AS A ST. Laurent shops for fabric, as a Frankenthaler chooses her paints, Anton Mosimann, chef of London's Dorchester Hotel, shops for food. Looking it over in the market, "already I can see it on the plate, " he explains.
And as you can spot an Izod shirt or a de Kooning painting, Mosimann insists, "You can see that's a plate from Bocuse or Troisgros." Each chef likes different colors, different shapes. "That reflects on the plate."
As the stories of artists usually go, Mosimann, who worked in Japan 11 years ago and was as affected as Picasso was by African sculpture, struggled through his early professional years to introduce a new artistic convention in conservative Swiss hotels. For years he made notes and drawings of his designs for food, and for years kept them at home. He knew it was a pity to cover a beautiful terrine with a sauce that masked the the colors and contrasts and so insisted that the sauce should go under it. Heresy. When he first went to the Dorchester, a ladle could stand in the sauces, they were so thick, and he wanted to eliminate flour thickeners. Blasphemy. He cooked scallops the regulation 20 minutes, and found that "they looked very unhappy"; he would remove them from the heat after 15 seconds. Outrage.
But all that is history, and all that Mosimann fought for is now the trend. When he was put in charge of the Dorchester kitchen five years ago, "we had . . . not quite a revolution," this tall, shy man attests. But in staid, traditional England, in a very proper London hotel, he has lightened the oxtail soup and turned the bread-and-butter pudding into a near-souffle'. He still does roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, as well as Scotch broth. But he has become celebrated for his Terrine Covent Garden, a pa te' of vegetables lined like a mosaic border in a rectangle of chicken mousse; and for his Rendez-vous de Fruits-de-mer a la Cre me de Basilic, a variety of seafoods in a basil cream, which changes according to what is best in the market. He puts up thousands of jars of pear and peach compote annually, serving them -- in the new casual fashion -- from their jars. And in a country where the ultimate argument for doing something is that it's expected, his greatest hit is a "menu surprise," for which even he doesn't know the dishes until an hour or so before dinner.
And so even England has shown flexibility in its eating habits and its esthetics. And, in turn, Mosimann has had to learn to be flexible. He has published his recipes in a book, which is now selling in an American version, "Cuisine a la Carte" (CBI, 1981). It sells for about $35 and requires weighing instead of measuring one's ingredients and translating "leaves of gelatin" and "courgettes" into American terms, not to mention finding nettles, pimpernel, veal blood and -- for over 15 of the 200 recipes -- fresh foie gras or truffles. It is far from a cookbook for a casual beginner, or even a serious beginner.
It is an idea book, and in America, Mosimann suggests, the reader must make do with chicken liver for foie gras, watercress for carrot leaves, local fish for turbot, and the vegetables grown locally. And, though his kitchen has 66 cooks, he insists that some of its dishes -- Potage Pigalle, Entreco te Saute'e Dorchester with roast potatoes and snow peas ("Just throw them in hot water. They cook themselves.") -- can be made very quickly and simply in an American home kitchen. But the book is meant more as an art book -- a design primer, an artistic influence. The 20 color plates are its core: the puff pastry heart filled with raspberries, surrounded by raspberry pure'e etched with an art deco design in cream; filet of beef topped with a souffle', garnished with baby carrots on their stems; rib of beef coated with peppercorns and topped with a sprig of rosemary, the golden sauce inlaid with a dark one in a scalloped design.
Mosimann's visual sense inspires his cooking. His food is his canvas, his marble, his clay. One day he saw a perfect tomato, its stem and leaves spreading from the core, its red skin near bursting. He turned it into a sherbet, turned that sherbet back into the tomato. There it was, an original Mosimann.
TOMATO SORBET (Makes about 1 quart)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups fresh tomato pure'e (peeled, seeded, then pure'ed)
1/2 cup canned tomato pure'e
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small egg white
3 leaves fresh basil, chopped
Dissolve sugar in water, bring to a boil and let cool. Mix with fresh and canned tomato pure'es, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pass through a sieve and adjust seasoning. Freeze in ice cream machine or freezer, and when half frozen beat the egg white to soft peaks and fold in with basil. Freeze until firm and serve.
Note: We found this sorbet quite sweet; you might like to cut the sugar in making it: Add the syrup to the tomato mixture a little at a time, tasting as you go.
FRUITS--DE--MER A LA CREME
4 1/2 ounces large scallops
8 large shrimp, removed from their shells
5 ounces salmon, cut into 1/2-ounce pieces lengthwise
5 ounces firm white fish, cut into 1/2-ounce pieces lengthwise
4 oysters in their shells
About 5 strips each carrot, leek, celery, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup fish stock or clam juice
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons dry vermouth
12 basil leaves, cut into strips
5 tablespoons butter, to finish
Salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne, to taste
Cut the scallops in half and lay on a cloth to dry. Season the shrimp and pieces of salmon and white fish. Open the oysters and keep in their water. Sweat the carrot, leek and celery in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter. Add the white fish and shrimp and continue to sweat. Add the salmon and scallops. Add the fish stock or clam juice and white wine, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 2 minutes.
Remove seafood and vegetables and keep warm. Reduce the stock, add the cream and vermouth and allow to reduce a little. Return the seafood and vegetables to the sauce. Add the raw oysters and their water and the basil to the sauce. Beat in 5 tablespoons butter and season to taste with salt and pepper and cayenne. Arrange in invididual porcelain baking dishes and serve immediately.
Note: Different seafood may be used, depending upon the season.
ENTRECOTE SAUTEE DORCHESTER (Sirloin steak in cream sauce with four different peppers) (4 servings)
4 6-ounce sirloin steaks
Some white and black peppercorns, well crushed
1/4 cup peanut oil
3 tablespoons cognac
1 cup veal stock (beef stock can be substituted)
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter, to finish
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Green and pink peppercorns, to finish
Season the well-trimmed steaks with white and black peppercorns and salt. Saute' them on both sides in hot oil. Remove steaks and keep warm. Remove the fat, flame the cooking juices with cognac, add the veal stock and reduce to half its original volume. Add the cream and reduce the required consistency. Beat in butter and season with salt and pepper. Add the green and pink peppercorns just before serving. Cover the steaks with the sauce. Lightly sprinkle green and pink peppercorns on steaks and in sauce.
TERRINE COVENT GARDEN (Vegetable Terrine Covent Garden) (10 servings)
Salted water for blanching artichoke bottoms
3/4 ounce veal kidney fat (for cooking artichoke)
1 tablespoon butter
Chicken farce (recipe follows)
1 1/2 ounces snow peas, stringed and blanched for 4 seconds
1/4 pound green beans, stringed and blanched, quickly
14 ounces broccoli, the flowerets cleaned and blanched, quickly
3/4 pound small carrots, peeled, blanched and cut into quarters lengthwise
1/2 pound small eggplants, blanched and cut into quarters lengthwise
1/4 pound small chanterelles or other mushrooms, cleaned and blanched
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Tomato vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 tomato cut into quarters and watercress, for garnish
Break off the stems of the artichokes and cut away 3/4 of the leafy head with a knife. Remove the remaining leaves from the artichoke bottoms and take out the inside choke of the artichokes with a small spoon. Blanch the bottoms immediately in salted water, some lemon juice and a little olive oil. Now cook the artichoke bottoms in a little salted water and veal kidney fat until crisped. Allow to cool in the stock and cut into slices.
Butter a terrine dish, mix together the third of the chicken farce that has been combined with the watercress pure'e (see below) and place on the bottom of the dish. Fill the terrine dish with a layer of each of the pre-blanched vegetables, spreading some chicken farce (stuffing) between each layer of vegetables. Season to taste. Cover and poach for about 35 minutes in a bain-marie (water bath) in a 350-degree oven. Allow to cool and cut into not-to-thin slices. Arrange on tomato vinaigrette and garnish with tomato quarters and watercress.
Note: It is important that the vegetables are allowed to cool in the water in which they were blanched, and this should be cooled on ice. Only in this way is the individual taste of each vegetable brought out. It goes without saying that all vegetables used here must remain crisp. When arranging the vegetables in the terrine it is advisable to place them so that the colors look attractive when the terrine is cut.
FARCE DE VOLAILLE (Chicken forcemeat) (10 servings)
6 1/2 ounces white chicken meat (breast without skin)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces watercress, with stalks removed
1 to 2 tablespoons chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Remove the sinew from the meat and mince finely, then press through a sieve or process in food processor. Put in a bowl on ice and allow to cool well. Mix in the cream a little at a time until a light, airy, pure'e is formed. Liquify the watercress in a blender with a little chicken stock.
Mix a third of the chicken pure'e with the watercress pure'e. Season both mixtures well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Note: This recipe has been doubled for ease in assembling the pa te'.
SAUCE VINAIGRETTE A LA TOMATE (Tomato Vinaigrette) (10 servings)
3/4 cup chicken stock, greatly reduced
3/4 ounce tomato pure'e
1/4 pound ripe tomatoes
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Sugar and lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Mix the chicken stock with the tomato pure'e. Liquify the fresh tomatoes in blender and add to the chicken stock mixture with the vinegar. Add the olive oil very gradually, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and, if necessary, a little sugar and lemon juice.
BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING (4 servings)
9 ounces milk
9 ounces heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1 1/2 cups plus, 2 tablespoons sugar
3 small bread rolls
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 ounce raisins, soaked in water
3/4 ounce apricot jam
Bring the milk, cream, a little salt and the vanilla bean to a boil. Mix the eggs and sugar together. Add the simmering milk and cream. Pass the mixture through a sieve. Cut the rolls into thin slices and butter them. Arrange in a buttered ovenproof dish. Add the soaked raisins. Add the milk mixture, sprinkle the remaining butter on top and poach carefully for 35 to 40 minutes in a bain-marie in a 350-degree oven. Sprinkle with apricot jam and dust with confectioners' sugar. This pudding can also be served with heavy cream or canned fruit.
Notes: This pudding is very sweet and will do nicely with less sugar.