Interview: Beloved French Chef Jean-Luc Rocha (With Two Recipes)

The famed chef has moved to Paris to helm The St. James Hotel & Club

You can take the chef out of the countryside but you cannot take the countryside out of the chef. For the past 14 years, Jean-Luc Rocha was a gastronomical giant in Bordeaux’ Paulliac region at Relais & Chateaux’s Château Cordeillan-Bages, where he earned three Michelin stars and holds the distinguished title Best Craftsman of France (M.O.F.) since 2007. Not one to rest on his laurels, he accepted the challenge to move to bustling Paris to join another Relais & Chateaux premiere property, the St. James Hotel & Club. I caught up with chef Rocha to see how life in the big city kitchen is going and to see if I could wrangle a recipe or two out of him. Thankfully, he was happy to oblige.

The Daily Meal: What were the pluses and minuses of moving to Paris?
Jean-Luc Rocha:
I cannot drive in Paris. It’s really crazy. I am used to driving in the small villages but I am okay with taking the Métro or taxi to go everywhere I need to go.

The really big decision to move to Paris could only be because of one positive thing. The St. James Paris is part of the Relais & Chateaux family. Really, it was the first criteria for moving to the city. The second plus is that the Saint James is in a part of Paris where I can still see birds and trees. It feels like the country to me so it’s perfect.

Another reason Paris is good for me is that it’s easy to find the best beef, chicken, vegetables, Chinese and Japanese products, and spices. We always bought in Paris but the big difference is we had to buy things earlier in Paulliac, but here we can buy them every day.

In Bordeaux we bought a lot of local products, eggs, rabbits, pigeon right in St. Emilion, but for many things we had to drive far for vegetables because the land is expensive and used for growing grapes verses carrots.

What are the benefits of running a larger kitchen?
We can do more styles of foods and exotic ones like Thai. We also have a bar and room service so we can cater to our international guests’ cravings. They can order pizza, a burger and chicken right to their rooms.

Name two of your personal favorite places to dine in Paris.
Laurent is a traditional favorite. Spring dinners on the terrace with all the flowers in bloom are the best. Petit Verdot has two restaurants; the one on rue Cherche Midi is a good, casual bistro.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three ingredients would you bring?
It’s a good question. Olive oil is from my origins and you can use it for many, many years in almost every dish so I would bring that, and Thai rice. For the protein I prefer fish, maybe shrimp, but we could catch the fish off the water so I would bring beef filet.

What is one appliance you have at home you love to use?
I like my rice cooker because you can make so many recipes with it. I love to make paella, so it’s helpful. It’s crazy how useful it is. You can go to the market and come home and put in fresh ingredients and it’s done in two hours.

What is your night off “go to” recipe?
I love to make chicken and pesto, and have even brought all the ingredients, including the chicken and vegetables with me on the train from Paris back to Bordeaux to cook for my family and friends. Of course I will share it with you and The Daily Meal [recipe below].

What is one of your signature dishes that you are most proud of? Is it difficult or can we novices make it too?

That is easy to answer: I love to make blue lobster roasted with oregano butter with baby vegetables and coral cappuccino. If you have the right ingredients and are patient it isn’t too difficult for you to make. Yes, of course I will share the recipe and I hope you will try it at home or come to the Saint James for dinner to try mine [recipe below].

Roasted Chicken with Pesto
1 free-range chicken
Tiny potatoes
4 sweet onions
8 garlic gloves
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Pesto:
One bunch fresh basil
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 ¼ cups olive oil
Coarse salt

Blend all the ingredients (except the olive oil) for a few seconds, then pour the olive oil in slowly.
Blend again for a few seconds. The mixture has to be homogeneous.
Place in refrigerator to chill.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Brush the free-range chicken with half of the pesto mixture, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cook chicken in a sauce pan for 20 minutes, until browned.
Wash the vegetables, cut the potatoes into 2 pieces and the onions into 4 pieces.
Mix the potatoes and the onions with one tablespoon of pesto.
After cooking 20 minutes, lower the temperature to 350 degrees F add the vegetables, then cook again for 30 minutes.
Stirring regularly, top the chicken with the rest of the Pesto and cook for 10 minutes.
Serve the chicken and the vegetables at the table.

Roasted Blue Lobster with Oregano Butter, Baby Vegetables, and Coral Cappuccino
4 one-pound blue lobsters, preferably female
¼ of a leek, chopped
One shallot, minced
½ tablespoon of tomato paste
2 garlic cloves
½ bay leaf
1 spring of thyme
½ teaspoon of black pepper
½ star anise
25 ml of Ricard Pastis
25 ml of Cognac
2 cups light cream

Lobster:
Boil lobsters for 90 seconds and cool in iced water.
Remove claws and knuckles, and boil those for an additional three minutes.
Shell the lobster and remove the coral (tomalley) for use in the sauce.

Lobster Sauce:
In a casserole dish, melt butter and sweat the leeks, shallots, tomato concentrate, garlic cloves, bay leaf, thyme, pepper, star anise.
Add the head coral and flame with Cognac and Ricard.
Add the light cream.
Cook for 30 minutes, stir, and again cook for 15 minutes more before straining.

Oregano Butter:
½ cup of lightly salted butter
½ teaspoon fresh oregano
Blend both ingredients in blender.

Baby Vegetable “Risotto:”
1/8 cup carrots
1/8 cup celery root
1/8 cup onion
1/8 cup fennel
1/8 cup red bell pepper
1/8 cup zucchini
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup mascarpone
Salt and pepper

Dice the vegetables into small cubes, keeping each variety separate.
Blanch vegetables separately for one minute in salted water and shock in ice water to quickly cool.
Before serving, sweat all the baby vegetables with a knob of butter and add the mascarpone.
When the mascarpone is melted, add the Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

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Presentation:
In a frying pan, slowly melt the oregano butter and add the lobster tails.
Cook for 3 to 4 minutes before adding the arms and the claws, and for 2 more minutes.
Reheat the sauce, adjust seasoning if needed.
Arrange the vegetables in a circle, arrange the lobster tail, the two claws and the knuckles.
Spoon the sauce all around, keeping the vegetables and the lobster visible.
Garnish with a blade of wild fennel.


Image courtesy Jean-Luc Rocha