A hot dog adapted to parisian ambience.
His parents owned a modest bistro in a Paris suburb, where they served croquemonsieur and sliced ham on buttered baguette. "I was born behind the counter," he said. He hates dishes that seem as if they came out of a chemistry class.
Whenever he goes to New York, he eats a hot dog from a street vendor. "I adore them," he said. "Even with the bad water they sit in all day." It wasn't much of a leap, then, for Alleno to create his own chien chaud.
Actually it is a veau chaud (pronounced voh show) -- literally hot veal -- a slender 9- inch sausage made from edible bits of a cooked calf head, or tete de veau. (The brains, eyes and fat are left out, and egg white and tiny threads of veal added to hold it together.) The sausage is wrapped in a casing and boiled in a stock o f c a r - rots, leeks, onions and cloves. Then the casing is removed and the fragile sausage put in a crusty multigrain baguette.
It is served with gribiche sauce (a vinaigrette with capers, cornichons, hard-boiled egg, herbs and mustard) squeezed from a version of the classic plastic bottle long used in US diners for mustard and ketchup.
"I have adapted the 'dog' to the true ambience of Paris," he said. "There is nothing more Parisian than tete de veau." Alleno has long had a special relationship with tete de veau.
When he was a chef's apprentice at 15, one of his jobs was to go shopping at the vast Rungis food hall every Sunday at 1:30 am. His last stop was the butcher selling organ meats. The butcher would boil 20- pound tetes de veau in huge iron caldrons and serve his clients big, messy sandwiches filled with bits of cheek, skin, fat, gristle, tongue and brains covered in a white vinaigrette gribiche sauce.
"We worked in the restaurant Saturday night and then went to Rungis as soon as it opened to buy for the next week," Alleno recalled in the kitchen of his restaurant.
"The triperie was the last stop, and the tete de veau was the way we could finally unwind, rest and talk." He considers tete de veau a symbol of his success. In 2007, when he was awarded his third Michelin star, his mentor, Paul Bocuse, honoured him with a lunch at his restaurant outside Lyon that started with a classic tete de veau that he had prepared.
Even now, on Alleno's menu at his marquee restaurant at the luxurious Meurice is a delicate first course of tete de veau made with cheek and tongue with a gribiche-like sabayon sauce.
Diners who like tete de veau will likely take to the hot-dog version. The taste is more refined than classic tete de veau, the texture softer and more gelatinous than a classic sausage, and without an outer casing, it lacks crunch. It's probably best for the uninitiated to forget that it started as an animal's head.
The nine-euro veau chaud (about $12) will be the star at Terroir Parisian, Alleno's informal bistro set to open on March 10 at 20 rue Saint Victor, an Art Deco building near the Sorbonne in the Fifth Arrondissement. Designed by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, it needs a lot more work. The gray stone floor and white wall tiles are in place, but the kitchen is not installed, the walls not painted, the woodslat central vault unfinished.
It will seat 60 at zinc-covered tables and 14 at a centre counter, and will be open daily from 8 am until an undetermined time at night.
Alleno will also serve classic bistro fare: hard-boiled eggs and langoustines (both in a gelatin base), veal en croute, boudin noir, mackerel, navarin of lamb with asparagus, croque-monsieur, chicken liver pate, head cheese and an assortment of terrine and charcuterie.
For dessert there will be traditional cream-filled pastries known as niflettes.
Asked how he will persuade US visitors to try a tete de veau sandwich, he said, "This is something you should try once in your life." If anyone can charm conservative diners into eating offal, Alleno can.
In May 2008 he was voted the "sexiest chef" in France in a poll by the Internet site L'Internaute.
(One of his black-and-white publicity photos shows him buttonedup in his chef's whites, tying -- or perhaps untying -- his apron.)
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