Pairing food and wine has gotten so much attention in the past couple of years that any chef, sommelier or F&B professional should be able to sprout at least a few words of wisdom on the topic. Pairing brandy, or cognac, in particular, with food however, is a much more niche topic. To see how how this famously fiery drink works with food, we talk to David Fransoret, the private chef of the Chateau de Bagnolet, more informally known as the Hennessy Maison.
Asia Tatler Dining: How does cognac pairing with food differ from wine pairing?
David Fransoret: To taste food and cognac, you have to drink first a little bit of cognac and then try the food and drink again cognac. The difference in between wine and cognac,is that you taste the wine in full mouth, cognac with the top of the tongue then the side of the mouth. By doing that, you do not feel too much the strength of alcohol.
ATD: Cognac is traditionally seen as a digestif: do you find that diners are usually apprehensive about pairing it with food?
DF: This is changing a lot today. Because cognac can be associated with so many different types of food, there is always a way to make it an amazing drink with diner. Whether taken in a long drink, on the rocks, neat, with tea: there are endless possibilities to make it a perfect match, especially with Asian cuisine.
ATD: Do you find the strong flavours of cognac and high alcohol content make it more challenging for food pairing?
DF: Actually, cognac is great to enhance the various tastes of the food. Its boldness and complexity reveals the flavours of the ingredients, especially in spicy cooking styles, such as Asian cuisine. That's why you will find cognac on dining tables, at home or in restaurants. I believe there is still a lot to explore in the cognac-food association, considering the variety of existing cognacs and the endless possibilities of cooking with it or pairing it.
ATD: What are your top tips for cognac and food pairing?
DF: The very first advice I can give is to choose the cognac you would like to pair before selecting the dishes. If you select a X.O, then you better cook recipes that are capable of balancing the richness of this cognac, and that fit with its flavours, such as vanilla, jasmine or crème brûlée.
Or you can also play with the contrasts. For instance, you may serve a frozen X.O with a foie gras, combining the smooth texture of the liver with the "crispy" feel of the cognac.
In the end, I consider that cognac - and especially X.O in long drink with water - goes very well with Asian cuisine in general, because Asian cooking usually integrates the most interesting ingredients and spices that pair with cognac.
ATD: What are some of your favourite cognac and food combinations?
DF: They are numerous! Among my favourites, I could name the braised rooster, which is very interesting for its abundant smoked flavours that fits well with Hennessy X.O, the foie gras of course, which would match particularly well with Hennessy Paradis, and chocolate fondant which is just amazing when paired with all our Prestige range, from Hennessy X.O to Richard.
ATD: What are some of the most memorable meals you have created at Chateau de Bagnolet?
DF: I had the great honour to cook for some prestigious artists and celebrities that we receive at our Château de Bagnolet. Among those many moments, I remember dinners with Brian de Palma, Joe Cocker, Barbara Hendricks and Moby. I had the chance to get their invaluable views of my cuisine, as well as sharing some of my cooking tips for them to bring back home.