Features 4 minutes 28 February 2023

Japanese green tea–food pairings : the aromatic orchestrations of Boris Campanella and Xavier Thuizat at L'Écrin (Hotel de Crillon's restaurant, Paris)

At the restaurant L'Écrin in Hotel de Crillon, the chef and the sommelier promise to "embellish tea with the finest menus possible". Drinking and eating at the same time is the secret to magnifying the flavours of Japanese green teas.

tea chef Paris

The Hotel de Crillon is renowned for the calibre of its restaurant and its refined cuisine. Every chef to have served here over the last two decades has sought to leave their mark by demonstrating their spirit of creativity and concocting dishes that push the boundaries in every way, including in the presentation. The same is no less true of the current chef, Boris Campanella. Originally from Savoie in the French Alps, he is a worthy successor to Christopher Hache and, like him, a great sauce chef. He has headed up some renowned kitchen teams, including in Courchevel alongside Yannick Alléno. Here in Paris, Campanella and his partner, head sommelier Xavier Thuizat, form a perfectly attuned duo and offer a unique fine dining experience at L'Écrin (36 covers). They showcase high-quality, premium ingredients in three, five or seven-course set menus, the composition of which varies as they deem fit.

Boris Campanella and Xavier Thuizat / Photo : Florian Domergue
Boris Campanella and Xavier Thuizat / Photo : Florian Domergue

The principle is simple : the best French sommelier, one of the best French artisans of 2023 and a connoisseur of Japanese tea, Xavier Thuizat, offers a selection of organically processed Japanese green teas, in compliance with the standards imposed in Europe. Chef Boris Campanella then composes the score to obtain a perfect harmony of flavours.

Over the course of a meal comprising several pairings, we experienced for ourselves this culinary adventure, which is bound to beguile diners, be they uninitiated or experts. "I go to Japan twice a year," says Xavier Thuizat. "I got hold of some quite rare batches from the Uji area, and it was clear that out of the diversity of Japanese teas, this one was perfectly suited to French cuisine."

First pairing
Xavier Thuizat has selected a Gyokuro, bottled by cold extraction after being cultivated on three hills around Uji. On every visit, he orders 48 bottles for the restaurant. They are all packaged in such a way as to be able to be stored. The sommelier is drawn to this green tea because he likes above all its vegetable nature, "which could be compared to the tannic side of a great wine". He considers this premium gyokuro to be "the absolute pinnacle of teas that can be drunk cold". During the meal, the gyokuro is the only tea served cold – in a sleek wine glass; the other teas are served in china to temper the heat of each infusion. Xavier Thuizat says, "I was told by the Uji growers that a glass of their Japanese green tea increases life expectancy. What's more, the tea acts as an aromatic and tactile vector, which allows us to create an emotion in the mouth – because the idea of pairing food and drink is not only about the interplay of aromas, but it is first and foremost about achieving the tactile link that is perceived in the mouth." 

Scallops and Gyokuro / Photo : Florian Domergue
Scallops and Gyokuro / Photo : Florian Domergue

Hence Boris Campanella's choice to pair this cold green tea with a carpaccio of scallops marinated in aniseed, slivers of green apple, and aloe vera. Xavier Thuizat's verdict: "It's fascinating – you put the food in your mouth and the tea creates a distinct emotion." And it's true: it really works and the scallops strike the expected chord to perfection. Gyokuro is, "in my opinion, the only tea that has the potential to be kept, to age – for up to four years – especially bottled," he adds. In the mouth, vegetable and freshly cut grass notes are revealed, lining the palate with the subtle presence of tannin in the aftertaste. "It's incredible; you get a pronounced taste reminiscent of carrots in the evolution of the flavours," remarks Xavier Thuizat, an observation that is confirmed by Boris Campanella. "The scallops are served raw because the important thing is to have some chewiness… to obtain a particular texture," says the chef. "The tea marries with the scallops, the green apple and the aloe vera, giving the whole dish a vegetable freshness." Xavier Thuizat observes: "You have to take the tea at the same time as the scallops because the tea is to be enjoyed as you would a sauce. It plays the role of an essential element of the dish. It can't be two separate tastings. You have to seek out this harmony in the mouth because the chemistry is created by the flavours present in the dish and the characteristics of this tea." The tea and the dish do indeed combine perfectly and it becomes obvious that gyokuro "creates volume and lends persistence to the dish," as the sommelier concludes.

Sea bass and Sencha / Photo : Florian Domergue
Sea bass and Sencha / Photo : Florian Domergue

Second pairing
The chef has deglazed the cooking juices with a little ponzu, a splash of sake, a dash of champagne and Noilly Prat, then lightened the mixture with whipped cream. As well as the jus contained in a white porcelain phial, he particularly likes the iodine flavour of the warm sencha (the temperature has been lowered to 62/65°C) combined with the fresh fennel, which reveals its aniseed flavour. The combination achieves the desired harmony.

The second course brings into play Sencha, a tea known for its antioxidant properties. It is served warm in a glass teapot, in front of the customer, after being steeped in water at 70°C for two minutes; at a higher temperature, the main – vegetable – characteristic of the tea would be attenuated. To accompany this tea and its marine notes, the chef has chosen to serve roast sea bass from the coast of Erquy, with Normandy semi-salted butter, roasted fennel confit and a citrus jelly. The elements are arranged on a plate that has been dusted with a brown fennel powder.

The chef has deglazed the cooking juices with a little ponzu, a splash of sake, a dash of champagne and Noilly Prat, then lightened the mixture with whipped cream. As well as the jus contained in a white porcelain phial, he particularly likes the iodine flavour of the warm sencha (the temperature has been lowered to 62/65°C) combined with the fresh fennel, which reveals its aniseed flavour. The combination achieves the desired harmony.

Sencha service  / Florian Domergue
Sencha service / Florian Domergue

Third pairing
The third tea is a Hōjicha, whose particularly pronounced roasted flavour calls for a highly structured dish that can hold its own with distinct winter notes. Boris Campanella has opted for a white meat that contrasts with the assertiveness of the tea : a veal chop and calf sweetbreads from Chartreuse, braised endive, Jerusalem artichoke and a fermented ginger condiment.

Poached and blanched for one minute, pressed, then browned off in butter on the stove, the veal has undergone a specific treatment so as to draw out as much flavour as possible. The combination of braised endive with the ginger condiment that has been matured for 17 days delivers a unique result when sampled with the hōjicha, which has a distinct roasted note and a slightly vanilla finish. The two gourmets have played on contrasts to bring off a successful marriage of the components. "The taste is astounding," says the sommelier, amused.

Chicken and Genmaicha / Photo : Florian Domergue
Chicken and Genmaicha / Photo : Florian Domergue

Fourth pairing

Next is a Genmaicha with a decidedly vegetable character, steeped for one minute in front of the customer in a terracotta teapot set on a bamboo display stand on a small table. This tea, with its subtle fragrance and hints of popcorn, is selected to be paired with a Bresse PDO chicken from Miéral, filled with a stuffing of the poultry's legs and foie gras, with truffle and artichoke. The delicate process behind the chef's dish is apparent in the layering of the stuffing between the chicken breast and the skin, and the offal fashioned into small sausages. As a counterpoint to the meat, an artichoke purée provides the right bitterness, while wafer-thin slices of truffle invest the dish as a whole with a crunchy, aromatic power. "With the genmaicha, the magic happens in two stages : first, when the dish is initially sampled with the tea, and then when the lightly toasted poultry jus is poured over the dish. You then have to take another sip of the genmaicha to sense the total harmony of flavours that we wanted to produce," says the chef.

A prime example of a chef-sommelier who understands the importance of the processes to be followed in order to attain a harmony of the senses and aesthetic form in a ceremoniously prepared meal, processes that include a rigorous selection of tea leaves, pH-neutral water, the ideal temperature and a well-coordinated steeping for a complete and bewitching pairing experience.

More information : https://greentea-jfoodo.jetro.go.jp?utm_source=michelin&utm_medium=collab&utm_campaign=all&utm_content=article

Hero Image : Xavier Thuizat / Photo : Florian Domergue.


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