Chef’s Day Off Dinner

A late night dinner proposal turns into an early morning feast

Bordeaux, France

It’s midnight and Alex, Aurelien and I are hanging out at Alex’s wine bar in Bordeaux. For most people, midnight is not the time to be thinking about making dinner, but for Aurelien, chef/owner of Soléna, it’s the perfect time. The restaurant is closed, kitchen cleaned.  Time for the chef to feed himself, and his family. Tomorrow the restaurant is closed, so this is the start of his day off.

Aurelien is effusive about a lovely three pound 100% grass-fed, dry aged rib eye he has obtained for his personal pleasure.  He rarely eats beef, but when he does, it has to be top quality. Tonight’s the night.  Or this morning, depending on who’s counting. Lucky for us, Alex and I are invited to this early morning feast.

At Aurelien’s flat, he throws some logs in the fireplace and we leave Alex and Serena (Aurelien’s wife and business partner) to relax and chat, while Aurelien and I head across the street to Soléna to make dinner in the restaurant kitchen. Once he’s in his kitchen, even after a full day, he gets a burst of energy. He starts bouncing around, from the fridge to the pantry to the spices, pulling things out, urging me to taste this or smell that.  He’s in his element.

He decides to make a sea bass ceviche from what’s left of the line caught fish that came in yesterday. It has a serial numbered tag on it that allows the chef to trace it all the way back to the source.  The beef is seasoned and cooked sous vide, while he pulls the porcini out of the fridge.

The porcini are magnificent, local treasures. He lays them on the counter and we both stand over them, in silent admiration. But Aurelien doesn’t stand still for long in his kitchen, and soon he’s got them all cut up, shallots sliced, and so forth.

As he sautées the mushrooms with sweet onions, he’s also giving me bits of things to taste before he puts them in the pan: pieces of thinly sliced, fried parsnip, vibrant dried apricots. Serena has made a special request for chips, which we make last.

We ferry the food back across the street, to Aurelien and Serena’s flat. Aurelien finishes the beef on the coals in the fireplace before slicing it up. Dinner is served at around 1:30, not at a table, but at the sofa, where we huddle together like conspirators, quiet so as not to wake the baby.