Images by Phaedra Hise
We all have our own “Madeleine moment.” That feeling that Proust captured so well, with the single bite of tea cake transporting the novelist’s hero back to a happy childhood breakfast with a beloved aunt. Food is memory, and long after we stop speaking the languages, wearing the clothes and celebrating the holidays of our ancestors, we still hand down their recipes. We cook those dishes with love and memory.
Love and memory are what Chef de Cuisine Troy Buckley brings to our Tuesday night tasting menu, and we couldn’t be more excited. We know that a chef who cooks with passion makes the best food, and when Troy started talking about the French-influenced Cajun food of his Louisiana childhood, we immediately heard the passion in his voice.
“I’ve been cooking Cajun and Creole my entire life,” Troy says. “We used to do family dinners and my Mom and grandmother would cook dishes like seafood gumbo, I have a special place in my heart for that. I wanted others to enjoy the food as well, but a little different from what I grew up eating.”
Troy moved to Virginia from New Orleans when he was only four years old. He left the home of his mother, grandmother and great grandmother who were rooted in a tiny town in Natchitoches parish and then New Orleans’ Jefferson parish. This long line of Cajun cooks brought up their families on thick seafood gumbo, sassy red beans and rice, and dark, smoky jambalaya. Troy’s uncle was a champion at crawfish boil competitions.
After moving to Virginia, Troy visited Louisiana often, shopping at the seafood market with his grandmother. “Picking out shrimp and live crabs fresh from the Gulf, it’s pretty awesome,” he says. “Not too many people get to experience those types of markets where everything is readily available.” His love of food grew, nurtured by the complex flavors of Louisiana’s kitchen.
“One-pot meals, bringing the family together, that’s the vibe of Cajun food,” Troy says. “For the menu here, I wanted to capture that but do something a little more sophisticated, a little more elegant, and bring in local Virginia ingredients.” His dishes incorporate some Creole, or French-infused, elements, and also give a nod to New Orleans’ large Vietnamese community.
For example, Troy developed a first course that’s a cross between a Vietnamese scallion pancake and a traditional French crepe. He purees fresh local ramps for the sauce, and builds flavors with a light curry cream and crisp carrot ribbons tossed with sesame, rice wine and micro coriander. He chars meaty rooster thighs and then shreds the meat to tuck inside the crepe. The ingredients may not be traditional Cajun cooking, but the bold flavors are all Louisiana.
“People think that Cajun and Creole food is spicy,” Troy says. “But that’s not always the case. Mostly it’s just seasoned well.”
For his take on the hallowed red beans and rice, Troy starts by sautéing the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking: diced onion, celery and bell pepper. He adds Sea Island red peas from Anson Mills, a heritage variety that is smaller and more flavorful than black eyed peas. He chars some andouille sausage to develop its deep, smoky flavor, then pressure cooks the mix until it’s soft enough to blend. He serves the punchy red bean puree with a crispy puffed rice cracker – the same playful flavors of the Cajun favorite, but a more refined presentation.
Revisiting his grandmother’s cornbread, Troy created a “hoe cake.” A traditional hoe cake is more like a pancake than the light, fluffy cornbread Troy grew up on. His is made from flour and cornmeal mixed with duck fat and fois gras fat (something only a chef would think of!). He serves it with a green tomato and sorghum syrup chow-chow, a traditional tart-sweet relish known all throughout the South.
Troy serves the sides with slow-cooked lamb shank braised in homemade stock that is laced with smoked ancho chilis. The lamb develops a deep richness that’s more about flavor complexity than about heat.
When it comes to dessert, New Orleans has created some of the world’s favorites, including Bananas Foster and pralines. Although Troy does have a praline idea up his sleeve for future meals, he surprised us on this menu with a more unusual dessert, one inspired by his Cajun roots.
“In Louisana, everyone drinks Southern Comfort. We call it SoCo,” he says. Troy created a “SoCo” chocolate cake with a banana and passion fruit liquid gel. He serves it with vanilla gelato and a crisp banana chip.
If you want to pair SoCo with your meal, or maybe another Cajun favorite like beer or moonshine, we say “santé!” But if you are looking for a more traditional wine paring, Troy suggests for the crepe a bubbly prosecco or a rosé with a hint of sweetness. Our Petit Verdot, Wessex Hundred or Reserve, melds perfectly with the full-bodied flavors of the lamb dish. If you prefer a white wine, an oaked Chardonnay would also hold up well. For dessert, try a dark rum and channel those hurricane-infused Mardi Gras memories or a glass of our sweet, floral dessert wine, Petite Fleur..
Troy’s inspiration is a win for the kitchen staff, the winery and for our guests. A chef who is inspired to cook from the heart brings creativity and passion into the kitchen. We can’t wait to learn more about new flavors and pairings for our wines. And we love offering such a wide array of fresh, exciting dishes to our guests. Love, memory and inspiration – when those elements come together, in our wines and in our food, we follow our hearts.
Chef Troy's Creole-inspired tasting menu will be available every Tuesday evening at the Café Provençal starting May 16, 2017.
$48 exclusive of taxes and gratuity
Price includes wine pairings.