For Belgian cook and owner of the hugely successful eatery chain Le Pain Quotidien Alain Coumont, it all began with some serious French culinary training. Like his father, he studied at the hotel school in Namur. On graduating, he wrote to the 10 best chefs in France and in 1982, he found himself working as a pastry chef for culinary legend Georges Blanc. It turns out that a line in Alain’s résumé had caught Blanc’s eye – he had previously worked for Schevenels, the best pâtisserie in Liège.
With a background in baking and the guidance of some of France’s finest chefs, Alain set out to make his fortune… In his book, Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook, Alain looks back to how it all started and how the company’s ethos for healthy eating developed. As for the menu, while the open sandwiches are much sought after, there is plenty more on the menu to intrigue, including some French classics…
Here are some of Le Pain Quotidien’s delicious recipes, as prepared by Alain Coumont and Jean-Pierre Gabriel
Toasted Camembert, Walnut & Fig Tartine
Walnuts and cheese are a classic pairing, but the fruity note added by the fig jam makes this tartine particularly satisfying. And healthy, too – the fats in walnuts are thought to reduce hardening of the arteries.
1 slice of sourdough bread
1 tbsp fig jam
3oz (75g) ripe Camembert or Brie, cut into ¼ inch (5-6mm) slices
4 walnut halves, roughly chopped
✽ Preheat the broiler (grill) to a high setting. Lightly toast the bread. Spread the fig jam on top, cover with the Camembert and then sprinkle the walnuts and a little black pepper over the tartine. Place under the broiler for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese begins to melt. Serve immediately.
Figatellu with lentils, cabbage & chestnuts
Figatellu is a Corsican pork liver sausage flavoured with garlic, but you don’t have to live on a Mediterranean island to try this dish: you can use any good cured pork sausage instead.
1¼ cups (8oz/250g) green puy lentils
3 cups (1¼ pints/750ml) water
2 lapsang souchong tea bags
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
½ green or white cabbage, coarsely chopped
14oz (400g) cooked chestnuts
1lb 6oz (600g) cured Figatellu sausage or other type of cured pork sausage, such as saucisson sec (soaked in water overnight before cooking), cooking chorizo or good fresh Italian sausage with fennel seeds
extra virgin olive oil, to serve
✽ Put the lentils into a saucepan with the water and teabags. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat and cook for 15–20 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Add salt towards the end of the cooking time. Drain, then set aside.
✽ Heat the olive oil in a casserole or Dutch oven, then add the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and a pinch of salt and sauté over high heat for 2–3 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the cabbage, then stir in ½ cup (3½fl oz/100ml) of water and the chestnuts. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the cabbage is tender but still has a slight bite.
✽ Meanwhile, put the sausage into a saucepan, cover with hot water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, simmer for 20 minutes or until softened, then remove the sausage from the pan and reserve the cooking liquid.
✽ Cut the sausage into 2-3 inch (5-7cm) lengths, then add to the cabbage mixture together with the lentils. Pour a ladleful of the reserved sausage cooking liquid over the top, then cover and reheat until piping hot. Serve immediately.
Apple, olive oil & lavender cake
The lavender honey gives this cake a fresh, slightly floral aroma, but you can try using different types of honey in this recipe to subtly vary the flavour – chestnut honey will add a nutty, more rustic note.
4 cooking apples (such as Granny Smith or Bramley), peeled, cored and cut into 8-10 chunks
5 tbsp all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
5 tbsp superfine (caster) sugar
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup (¼ pint/150ml) lavender honey
2 sprigs dried lavender
✽ Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC/gas mark 4). Grease and line an 8 inch (20cm) cake pan with nonstick parchment paper, then place the apple pieces inside. You can make 4–6 individual mini-cakes, if you prefer.
✽ In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, olive oil, baking powder and 2 of the eggs, then pour the batter over the apples. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven. Increase the oven setting to 400ºF (200ºC/gas mark 6).
✽ Whisk the remaining 2 eggs with the honey, then pour this mixture over the cake. Return to the oven and bake for another 15–20 minutes, until golden brown and the tines of a fork inserted into the middle come out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and turn out onto a plate while still warm. Serve warm with cream, crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, if liked.
Originally published in FrenchEntrée Magazine
Photography: Creative Communications SCRL