La Mère Poulard: Home Style French Cooking
By: Magnolia Silvestre
French Restaurant names to the non-French speaking always sound fancy, but La Mère Poulard, which recently opened at the SM Aura literally means Mother Poulard, a restaurant that aims to serve French home style cooking and to demystify the notion that French cuisine is always formal. The original restaurant is what you would call a heritage restaurant, operating in the picturesque town of Mont St. Michel in France. They are best known for their omelets, which are so fluffy that as the chef gently transfers the omelet from the pan into the plate, it bounces and folds like a puffy cloud. It tastes like one, too.
Named for Annette Poulard, hers is a romantic story of love and cooking. She and her husband Victor met and fell in love in Mont Saint-Michel, where they established the famous auberge (inn) and the restaurant, which still stands to this day, and where they lived there until the end of their days. Madame Poulard died in 1931. She thought of the omelet as something
that can be prepared quickly for visitors, and thus created a legend that tourists still avidly come to partake of.
You could make the argument that once you recreate a heritage restaurant outside of its original location, the dishes won’t taste exactly the same because the ingredients, even the water is different, and Normandy is best known for their dairy products: cream, butter and cheese. The only other country La Mère Poulard has a branch (or branches as it were) is in Japan, and it’s curious that they have more La Mère Poulard restaurants than France itself, and I’m sure the omelet as with the other dishes would also taste a little different there, too. This isn’t something that Leo Vannier, VP for La Mère Poulard, is bothered about. He say their aim is to recreate the kind of experience and share the techniques of French home style cooking using the ingredients that are available. “We cook simpler,” says Vannier. “Not just high gastronomy, we can have it in a very simple way. It’s a signature of La Mère Poulard.” They are also interested in going into a market where La Mere Poulard isn’t as well known, as opposed to Japan, where the name is quite established. Eric Vannier, Leo’s father bought the Auberge de Mère Poulard in 1986 and also created the Mère Poulard biscuit factory in 1988. The red vintage style tins are quite hip and the delicious buttery Mère Poulard biscuits are sold in 70 countries worldwide, which are also available at the restaurant in SM Aura. They are a different sort from other types butter cookies you’re perhaps more familiar with; it’s more crisp, a bit flaky, and has a subtle butter mouth feel.
La Mère Poulard will even adapt some recipes that is inspired by the home country using French techniques. On the menu, there is a section inspired by Filipino dishes. One is beef braised in red wine, inspired by our caldereta, but the real star of the show are the omelets. Watching the chefs prepare it also fits in with kitchen theater culture of restaurants these days. You may think the concept of the open kitchen is a fairly modern one, but Annette Poulard usedto cook her omelets in front of everyone as well.
The French chefs are tirelessly whisking the omelets in copper pans until they are almost pure foam. Chef Jean, who has done this for 30 years, even has rhythmic beat to the whisking. Surely, if one has this for three decades he might have a whole symphony of tunes in there. The copper bowls are more than for show. Science confirms that whisking eggs in copper
pans makes the froth more stable and less likely deflate. This is already well known with egg whites when making meringues, and the invention of the electric mixer has retired most copper pans, but one cannot deny there is romance in the shiny copper pans and the amount it takes to froth three eggs there. The eggs once they reach maximum froth are cooked in tiny pans, which results in a fluffier omelet because there is no room to deflate. These pillow soft omelets
practically taste like soufflès and disappear quickly as soon as they are laid down on the table. The texture is lovely if a tad under-seasoned for Filipino palates judging from the people in my table. Also, they don’t use Normandy butter for the omelets here, which will certainly make it a little different from the one in Mont St Michel. While you may not own a hand hammered copper pan or a wooden whisk, a home cook can easily adapt Mère Poulard’s techniques to cook the fluffiest omelet you can possibly make.
La Mère Poulard has the look of a classic French Bistro. The interiors are dominated by nautical and copper themes. The tables are wrapped with dock lines (basically the rope on boats) as a nod to its island origins. Other dishes on the menu are leeks and chopped hard boiled eggs which was one of the dishes I quite liked with a subtle piquancy. The ratatouille is classic home style, and a risotto-like dish cooked in Normandy cream provides is the closest you get to a rice dish. For dessert, they had delicious pots de crème in chocolate, coffee and green tea, which I surmise is a Japanese staple. With over 100 dishes under Mère Poulard’s belt, the ones on the menu are just some of her staples, and there is lot more to discover about her culinary legacy. Madame Annette Poulard on her little isle perhaps never imagined how far her cooking would go.