Philippe Bertineau, the executive chef of Benoit in Manhattan, cooking cassoulet, one of his signature dishes.
Philippe Bertineau will achieve one of his longtime dreams on Monday – that is the day he will be inducted into the “Academy.”
No, this has nothing to do with the coming Oscar Night or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is about cassoulet, the renowned bean and meat stew that helps define the regional cuisine of southwest France.
Mr. Bertineau, the executive chef at Benoit, a well-known French restaurant on West 55th Street in Midtown Manhattan, will become the first chef in the United States to be welcomed as a member of the Universal Cassoulet Academy.
The association, based in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, knits together chefs, restaurateurs, vintners and gourmands who strive to save cassoulet from cultural sabotage and cheap imitation.
“Cassoulet has always been a signature dish at Benoit,” Mr. Bertineau, 53, said. “It’s the epitome of the convivial pot: just as the meats and beans blend in the earthenware cassole, friends and relatives mingle over forkfuls and conversation.”
Led by one of the founders of the academy, Jean-Claude Rodriguez, a chef from Carcassonne, France, 20 members of the academy are traveling to New York this weekend, surreptitiously bringing packages of lingot beans in their suitcases, because the beans cannot be found in the United States.
“I have been making cassoulet, one of my favorite dishes, since age 23 working in the kitchen of Lucien Vanel in Toulouse, but for my induction on Monday, we will prepare Mr. Rodriguez’s recipe, which includes a pork butt, head, skin, duck leg confit, and sausages from Toulouse,” Mr. Bertineau said. “I asked Mr. Rodriguez to bring thyme and laurel from his garden since I heard it has incomparable flavor, and he also sent 12 huge round clay cassoles.”
There may be as many recipes for cassoulet as there are chefs, but the academy prizes above all the three classics promoted by Prosper Montagné, the author of the first edition of Larousse Gastronomique, the famous culinary reference book, and who in 1929 wrote: “The Cassoulet is the God of the Occitan cuisine. A God with a clear Trinity: the Father, the cassoulet from Castelnaudary; the Son, the one from Carcassonne; and the Holy Spirit, the recipe of Toulouse.”
Hervé Berteloite, a member of the academy who is based in Paris, said, “I first tasted Philippe Bertineau’s cassoulet a few years ago, and I knew that one day he must head our embassy in New York.”
During the induction ceremony, Mr. Berteloite and other members in full regalia- a long bright red robe and matching beret – will carry the bubbling cassoulet from the kitchen into the dining room while singing the cassoulet hymn in the ancient Occitan language spoken in southern France.
“De Gaulle wondered how he could govern a country that boasts 258 cheeses,” Mr. Bertineau said, “so it’s comforting to know that the academy celebrates the three classic recipes but genially welcomes creative interpretations.”
By SYLVIE BIGAR – New york Times