Surrounded by mystery, the black truffle’s price, rarity and extraordinary aroma gives it a truly special status and it has led to a fascinating east meets west collaboration between chef Ken Hom and truffle expert Pierre-Jean Pébeyre.
Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest authorities on oriental cooking, Ken Hom discovered the joys of French cuisine around 40 years ago when he fell in love with the people, the land and the culture.
Having a house in Quercy, France, he has had ample opportunity to enjoy French cuisine at its very best, but one ingredient, the black truffle of Perigord, has captured his imagination, and has led to Ken producing a stunning new book along with Pierre-Jean Pébeyre, whose family is synonymous with this rare aromatic fungus.
In their book Truffles, Hom and Pébeyre, join forces in the hope their readers will discover how extraordinary black truffles can be – the approach being simple and mindful of French tradition.
When Ken met Pierre-Jean in the 1980s he was impressed with his extensive knowledge in all aspects of truffles: “Through this remarkable family I was given the opportunity to learn more about the mysteries of the black truffle. Although Pierre-Jean’s knowledge was prodigious, it was his passion and love for the subject that amazed me and that, I felt, had to be shared with the rest of the world, hence this book.”
The passion for the black truffle within the Pébeyre family spans five generations and dates back
to 1897 when Pierre-Jean’s grandfather founded the business, which also sold local specialities including ceps, walnuts, asparagus and foie gras with truffle.
When Pierre-Jean joined in 1983, it was an era of research into how the production of truffles could be improved.
Pierre-Jean, with the same enthusiasm of previous generations, has since developed an international export market for the company and today, with him managing the company’s truffle trading business, it continues to thrive thanks to the introduction of new truffle varieties and alternative production regions, which has positioned this family business in new global markets.
Shortly after Pierre-Jean joined his family business in the 1980s, he met Ken Hom and the pair became friends for life.
Having collaborated in many projects over the years, they felt the time had come to share their passion and knowledge, resulting in their lavishly illustrated truffles book that incorporates the history of
truffles, techniques and ideas from Ken’s culinary background and recipes from the simple to the elaborate, with truffles as the star ingredient in this east meets west union.
Surrounded by mystery, the truffle’s price, rarity and extraordinary aroma gives it a truly special status in any culinary repertoire.
It is considered somewhat of a paradox as some classify it as a fungus and others say it belongs
to the plant kingdom. Whatever it is, the curious truffle grows entirely underground with no light and little oxygen at the height of winter – its quality declining when other plants are preparing to bloom. It is also interesting to note that it does not follow the example of fungi, which like the cool dampness of autumn and spring mists.
Completely black on the surface, with the inside criss-crossed by white veins, the truffle’s rare presence underground is accompanied by circles of parched grass on the surface above – an invaluable hint as to what lies beneath.
Some experts are able to locate truffles underground by observing surface phenomenon however the preferred method for hunting and harvesting is by using pigs or dogs, both blessed with a fine sense of smell.
No-one has ever succeeded in cultivating the wonderfully aromatic truffle, which has declined in production over the past half century and now runs the risk of vanishing.
In the book, Ken’s eastern culinary skills are combined with the with the Pébeyre family’s extensive knowledge of truffles, in a wonderful balance of flavour and tradition. Truffles can be chopped crushed or sliced, thickly or thinly, with a mandolin or sharp knife. Fresh truffles, which have a stronger flavour than preserved ones, possess an earthy flavour that is luxuriously delicious on grilled fillet steak, lamb noisettes and poultry breast, while the delicate flavour of the preserved truffle is perfect with scrambled eggs or used to stud a foie gras terrine.
In essence, the fresh truffle is a much more robust flavour than the delicacy of the preserved variety.
Ken and Pierre-Jean share some classic French recipes, many handed down through the generations of the Pébeyre family, as well as east-west masterpieces developed by Ken Hom. The Pébeyre family recipes include Jacques Pébeyre’s Potato Sarladaise, Chicken Supreme with Truffles and Momo’s Roast Guinea Fowl with Truffle Stuffing while Ken Hom’s equally delicious contribution includes Crackling Rice Paper-Wrapped Salmon with Truffles, Asian Duck Confit Spring Rolls with Truffles and Chinese Wonton Soup with Truffles.
To celebrate the iconic truffle and this unique collaboration, there will be a prestigious Truffles dinner at Northcote with an exclusive Truffle Menu devised and created by Northcote chef Nigel Haworth, Ken Hom and Pierre-Jean Pébeyre. Hom concludes: “Truffles, especially the black winter ones, are a special once-a-year gastronomic experience that no-one should ever miss!”