Last Tuesday, I finally met restauranteur Laurent Halasz – the founder and owner of FIG & OLIVE. He hosted a dinner for the launch of his first-ever cookbook, FIG & OLIVE – The Cuisine of the French Riviera in collaboration with renowned publishing house, Assouline. I found this impeccably dressed Frenchman to be extremely charming and personable.
Raised in the idyllic coastal town of Mougins in the South of France, about five miles from Cannes, Halasz developed an epicurean palate from his mother Francine. She would take him with her on her daily shopping adventures to local markets in nearby towns Valbonne and Cannes. Halasz gained an “outside of the classroom” learning experience about fresh and seasonal olive oils, produce and meats. Francine would walk home and prepare exceptional meals that created many “Mmmm, moments,” said Halasz, who wrote the book with his mother. “She cooks simple, fresh, flavorful, and colorful dishes,” said Halasz. “These recipes are easy to prepare for your family and friends.”
Celebrating a 10th anniversary of success, Halasz opened his first FIG & OLIVE in New York in 2005. Now he has four restaurants in New York, and one in Chicago, Los Angeles, Newport Beach and Washington D.C.
The restaurants culinary ethos is signature olive oils, in lieu of butter or cream. Trays of paper-thin zucchini carpaccio were served at the cocktail reception with a squeeze of lemon and dots of fruity picholine olive oil from the South of France. The dish was adorned with sweet toasted pine nuts and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese (The recipe is in the cookbook). We nibbled on this and other bite-size appetizers while sipping Yellow Label Veuve Clicquot champagne.
FIG & OLIVE offers an elegant, yet casual dining experience featuring the regional coastal cuisine of France, Italy and Spain. What I like about dining in the West Hollywood restaurant is the service. Sommelier Fabrizio Nocilla is handsome and extremely knowledgeable about wines, especially from Spain, Italy, France and California. Other servers worthy of applause is the lovely Kate who looks just like Scarlett Johansson, and the delightful Jackie.
Here are 10 Culinary Tips I discovered inside this beautiful cookbook:
- Learn to pair the right olive oils with each dish. Did you know that from Château Léoube in Provence makes a fruity and delicate varietal? While from Marqués de Griñon in Spain, the olive oil offers a more green fruit and herbal flavor profile. The Tuscan olive oil from the Mugelli family is slightly peppery. The restaurant offers a retail collection of over 30 different types of extra virgin olive oil ideal to enhance these recipes.
- Halasz paid homage to his mother, Francine and the Father of this type of farm-to-table cuisine – Michelin-starred chef Roger Verge, who recently passed away in June 2015. “His first cookbook, Cuisine of the Sun, offers a healthy and natural way of cooking, combining the products of the earth like a bouquet of wild flowers,” said Halasz. Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet leads to optimal health. These dishes will inspire you to eat healthier.
- For a party, serve many aperitif dishes to guests with a nice bottle of champagne. Start with an eggplant caviar, and some individual size tomato tarts and Fig and Gorgonzola tarts found in the book. Halasz told me these tarts are the French equivalent to pizzas, yet more elegant and lighter with their puff pastry crust.
- Our first course was Francine’s Butternut Squash soup with chestnuts. It’s an ideal Fall/Winter dish to serve during the holidays (found on page 80 in the cookbook).
- Since the Mediterranean diet traditionally includes antioxidant-rich vegetables, The cookbook offers several vegetable dishes, plus a decadent cold Gazpacho made with minced tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, red onion, garlic. bread, basil, Sherry vinegar and a splash of olive oil. At FIG & OLIVE they make this exact soup and add a small scoop of Ayala goat cheese to enhance the dish.
- On a Mediterranean diet, red meat should be consumed no more than a few times a month. The Filet Mignon recipe is an excellent choice. Marinate the red meat with olive oil, garlic and rosemary overnight. Grill it and serve it with vegetables. At FIG & OLIVE, Chef Pascal sautés onions in a Porto sauce with a balsamic reduction and shallots to make the most desirable onions I have ever tasted.
- There are 8 Fish recipes that will impress your guests from a whole Branzino to the Salmon and Scallops en Papillote that was served at the dinner. Step by step tips help novice to expert chefs to make these dishes that “wow” the table with its presentation.
- There are 10 Desserts in the book that range from apple tarts, chocolate pot de creme and lovely lavender Madeleine.
- FIG & OLIVE partnered with Air France to celebrate the launch of the book at all restaurant locations. The Los Angeles Launching was the first, since Halasz calls LA his home away from his “true home.” Attend a launch event at one of his other restaurants for chance to win a pair of round trip ticket in Business class to the Nice in the South of France (terms and conditions apply). Air France is investing over a half billion dollars in upgrading the customer experience including a more spacious Business class seat bed that reclines 180° with direct access to the aisle. Passengers in Business class can also savor the French touch while dining on gourmet meals designed by top Michelin-starred chefs and enjoying fine wines especially selected by Air France’s world-renowned sommelier. Air France offers the best of French culture on board each flight. http://www.airfrance.us.
- With the holidays approaching, this 160 pages, spiral-bound hardcover cookbook is an ideal gift for yourself or a culinary family member or friend. Inside are 100 award winning photos by Harald Gottschalk of interesting items and picturesque venues from the South of France. The photo of Francine next to a set table in her backyard, near the pool at her home in Mougins is stunning. You will be inspired to plan your next vacation to the French Riviera and enjoy healthier Mediterranean dishes. FIG & OLIVE – Cuisine of The French Riviera is available for purchase at ASSOULINE boutiques worldwide and through http://www.assouline.com. and at each restaurant.
Hours at the FiG & Olive Melrose Place – Open for lunch starting at 12 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday brunch at 11 a.m. Dinner service begins Monday through Thursday at 6 p.m. on Friday through Sunday, dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. $$$ 8490 Melrose Place (310)360-9100.