Have you ever tried making a quenelle under the watchful eyes of one of Switzerland’s grand chefs? To be honest, I only learned about quenelles in recent years. (Hint: It’s an elliptical shape with three sides that’s a popular serving technique in restaurants. Check out Saveur magazine’s how-to video). So, when Chef Claude Frôté—whose Bocca restaurant has earned a Michelin star—handed me two spoons to try it for myself, I felt a little intimidated.
How did this all come about? Well, I was attending a cooking class offered by Les Laboratoires Culinaires. Chef Frôté was showing us how to make some of his recipes with fish from Lake Neuchâtel.
Inga and Laetitia, co-owners of Les Laboratoires Culinaires, held their first cooking class in October 2016. Since that time, this pair continues to announce new and exciting classes with a range of topics, some of which allow home cooks (like me!) the chance to learn from some of Switzerland’s most celebrated chefs.
Chef Claude Frôté – A Local Culinary Hero
Not only is Chef Claude Frôté well-known in the canton of Neuchâtel for his beloved gourmet restaurant, Bocca, but his reputation extends throughout Switzerland. With a Michelin-star and 16 out of 20 points from Gault & Millau, Chef Frôté was recently named the “parrain” (sponsor) of the Semaine du Goût 2017, Switzerland’s national food festival. The appointment seems very appropriate, as Neuchâtel was recently named the Ville du Goût, and Chef Frôté continues to be a long-time advocate of the region’s produits du terroir (local products). He also serves at the vice president of Les Grandes Tables de Suisse, a member association of Switzerland’s great chefs.
Two days before I took his class at Les Laboratoires Culinaires, my husband and I had dinner at Bocca for the first time to try it out. Located about 15 minutes by bus from the center of Neuchâtel, we arrived at the restaurant on a Saturday evening and took our seat in the cozy dining room. Not long after we sat down, the place started filling up to capacity. Overall, the service was excellent—very attentive servers who kindly answered all our questions. Chef Frôté came out twice to check on us, as well.
Not only is Chef Frôté passionate about preparing delicious food, he has created a comfortable and friendly atmosphere at his restaurant. During our meal, when he was greeting patrons, and also during the cooking class, I found him to smile and laugh quite easily—he really seems to enjoy his work. He has a positive, relaxed attitude and a good sense of humor.
At Bocca, here’s the line-up of incredible dishes that I ordered that evening:
Saucisson Neuchâtelois IGP avec une salade de lentilles
Neuchâtel sausage with a lentil salad
Cannelone confectionné à la minute au fromgage frais de chèvre et son extrait de bœuf aux truffes
Canneloni made with fresh goat’s cheese and beef broth with truffles
Filet de féra du lac de Neuchâtel au chasselas pommes écrasées et légume de saison
Fera from Lake Neuchâtel with Chasselas and smashed potatoes with seasonal vegetables (that evening, it was fennel)
Mousse au chocolat avec glace à la vanille
Chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream
Bocca also has a well-stocked wine cellar with over 25,000 bottles. Chef Frôté himself is a winemaker and has his own vineyard, Domaine Frôté, in La Neuveville. A massive book contains the restaurant’s extensive wine list, and the servers were more than happy to assist us in finding the right wine to pair with our meal.
With excellent food and exceptional service, I will definitely go back to Bocca, a local landmark in Neuchâtel known for fine dining and a popular chef. Chef Frôté recommended that we return in the summertime to eat outside in the restaurant’s garden with a view of Lake Neuchâtel, and I plan to take him up on this suggestion!
Les Laboratoires Culinaires & Neuchâtel Ville du Goût 2017
As you may remember, I attended the very first class offered by Les Laboratoires Culinaires with Chef Anita Lalubie. Inga and Laetitia started their cooking school because they love to cook and want to share their passion with others. Classes are taught in French, and the topics range from improving your knife skills to cooking with wild plants to learning from Michelin-star chefs. In addition, they are currently partnering with Neuchâtel Ville du Goût 2017 to present some classes focused on local foods from the region, such as the course I attended with Chef Claude Frôté about “poissons du lac” (lake fish).
The class that Chef Frôté taught for Les Laboratoires Culinaires, while he had given cooking demonstrations in the past, was his first time acting as a classroom instructor. It felt like we were in his home kitchen. Everyone talked and joked while we sampled the various ingredients and dishes as they were being made. His class about fish from Lake Neuchâtel—such as smoked bondelle, féra (known as palée in Neuchâtel) and truite saumonée (salmon trout)—was the first of these classes presented in conjunction with Neuchâtel Ville du Goût 2017. Along with the fish, we sampled some wonderful local wines from Grillette in nearby Cressier—Non Filtré, Viognier and Pinot Noir.
Chef Frôté made one fish dish after another during the class. I learned how to remove the skin from fresh féra and smoked bondelle. With Victorinox knives, much nicer and sharper than mine at home, I brunoised the carrots for a fish tartare. I sautéed perch filets, which were then bathed in butter and finely chopped lemons. The chef also prepared a delicious carpaccio of salmon trout, with such a fresh, delicious flavor that reminded me of the high-quality sashimi I had when I lived in Japan—absent of any overly fishy flavor.
In all, my classmates and I had 10 fish dishes—including four different tartares—all of which we helped prepare with Chef Frôté. He made all of the dishes seem incredibly easy to throw together, with few ingredients and very little measuring. And, when he realized the 3-hour period wouldn’t be enough for all he had planned, he asked if we could stay past 9:00 p.m. Of course, we all said, “Oui!” The wine kept flowing, as we continued to discover new ways to prepare fish. He was very generous with his time, and we all enjoyed learning his culinary secrets.
One of my favorite dishes of the evening involved that once-elusive quenelle. Chef Frôté chopped up the smoked bondelle and mixed it with horseradish and cream, among other ingredients and carefully shaped it. I tentatively took the two spoons from Chef Frôté, and after failing miserably the first time, he patiently showed me a second time how to do it. When I tried again, I finally made a clean elliptical shape. Truthfully, everyone in the class was very supportive and the atmosphere was very relaxed, so it wasn’t such a high-pressure task after all. My quenelle certainly wasn’t perfect, but it finally resembled the real thing.
Overall, I found Chef Frôté to be an excellent instructor. Inga and Laetitia of Les Laboratoires Culinaires organized a great evening (again!)—such a fun and informative class with lots of delicious food and wine. My family will be enjoying a plate of homemade quenelles with smoked bondelle in the near future…
- Restaurant gastronomique Le Bocca
- Les Laboratoires Culinaires: Classes featured as part of Neuchâtel Ville du Goût 2017: Saveurs sauvages par Judith Baumann on May 8 or 9, and Les senteurs de la fée verte on September 14
- Neuchâtel Ville du Goût 2017 – March to November 2017
- La Semaine du Goût – September 14-24, 2017
Please note: I attended the class,”Les poissons du lac” with Chef Claude Frôté, as a guest of Les Laboratoires Culinaires. The thoughts, opinions and experiences expressed in this article, as always, are purely my own.