Written by Anthony Ramos
With fond memories of my culinary alma matter, I stole away a Friday afternoon to have a cozy lunch at L’Ecole – the restaurant at The French Culinary Institute in SoHo. It was wonderful to be back in the neighborhood, but strange not to head straight to the kitchen, instead being led to a table for two. The restaurant was buzzing with activity as I imagined the kitchen was too. It is astonishing to think about the shear number of people that must interact and work together to just please one guest. From expediters to senior chefs to culinary students at different stations, from waiters to hosts to dishwashers and bussers. A tightly manufactured piece of machinery where the weakest cog can easily bring down the house. All of this crossed my mind even before the bread came to the table.
After ordering cocktails, Marc and I took a serious look at the menu. The seasonal lunch fare, prepared by FCI students, features three courses. After some wheeling and dealing (“if you order the tartare I will get the cavatelli, and then we can try both”) we decided to start off with the Arctic char tartare with walnuts, Stilton blue and Yorkshire pudding, and the Cavatelli with rock shrimp, fava beans and ricotta salata. The char tartare (say that fast three times) was silky and tasted like the sea but we both agreed the Stilton could have had a stronger presence. As for the cavatelli (the pasta nemesis from my own FCI final), it was well balanced and had a good array of flavors, perfect for a summer lunch.
We were then eager to move on to our main courses: Seared duck breast and braised leg with fingerling potatoes and sour cherry sauce for Marc, and a pan-roasted lamb loin with goat cheese polenta, asparagus, figs and lamb jus for me. I reminisced about the duck and lamb before it even approached the table – thinking about my own experience preparing similar dishes for L’Ecole as a student not so long ago. When our entrées arrived my lamb had a gorgeous pool of lamb jus. I was immediately reminded of the wondrous and deeply flavored sauces I learned to make as a student.
To say my lunch was satisfying and nostalgic would be an understatement. Let’s just say it brought me back to a joyful time in my life, confident in where I had come from as a chef.