A grand cognac evening fit for a tsarBy Anna C. Sobrepeña
Philippine Daily Inquirer
It was a throwback to 19th-century Russia when the doors of the Rizal Ballroom parted for the Hennessy dinner. Makati Shangri-La’s premium hall had been transformed into a setting fit for a Romanov emperor.
Almost 200 years ago, the dowager empress of Russia had sought a gift appropriate for her son Tsar Alexander I on the occasion of his 42nd birthday. She made the request on the eve of Christmas in 1818, which became the inspiration of Master Blender for the House of Hennessy Yann Fillioux.
The royal commission was the auspicious beginning for a cognac, now regarded as the crowning achievement of seven generations of Fillioux. Almost two centuries after, Fillioux created the Paradis Impérial which was recently unveiled in Manila. “This is the fruit of generations of talent,” he said.
Moet Hennessy Asia Pacific-Philippine chief representative Olga Azarcon and her team spared nothing for the unique presentation, which merited the presence of Moet Hennessy Asia Pacific’s area director Steven Bullock, who flew in for the grand launch.
The pomp and pageantry attending the event approximated the venerable heritage of a brandy produced since 1765 in the town of Cognac in Charente. Irishman Richard Hennessy established an eaux-de-vie trading company in the French countryside now associated with the fabled spirits.
Master of ceremonies Johnny Litton, assisted by an effervescent Joey Mead, guided the 140 guests as he annotated the program, interspersed with banter. An imperial herald ceremoniously conveyed a gift box into the ballroom, followed by an elegant decanter. The iconic, individually numbered crystal flacon was created by talented young designer Stephanie Balini.
Hennessy brand ambassador Arnaud Mirey invited guests to sniff before tasting the secret recipe of the Fillioux family. Cradled in the bottom curve of the bell-shaped stemware, fullness of the bouquet rose to the nose.
One sip confirmed the stipulations of the royal request for an “excellent, very old, gold-colored eau-de-vie of the very finest quality” were met.
It was the nectar of gods pleasing the palate as music from the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra heightened an otherworldly experience.
Glasses were refilled as the amuse bouche arrived. The hors d’oeuvre was a generous mouthful of oysters in a half shell, topped with black caviar, with a smattering of colored fish roe on a bed of salt.
A premium menu had been prepared, following the template of the first Paradis Impérial dinner hosted in St. Petersburg. It replicated a royal meal held in one of the palaces. The appetizer was a plating of foie gras and truffle liquid center, a combination that set expectations high for what was to follow.
The ensuing soup dish, Crayfish Bisque, bathed a portion of crayfish swimming in cognac with lobster raviolino.
A light first main course followed in the Oscietra Fillet with Champagne Broth. A porcini crust with seaweed bread added color to the milky whiteness, with a few soybeans contributing spots of green. The coupe of champagne and lavender sherbet arrived for the gastronomique ritual of palate cleansing before the Slow Roasted Rack of Lamb with Banana Shallot, Wild Mushroom and Lamb Jus.
The finisher was chocolate fondant with vanilla cream and raspberry ice cream arranged on a plate, which might have done well with strong coffee save for the opportunity to have more of the cognac. It seemed appropriate to toast the Prussian-born Duchess Sophie Marie Dorothea Auguste Louise of Württemberg, aka Empress Maria. Glasses were raised to the woman whose behest gave rise to the Paradis Impérial.
Hennessy Paradis Imperial launch-dinner menu
A culinary journey from Cognac to Saint Petersburg
For the launch celebrations of Paradis Imperial, Hennessy has created a menu inspired by the history of French cuisine at the imperial court of Russia, a culinary journey from the past to present and from Cognac to Saint Petersburg.
Throughout the 19th century, the tsar’s table followed court rituals that had been established during the reign of Alexander I. Following the French style in all matters of fashion, décor and food, the imperial court had, by the end of the 19th century, largely adopted French cooking techniques and recipes.
All courses are directly inspired by dishes traditionally served at the imperial court.
Oysters were among the finest delicacies at imperial banquets, paired today with an equally precious delicacy from Russia, caviar.
The crayfish bisque was one of the favorite soups of Tsar Alexander I, while the traditional roasted lamb dates back to Peter the Great.
To end this imperial culinary journey, a delightful creation with vanilla and chocolate has been specially imagined for a Paradis pairing.
Dec. 1, 2011
Salmon Roulade with Avocado
Cauliflower Pudding with Abalone and Golden Trout Roe
Jalapeño and Cheese
Beef Cheek Fogatino with Truffle Parfume
Oyster and Caviar (served in black square show plate with rock salt and seaweed pearl)
Foie Gras and Truffle Liquid Center, Port Wine Gel, Hazelnut, Pumpkin, Salty Dark Chocolate
Crayfish Bisque, Milk Foam, Cognac and Lobster Raviolino (served in soup plate with gold show plate)
Oscietra Fillet with Champagne Broth and Porcini Crust
Champagne and Lavender
Slow-Roasted Cured Rack of Lamb, Banana Shallot, Wild Mushroom and Lamb Jus
Sun-Dried and Kalamata Bread
Chocolate Fondant, Vanilla Cream, Raspberry Ice Cream