Cooking with flowers is a subtle art for Xavier Poupel, who regards Australian native violets, rosella and daisies as staple ingredients in his seasonal cuisine.
It’s all about the provenance and sustainability of food for the Escoffier-trained chef, who has cooked for royalty around the world and runs catering company Terroir and Table in Torbay.
His passion to explore a top-end style of cooking — embraced by Michelin-star chefs and called la cuisine des fleurs in France — was inspired by a rambling rose garden around his Normandy restaurant, Le Colombier, which he ran with wife Janette in the 1990s.
These days, borage, sunflowers, lavender and lemon geranium are all easy pickings for dishes that are colourful, perfumed and refined.
“European chefs have been doing this for many years,” he says. “We’re not talking about using flowers just as a garnish, but as a key ingredient in the recipe, so you have to be quite precise in what you do. Sometimes the petals are added at the last minute to preserve the colour and flavour, because if you leave them too long, the aromas will disappear.”
He’s counted 40 to 50 flowers suitable to eat in Australia, with nasturtiums and zucchini flowers among the best known. “Zucchini flowers can be stuffed or done as tempura,” he says.
“For white fish, I like to use lemon geranium in a beurre blanc. Butter is one of the best ways to seal the taste, but, of course, we need to use that with a light hand.”
It’s a culinary twist on flower power that aims to satisfy all senses, not just taste, and Poupel will showcase his skill at a degustation dinner as part of Taste Great Southern 2013.
There will be seven courses on the menu, all featuring different flowers and including gazpacho of Jerusalem artichokes with a thick layer of brilliant blue borage petals on top.
“The petals have a sweet, honey flavour, but the whole flower will be used on the side for presentation because it’s important for people to touch, hold and smell it,” he says.
“This is about a total sensory experience. Everybody picks up different nuances of taste —as they do with fresh truffles, for example — and it gives people something to talk about at the table.”
Chopped, sauteed or crushed, flowers are a versatile lot. Poupel will do a loin of lamb with thyme and oregano flowers, cardamom iced nougat with red dahlia tuille and risotto topped with marron marinated in crushed dill flowers, new-season garlic and olive oil.
He will use his bespoke mobile wood-fired oven to cook. “There’s a lot of alchemy involved in bringing out the flavours and aromas of flowers and you have to be very attentive to get it just right,” he says.
La Cuisine Aux Fleurs with Xavier Poupel from Terroir and Table will be held at Estate 807 Wines, 807 Scotsdale Road, Denmark, on March 16 from 6.30-10.30pm. The cost is $107 a person. Bookings on 9840 9027.