If Julien Shapiro didn’t already have enough on his plate as he prepares for his new gig at Bryan Voltaggio’s Range, the butcher and charcuterie craftsman has another major challenge to face: He’s the lone American competing in the World Pate Croute Championship in France on Dec. 3.
Shapiro will be one of 12 finalists in the fourth annual competition, organized by La Confrerie de Pate Croute, a group founded to promote the art and craft of pate en croute (or “pate croute” as it’s known in Lyon, which Shapiro calls “ground zero” for the dish). The top prize winner takes home €5,000 or more than $6,400.
The Washingtonian will compete against charcuterie masters from some of the best restaurants in Europe, including Yohan Lastre from La Tour d’Argent and Pierre Maillet at Hameau Albert. The judges include not only the founders of the contest but also a few Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (or MOF) chefs who have passed a rigorous test of their kitchen skills to earn the title of “best craftsman in France.”
Shapiro leaves Friday for the contest at Maison Chapoutier in Tain-L’Hermitage, but he’s already made his pate en croute for the trip, a concession to his busy schedule and to the difficulty of trying to create such a demanding dish away from his own kitchen.
“That gives me a little bit of a disadvantage,” Shapiro tells All We Can Eat. “I’m not sure how it will compromise the quality of the product to vacuum seal” the pate en croute for the flight.
The dish that earned him a spot in the World Pate Croute Championship is the same one Shapiro will bring before the judges in the blind competition: an ornate rectangular pastry (see photo above) stuffed with a squab pate studded with gin-soaked currants and Marcona almonds. It’s the kind of elaborate preparation that separates the masters from those pretenders who occasionally hang meat in a closet and call themselves charcuterie makers.
“This is sort of the high water mark of charcuterie,” Shapiro says, rattling off its pastry, forcemeat and aspic components. “I think it’s the most elegant form there is.”
The Long Island native learned many of his charcuterie skills, he says, from Frank Ruta at Palena, where Shapiro worked for more than five years. “Frank was pretty much the one who put me on the right road,” says Shapiro, 38, who recently produced the charcuterie boards at Society Fair before moving to Range. “He was the one who inspired me to do what I wanted to do.”
Shapiro has been tracking the World Pate Croute Championship for a couple of years now, waiting for his chance. He didn’t think he was ready in 2011. But this year, he sent a detailed recipe and photographs of his squab dish to La Confrerie de Pate Croute. It was good enough to single him out as a finalist among the 35 people who entered. Shapiro says he has to pay his way over for the competition.
“I didn’t expect them to [cover costs]. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it,” he says. ”It’s a big thing over there. . . Food is still revered over there.”