BEIT MERY, Lebanon: Chef Georges Rousset cooks the perfect piece of meat, every time. While many would attribute this skill to years of experience and his culinary talents, the French chef believes anyone has this ability if they learn some of the science behind cooking.
For the month of September, Rousset will be at Hotel Al-Bustan in Beit Mery to host technical workshops for Lebanese cooks as well as serve his special menu of southern French cuisine married to Lebanese tastes.
“In the past [cooks used] time, temperature and heat. Now, time is not important and the priority is given to the temperature of cooking, regardless of time,” Rousset explains of his technique for making the perfectly rare or well-done piece of meat.
“Working with temperature regardless of time allows one to master the actual level of cooking. You really master the skill, it’s not haphazard ... you can reach a very high degree of precision in the degree of cooking of an item,” he continues.
Rousset is a specialist in technical cooking and a member of the Maîtres Cuisinier de France (“Master Chef of France”) – the most prestigious association of certified French chefs.
With just 350 members worldwide, their mission is “to preserve and spread the French culinary art, encourage training in cuisine and assist professional development.”
In addition to running two successful restaurants in his hometown of Montpelier in southern France, Rousset has worked as a teacher within the Maîtres Cuisinier de France association as well as overseeing the jury that awards vocational or specialty degrees in the field of cooking in Montpelier.
He has traveled the world, from Mexico, Japan, England, the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates to offer trainings, now landing in Beit Mery.
Every Thursday for the month of September, Lebanese cooks – amateurs to professionals – will have the opportunity to learn from the master chef.
Rousset says that he is here to “help renovate and refresh the very high standards of gourmet cuisine” in Lebanon, but he also relishes the chance to expand his tastes and discover new ideas.
“You can always add something to your own personal culture ... there is always a spice or flavor to add to one’s repertoire,” says Rousset, who in addition to weekly lectures will be cooking at the hotel every day and for special events.
He is eager to explore Lebanese gastronomy and in the first few days of his stay has already visited numerous local markets and suppliers, looking for the freshest fish and even foie gras produced in Lebanon.
Rousset refuses to import his ingredients, calling the idea “useless” when the real art of cooking – the “savoir-faire” – lies in the ability of the chef to be adaptable and make use of what is locally available.
“My artistry is to use the locally available ingredients and adapt them to tastes and work them into my recipes ... It’s very creative, with local, Lebanese aromas and flavors.
“I bring my ideas, my technology and know-how, and I adapt it to local circumstances,” he adds, laughing about the fact that, unfortunately, caviar isn’t a local product.
Luckily for Rousset, the cuisines from Lebanon and the south of France easily complement each other.
“While I’m a specialist in French cuisine, [southern France] is part of the Mediterranean and it can be married with some Lebanese and other Mediterranean tastes and flavors,” he says, listing just a few of the ingredients the two gastronomies have in common: aubergines, tomatoes, spring onions, courgettes, olive oil, many spices and bases such as lentils, burghol wheat and even chick peas.
“I’m actually opposed to fusion cuisine, where you bring all cultures in the same plate. I prefer to keep the authentic, original cuisine but with a touch of this and that adapted to the country ... I would never prepare sushi with oriental rice and Mediterranean spices,” he adds.
For instance, the chef has developed a starter from local foie gras with pepper and fig chutney served on melba toast, taking advantage of Lebanon’s fig season by combining the sweet fruit with a classic French ingredient.
Rousset has created sample menus for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in which he subtly mixes Lebanese influences into his French fare, but insists that the menus are merely suggestions and he intends to continue experimenting with flavors.
Another idea he has come up with is to serve sea bass with a sauce based on Lebanese ciboulette, or green onions, with tomato confit and Lebanese olive oil.
But this mix-and-match approach doesn’t easily extend to all cuisines, not even to the gastronomy of other parts of France.
“In the south of France you have less heavy, fatty items. In the north of France, the colder the region, they use more fatty ingredients: cream, butter,” Rousset describes. “The cuisine of northern France is indoor cuisine ... In southern France, you’d rather eat on a terrace, in the sun, like in Lebanon.”