David Bouley loves Beaujolais and chicken in the hay, and he has a story about each.
We are in the famed New York restaurateur’s test kitchen in lower Manhattan where Bouley has put together a small lunch and cooking demo matching the best wines of Beaujolais — the 10 Beaujolais crus that each come from a designated village — with his French-inspired cuisine.
Bouley’s first story is about why he loves Beaujolais, which dates back to when the Connecticut-born chef was working in France with Paul Bocuse and was taken on a buying trip to Beaujolais. “I didn’t know much about wine,” Bouley says, “but I soon found out I wasn’t trained to drink at 9 in the morning.” However, he came away with a special fondness for wines made in the gamay grape region. “It’s a very versatile wine,” he says.
As for the chicken — it’s a favorite and oft-used dish because it’s natural and simple. “It’s just a Pennsylvania chicken roasted on a bed of hay — alfalfa, clover, and verbena,” he says, holding a dressed but uncooked bird aloft.
The one we’re going to eat is in front of Bouley and has been cooked en cocotte in a clear glass, Dutch oven-type of dish that has been sealed around the middle by a strip of now-baked dough. Hay is a natural setting, as most country henhouses have dried grasses as the nests in which chickens lay their eggs.
Bouley’s low-temperature, pressurized cooking in a sous-vide-like manner makes the chicken taste juicy and spicy, seasoned mainly by the nest of hay with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Bouley says he recently presented the dish as a main course at a catered dinner for some worldwide clients of jeweler Harry Winston, with everyone joking about coming all the way to America to be served chicken.
Before we sat down to Bouley’s cooking demonstration and lunch, Jean Bourjade, managing director of Inter Beaujolais, and Bouley wine director Adrien Falcon took our small group through a flight of Beaujolais crus from the very good, but quite different, 2009 and 2010 vintages.
Three were held back for lunch — a 2009 Château des Rontets Saint-Amour, matched with a porcini flan with Dungeness crab partially submerged in a truffle dashi or broth; a 2009 Domaine de Chaponne Morgon to go with the chicken in the straw; and a 2010 Domaine de Côtes de la Molière Moulin-a-Vent to pair with an Austrian cheesecake with roasted peaches and a Beaujolais sorbet.
Bouley’s menu matched with the Beaujolais crus shows that you don’t have to spend a lot of time and money to have an elegant, delicious meal. And that Beaujolais is every bit as versatile as Bouley claims it is.