about sharing the stage with Cee Lo Green at Studio Paris.
Chef Joho posing with Hasty Torres. Both Jacques and Hasty are in the process of moving their businesses— she recently closed her Beverly Hills store-factory and is opening a new factory in downtown Los Angeles; he’s consolidating his two Manhattan plants in one location in Brooklyn, to make it easier to oversee everything personally.
The meal concludes with ice cream cake— well, Alsatian kügelhopf, which has diced candied fruit in the center. “It was a very popular dessert in the 50s and 60s, not so much now, but it’s good, no?” says Joho.