July 30, 2021

The rhubarb rush

By Stéphane Davet

Posted today at 12:08 am

It sometimes made children wince, but rhubarb now makes chefs smile. “I love its color, the freshness of its scents of cut grass, muscat, white flowers … Its vitality synonymous with spring”, delights pastry chef Claire Damon who, as a kid, shunned its acidity, to finally showcase contrasts of sweetness and acidity in her Parisian shops Cakes and Bread on Boulevard Pasteur and Rue du Bac.

In Valence, the triple star Anne-Sophie Pic fell in love with the deep red of Valentine’s Day; like Claire Damon, the iconic Michel Guérard, in Eugénie-les-Bains (Landes), swears by the sparkling green of the mira. Arnaud Lallement, three macarons maestro of the Assiette Champenoise, in Reims (Marne), preferred the liveliness of the Early Victoria to the overly wise acidity of the Grand Mums, when, at La Grenouillère, his two-star restaurant of La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil (Pas-de-Calais), the ultra-creative Alexandre Gauthier takes pleasure in adapting, to the rhythm of a season lasting roughly from May to October, to the chromatic and taste palette of the arrivals of goliaths, mikoots, frambozen roods, elmblitz and other varieties.

Rhubarb, a member of the sorrel family, is rich in vitamin C, potassium and phosphorus.

Common to all these favorites, an exceptional supplier, Mathieu Vermès, tireless promoter of the unexpected diversity of this “Vegetable which takes itself for a fruit”, of which he collects more than a hundred varieties in his rich Picardy lands of Saint-Riquier (Somme). Far from the anonymous plant blooming at the bottom of the garden, rhubarb abounds here in star on two gently undulating hectares, between breeding holsteins and field of flax.

The untrained eye will at first have trouble distinguishing who is who among this jungle of large leaves covering the plant’s essential argument: its stems. As a passionate guide, Mathieu Vermès is enthusiastic as he pushes aside the large parasols to discover the fleshy petioles. ” It is magic ! “, he marvels at the sight of these sticks in multiple colors, sizes and thicknesses, revealing the identity of these perennial tufts.

Left: Mathieu Vermès, rhubarb grower, a goliath in hand.  Right: a valentine.

After a too cool start to spring, the first heat of this end of May will finally strengthen its goliaths, whose long and thick green stems streaked with pink, prized by the compote industry, can weigh up to a kilo. “With the sun on this humid earth, they can take up to 20 or 30 centimeters in a day”, explains the horticulturalist who, in twenty-five years, has become the benchmark producer for cooks.

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