For Perig Goulet, who grew up in Brittany the youngest of five, family meals meant gathering around the table with a boisterous clan of brothers and sisters. “Every day, my mom cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for seven people—that’s a small restaurant,” he laughs, recalling her regular ventures to the market for fresh produce, meat, and seafood. “Food like that stays with you all your life.” And while this spirited chef worked in the kitchen of his brother Gwenael’s New York operation; served as a maître d’ on a French naval ship for a year; and managed Il Cortile del Re before opening his cozy bistro, he still warms to the rustic dishes that his mother set before him as a boy. So when we tasked the La Fourchette owner with creating a casual winter menu of French classics, he knew just whose recipe box to open: Maman Goulet’s.
Breton kids hear “Eat your soup” about as often as American parents remind “Eat your veggies.” But Perig didn’t need coaxing to enjoy his mother’s soupe de légumes (vegetable soup), in this case, a simple purée of carrots, leeks, and potatoes flavored with herbs, salt, and pepper. In every steaming spoonful, the taste of each unadulterated vegetable stands out on the tongue. And while he uses a bit of butter for a smooth texture, the chef says the soup is even better with a touch of cool cream, just what Mom used to add when the dish was too hot.
Every Sunday, young Perig would dress in his finest to accompany his family to Mass. On the way home, the Goulets would stop off at a patisserie to buy a dessert for the large (and long-lasting) traditional lunch that his mother had waiting at the house. But come evening, the head of the kitchen was ready to retire her apron, so she often relied on a hearty yet easy dinner known as haché parmentier. Similar to a shepherd’s pie, the savory dish made use of whatever meats were leftover from the week—be it chicken, pork roast, or ground beef—and was finished off with puréed potatoes (“not mashed,” stresses Perig) and a golden cheese crust. “She would set this out in the middle of the table and let everyone serve themselves,” he remembers.
And in usual French fashion, the chef serves a vinaigrette-dressed salade de fromages chauds (warm cheese salad) after the main course. It makes sense to follow a heavy course with greens, he points out, “since they contain fiber and help with digestion.” And as the salad and cheese are typically served simultaneously, he adds toasty baguette slices topped with melted cheeses to the plate.
(see Haché Parmentier and Mustard Vinaigrette recipes below...)
While Perig says he’s not a “big sweets person,” he admits he can’t resist an Îles Flottantes (Floating Island). “French pâtissiers make an infinite number of incredible desserts with just three ingredients: eggs, sugar, and milk,” explains the chef. In bistros, waiters will often serve this classic chilled dish of crème anglaise and soft meringue directly from a dessert cart, spooning individual servings from a family-style bowl. With its cloud-like topping, the creamy and light vanilla sauce is ideal for diners both young and young at heart.
(see Îles Flottantes (Floating Island) recipe below...)