Part of my culinary adventure and discovery of fine-dining cuisine included classes which I can classify as exceptional, since I think it is only in this environment where they are possible. Every other week we cross our fingers hoping that our mid-afternoon schedule is clear, since the school hosts a Guest Chef who comes to teach a class. It is a full two hour lecture with someone who not only works as the head chef of a brigade, but also has had an amazing trajectory, and who, with a bit of luck, even has a few stars in his/her arsenal.
I would have loved to attend more than the ones I actually had the chance to see, but I know I that I sat in on as many as was humanly possible. And I think the one with Juan Arbelaez is probably one of those that I will remember having left a good taste in my mouth.
The guest cook arrives to the session and literally performs a show. There are some who share something they prepare in their own kitchens and following them throughout becomes a small odyssey, given that they arrive with half their preparations ready and the class is taught in Fast Forward mode, just as if one were in a program aired by the Food Network or the Argentinean elgourmet.com. There are others who actually go and teach before the stove and share their pearls of wisdom while they prepare something simple like a soup that they then turn into a sauce or a gélée, or something of the sort. Yet, Juan had the students totally captivated for quite a simple reason: he, unlike any other guest chef who comes to school, is Latin American; Colombian to be exact. Also, he is an alumnus. His career path has resembled something that many young cooks long for, and despite it all, in less than 10 years, he has already had a great amount of accomplishments and awards which have even taken him to the popular television program TopChef in France, to regular appearances in the local news channels, and I even – if I recall correctly – recently appeared in an article in the paper where his name comes up as one of the talented chefs who will present their work at the second edition of the Taste of Paris festival which will take place in February.
After having witnessed Juan’s demonstration, we found the ffirst excuse possible so we could go to Plantxa, the restaurant Juan opened with his business partner and friend, Pablo Naranjo. There, they have reinvented everything, down to the hamburger. The place is right in the middle of the same suburb one can find the Roland Garros stadium. Therefore, as can be imagined, the clientele is demanding.
We reserved a table because we were a large party. We were celebrating a birthday, and the only condition for us to get in was that we would need to adjust ourselves to the Chef’s Choice of the Day, avoiding the menu. We were more than 10 cuisine apprentices who were all satisfied, happy, and even surprised with what we had been served, since the kitchen is physically pretty small, and the brigade can be counted on one hand, with fingers left over. For that reason, I think that Plantxa is another place well worth discovering – and even when it is on the outskirts of the city, it can still be reached by metro.
Address: 58 Rue Gallieni, 92100 Boulogne – Billancourt
Subway Station: Marcel Sembat
Phone Number: +33 (0) 1 4620 5093