This summer, let Inspiration take you behind the scenes with the team at Monte-Carlo Catering, the bespoke catering department at Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. We’ll be finding out about four iconic ingredients in Monegasque gastronomy, and first up is the strawberry! This sun-kissed berry is exquisite in desserts, and surprisingly good in savoury dishes too. Today, two strawberry-loving experts join us to tell us more about the place this ingredient holds in their lives: Carros strawberry farmer Christophe Ferraro and Philippe Joannes, the Culinary Events Director for Monte-Carlo Catering.
Are strawberries tricky to grow? What about to cook with?
Christophe Ferraro (Farmer): Strawberries are a very delicate fruit, especially in the summer. Since they can’t deal with extreme heat, we pick them every day so they’re out on stalls for sale the day after they’re harvested. On my farm, we’ve started growing our strawberries off the ground, which is helping to make them more resilient. They’re better ventilated when they’re planted above the peat and the pine bark mulch, as well as being protected from pests and easier to pick.
Philippe Joannes (Culinary Events Director, Monte-Carlo Catering): As a chef, I would agree that strawberries are quite fragile and delicate. It’s always tricky to elevate an ingredient that is so naturally delicious.
So how do you elevate a strawberry without taking anything away from it?
P.J.: If they’re picked ripe, strawberries don’t need anything complicated doing to them. First, they need to be cut and mixed with sugar to draw out the juice. To really make the flavours of something sing, adding a little bit of acidity can be interesting – you can use lemon, some other citrus fruit, or vinegar for example. I like to do as little to my ingredients as possible, or find a delicate and unusual combination to pair them with that won’t compromise their flavour.
Why are Carros strawberries so special?
P.J.: It’s their size, and the size of the stems, that make them stand out. They’re fat and super juicy, and grow out in the open ground between the mountains and the seaside where they can get a nice sea breeze over them and enjoy the best of the sunshine.
C.F.: The sunshine is what makes the difference: the climate in Carros is perfect for strawberries. It means we can have two seasons: the early varieties between March and June, then everbearers which grow from June until the first frosts arrive.
Christophe, both your father and grandfather were strawberry farmers – was it an obvious choice for you to follow in their footsteps?
C.F.: I grew up surrounded by strawberries, but my first job was as a gardener. I eventually ended up following the family tradition and setting up my own farm, before joining forces with my father. Our expertise and knowledge means we can meet our customers’ requirements with fantastic, top-quality Carros strawberries.
Philippe, what is your kitchen philosophy?
P.J.: To showcase and elevate ingredients without masking their flavour or using too many at once. I like using simple, seasonal ingredients, and finding flavour combinations which both look and taste a little bit different. As event caterers, we are constantly adapting our dishes to our working environment and the number of guests attending. We need to be receptive, and provide our clients with the guidance to make their wishes a reality. And we do all that at events for anywhere between 10 and 1,000 people!
Can you remember any unusual strawberry recipes that you created for an event?
P.J.: We came up with a sweet and savoury strawberry combination for a wedding back in the spring which was essentially tomato and mozzarella with strawberries and cream. I kept the fruit – the heart of the red strawberry – and used the leaves in an infusion, then crystallised them to add crunch and recreate the strawberries on the plate. I caramelised the green strawberries, then deglazed with vinegar and added a few drops of the infusion I’d made with the leaves and some sansho pepper, and I mixed the trimmings of the red fruit with the juices from the green fruit. The soft creaminess of the mozzarella and the fragrant strawberries was an interesting combination, and all the flavours of the fruit were there.
What is the best way to enjoy strawberries?
C.F.: Just as they come, picked straight from the plant!
P.J.: I absolutely love picking them and eating them straight away. It always reminds me of how nice it is to pick bunches of tomatoes nestled on the vine, and how the incredible smell of the stalks lingers on your fingers…
Monte-Carlo Catering is…
The bespoke events catering department at Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer, made up of cooks, sommeliers, pastry chefs and more… Philippe Joannes, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, heads up a team which is dedicated to making your private and corporate events a success. Whether you’re hosting a gala dinner, business lunch or wedding, Monte-Carlo Catering will create a unique, bespoke culinary experience for you and your guests.