Czech Republic Luncheon at the UN

11 Jun 2009, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in chefs & restaurants, travel, videos

To highlight the international flavors of its member countries, the United Nations often hosts food festivals in the Delegates Dining Room, inviting its staff and visitors to take a mini global food tour during lunch. This week, to celebrate its presidency of the European Union, the Czech Republic hosted its first food festival at the UN, and invited us into the kitchen for a luncheon at the chef’s table with some of its most prominent young chefs.

The team of was headed by chef Jan Horký of the restaurant Golden Prague in the Hotel InterContinental Prague, along with fellow chefs Martin Svatek, chef of the Hotel Dvořák in the town of Tabor, Adéla Pitrová, chef in the SAS Radisson Alcron hotel in Prague, and Lukáš Skála, chef in the Hotel InterContinental Prague.

When one thinks of Czech cuisine, one often envisions comfort foods rich in flour and butter — the kind of food that keeps out winter’s chill. However, Czech chefs have fully embraced the philosophy of local, sustainable ingredients, and wanted to show us that such heavy-food notions were somewhat off the mark. Certainly, such traditional foods will always remain on the menu, so to speak, but for this luncheon we were treated to a modern interpretation of ingredients like cabbage, pork and dumplings. And fried dough — let us not forget the fried dough.

We started the meal with a sip of Becherovka, a famous herb liqueur from the historic spa town of Karlsbad. Becherovka can be enjoyed either as an aperitif or a digestif, and frankly, I’d be happy to sip it for both. Smooth and herbaceous, this has become a new favorite of mine, so I’m hording the little sample bottles we received in our goodie bags. I was told it could also be mixed with tonic water for a popular Czech cocktail, so I’m happy to experiment with that and get back to you. Hey, I’m all about the research.

When I read the description for our first course, “Smoked duck breast terrine with nut puree and baked chou pastry with honey,” I expected to need a serious nap after lunch, as my thoughts leaned toward a heavy, country-style terrine. Imagine my surprise. The duck was sliced thin as paper and accented by the delicate honey flavor in the pastry. Light and delicate, this course immediately set the tone for the rest of the meal, which alternated lighter and heavier dishes for contrast.

A green asparagus risotto with parmesan cream followed the terrine (my notes refer to it as “gorgeously creamy”), capturing the flavors of spring with delicate slivers of the asparagus.

The pork belly for the main course was served with a garlic confit — heavenly sweet, I might add — and a dumpling that brought back memories of my first love’s family, who would often make these dumplings with pork roast. Mmm. I loved that all of the flavors we sampled were reminiscent of expected comforts, but did not leave us with heavy stomachs.

Our luncheon was capped with a dessert partially composed of fried dough. And fried dough can never, ever be bad. This happy little doughnut was served along with an apple sabayon, apple jelly and chocolate ice cream. Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? Think again.

This entire meal changed my perspective on the composition of seemingly heavy ingredients, as I’m now thinking of them in a new way. Pork, cabbage and dumplings, per the photo above, can be elevated to a level that is quite unexpected. Many thanks to the chefs and Czech Tourism for enlightening us.

We shot a quick video during the event so you can step into the kitchen with us, and you can see more photos on my Facebook profile.

Czech Tourism: