A Culinary Evening of Sheer Magic
Celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Champagne Billecart-Salmon
Written by Allison Levine | photos by Julie BersaniFrom the moment I pulled up to the doors of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, I knew that a night of elegance and celebration was ahead. Guests had already started to gather and walk towards the opulent and spacious floor-level of Jean-Georges and one by one we were escorted to our tables. As we took our seats, we were about to embark on a magical meal in celebration of Champagne Billecart-Salmon’s 200th Anniversary.
Champagne Billecart-Salmon is the oldest continuously family-owned and operated house in Champagne, France. Founded in 1818 by Nicolas François Billecart and his wife Elisabeth Salmon, Billecart-Salmon is currently managed by the family’s seventh generation, brothers François and Antoine Roland-Billecart.
To honor its 200th anniversary, Billecart-Salmon has embarked on a six-city gastronomic tour around the world. Hosting intimate luxurious dinners in Singapore, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and London, the celebration will conclude with an elegant garden party in June at the Billecart-Salmon family’s estate in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ.
Billecart-Salmon partnered with three-star Michelin Chef Alain Passard of l’Arpege restaurant in Paris for the world tour. In addition, two-star Michelin Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten joined Passard for the New York and Los Angeles dinners, hosting them at his restaurants.
I had the honor to be seated next to François Roland-Billecart, the current president of Billecart-Salmon, as well as his wife and daughter.
M. Roland-Billecart, with his heavy French accent, welcomed everyone to the dinner, and expressed how at Billecart-Salmon, ‘we aim to produce better and better [wine] every year.’
Billecart-Salmon is known for finesse and elegance. The wines are not heavy or powerful. They are balanced wines that will give pleasure to all who drink them. Perhaps that it why Billecart-Salmon is somewhat of a cult darling among sommeliers.
We began the evening with the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV. After a few toasts, our glasses were refilled, and we began our exquisite six-course culinary excursion. For each course, we were served one dish from Chef Alain Passard and one dish from Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Chef Passard, famous for his celebration of vegetables, served the most delicate dishes that made us just want to sit and revel silently in the subtle flavors. Chef Vongerichten, on the other hand, served dishes with more intense flavors and spices and for these plates, they became a discussion at the table about what we were tasting. No matter the difference in the dishes, the elegance of the Champagnes paired with each dish were superb!.
Course 1: Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV
François Roland-Billecart told me that this wine is his wife Edith’s favorite wine and I can understand why. A wine made from 100% Chardonnay from five grand cru vineyards of the Côte des Blanc, it has notes of peaches, apples, chalk and almond. The wine is fresh and graceful with racy acidity that complimented both dishes.
Spring Peas with Strawberries, Mint Sauce
Meyer Lemon Gelée, Caviar and Crème Fraîche
Spring Peas with Strawberries, Mint Sauce – A combination of ingredients that might not come to mind, the dish was fresh and light with a touch of sweetness from the strawberries.
Meyer Lemon Gelée, Caviar and Crème Fraîche – Served in the shell of the meyer lemon, the gelée had just a hint of citrus but the start of the dish was the caviar and crème fraiche, which always pairs well with Champagne.
Course 2: Cuvee Elisabeth Rosé 2006
Created in 1998 as a tribute to Elisabeth Salmon, co-founder of Billecart-Salmon, this vintage Rosé Champagne is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is rich and elegant with notes of citrus, red berries and dried flowers. On the palate, it is crisp with dry acidity that paired well with both the delicate consommé and the flavorful fresh tuna.
Vegetarian Ravioli, Consommé “Belle Saveur”
Yellowfin Tuna Ribbons, Avocado, Radish and Ginger Emulsion
Vegetarian Ravioli, Consommé “Belle Saveur” – Three handmade ravioli filled with beets and greens floated elegantly in one of the most exquisitely subtle broths I have ever had.
Yellowfin Tuna Ribbons, Avocado, Radish and Ginger Emulsion – The yellowfin tuna absorbed the flavors of the ginger emulsion and while the fish melted in the mouth, the flavors lingered.
Course 3: Cuvee Elisabeth Rosé 2006
The vintage 2006 Rosé Champagne was paired with the third course as well and the crispness and acidity match well with vegetables.
Vegetable Arlequin, Sweet and Sour Sauce
White Asparagus with Lemon Crumbs and Herb Vinaigrette
Vegetable Arlequin, Sweet and Sour Sauce – Savory, sweet and tender, the beets in this colorful plate of fresh vegetables and fruit and topped with edible flowers might be the best beets I have eaten in my life.
White Asparagus with Lemon Crumbs and Herb Vinaigrette – A single spear of asparagus was anything but simple. Intense flavors of lemon and herbs rose to the surface as the sweet asparagus melted in my mouth.
Course 4: Cuvée Nicolas-François 2006
Created in 1964 in homage to Billecart-Salmon co-founder Nicolas-François Billecart, this vintage Champagne is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. M. Roland-Billecart described the Pinot Noir as being the body of the wine and the elegance while the Chardonnay adds the lightness and freshness and what he called the “smile part of the wine.” With notes of apples, honey and nuts, this wine had an opulence to it that was matched by its brightness.
Melted Spinach with Sesame Butter, Orange and Carrot Mousseline
Gulf Shrimp with Fava Beans, Yogurt-Seed Dressing, Soy Butter
Melted Spinach with Sesame Butter, Orange and Carrot Mousseline – Exactly as described, the spinach melted in the mouth without tasting too buttery, although I am sure there was a fair amount of butter in there.
Gulf Shrimp with Fava Beans, Yogurt-Seed Dressing, Soy Butter – In comparison to the smooth textures and flavors of the melted spinach and mousseline, the perfectly cooked shrimp where bursting with flavor.
Course 5: Cuvée 200
In honor of the 200th anniversary, Billecart-Salmon produced this special Cuvée 200. Like the year it was founded, 1818, they have produced 1,818 magnums of this special Bicentenary Cuvée. Made with 92% Pinot Noir, 4% Chardonnay and 4% Pinot Meunier, the wine is a blend of exceptional wines from four harvests (2000, 2003, 2008 and 2012). With chalky notes and acidity, this wine is bright with lots of tension. It is a wine that as much as we enjoyed it at dinner, should be aged for five or ten more years.
Roasted Chicken, Smoked Beet Falafel
Char Grilled Squab, Crushed Peas and Nasturtium Vinaigrette
Roasted Chicken, Smoked Beet Falafel – Chef Passard had marched his whole chickens through the dining rooms before serving them. What ended up on the plate was the most magnificent chicken that would convince anyone to like chicken. And the smoked beet falafel was smokey, sweet and nutty.
Char Grilled Squab, Crushed Peas and Nasturtium Vinaigrette – With a rich, spicy rub, there was so much flavor in such a little bird.
Course 6: Brut Rosé NV
Perhaps the wine that Billecart-Salmon is most famous for, the Brut Rosé is a vibrant pale pink color with hints of gold. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, the wine has notes of red fruit and citrus and on the palate is fresh, elegant and bright.
Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, Mint Sorbet, Matcha Ice Cream
Rhubarb and Apple Tart “Bouquet de Rose” Caramel Rose
Rhubarb and Apple Tart “Bouquet de Rose” Caramel Rose – This may be one of the most memorale desserts I’ve experienced. The puff pastry was elegant and gentle and the warm fruit was both sweet and tart.
Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, Mint Sorbet, Matcha Ice Cream – Creamy chocolate, bright mint sorbet and fresh mint resulted in a refreshing finish.
As Billecart-Salmon enters their third century as a family-owned and operated business, François Roland-Billecart plants to retire as president and transition to Chairman at the end of the year. His nephew Mathieu will take the lead as President and a new generation of the family will continue Billecart-Salmon for hopefully another 200 years.
As the meal came to an end, Chef Alain Passard and Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, along with the entire kitchen team, paraded through the dining room clanking pots and pans in celebration. Happy Anniversary Billecart-Salmon!