Chef David Posey
Kaz Sushi Bistro in DC
at Citronelle with Michel Richard
at Citronelle in DC
Marcel's in DC
photographed at West-End bistro
by Michel Richard
Timothy Dean. FrenchFries
Marcel in DC
with Jennifer Carrol
Tadich Grill DC
Breakfast at Citronelle
If you happened to breeze by this intriguing image, you might think it was a carefully composed, beautifully lit shot of the Breakfast Special down at Mel’s Diner. There on the tray is a sunny-side-up egg, a soft-boiled egg, a side of bacon, hash browns with ketchup, toast slices topped with a scoop of butter, and, in the background, a cuppa Joe or maybe hot chocolate. There’s even a folded copy of USA Today so you can check up on the latest news as you chow down.
But there’s something about this picture that makes you do a double take. And when you examine it more closely, you begin to realize that this is no typical American breakfast, but an exquisite culinary and visual spoof—a sublime artistic parody that combines the elegance of a Rembrandt still life with a delectable array of epicurean delights. Your first clue is the lovely amber glass of sauterne on the left, which reflects what appears to be the morning sun. Then there’s the gorgeously textured crown atop that soft-boiled egg, and the chocolate shavings atop the creamy surface in the cup. What is going on here?!
The short answer is Breakfast at Citronelle. Of course, it’s not really breakfast at all, but a consummate collection of complementary desert tastings created by award-winning, internationally renowned master chef Michel Richard, the doyen of Citronelle, one of Washington D.C.’s finest restaurants. Born in France and recently naturalized as an American citizen, Richard conceived of this glorious after-dinner “breakfast” as a sweetly amusing homage to his chosen country, presented in the universal language of fine French cuisine.
The thought and care that has gone into creating the individual elements of this princely ensemble, to assure that the various tastes and textures complement each other in a single glorious presentation, is truly incredible. The egg yolk is apricot puree, and the egg white is cream cheese crème. “This is an egg that tastes like amoretto, and it is actually inspired by the fresh apricot tartes I used to eat as a kid in France,” says Richard. “The only difference is there is no crunch. The bacon is actually a combination of puff pastry and chocolate pastry that is tricky to make. You have to roll it together in layers, and then cut it into thin ribbon-like slices before you bake it. The potatoes are apple jelly cubes with raspberry sauce, and what looks like a cup of cappuccino is really an espresso mousse made with the finest quality coffee and topped with gelatine whipped over ice to create an emulsion. The soft-boiled egg is a passion fruit mousse topped with meringue. The bread and butter is actually pound cake topped with vanilla ice cream. Of course I make my own ice cream and I use 8 vanilla beans in each quart, which means it’s quite expensive to produce---but of course you only get a little bit—it’s so rich. And speaking of rich, I make my pound cake using the classic recipe of a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and a dozen eggs.” Says Michel Richard with a twinkle in his eye, “When I was a young man and courting the ladies I used to entice them by saying ‘Come to dinner with me--breakfast is included.’ I guess this is the kind of romantic breakfast I had in mind.”
As you can see for yourself, this image of Breakfast at Citronelle is as richly delicious as the delights gracing the table. Indeed, this is food photography that rises to the level of fine art, and it would have been impossible to achieve without a close personal relationship between master chef Michel Richard and master photographer Len DePas, founder and director of The Photographer’s Gallery. While DePas’ specialty is shooting posh wedding extravaganzas for D.C.’s carriage trade, he is also an accomplished portraitist and art photographer who worked with the legendary Philippe Halsman as well as the noted child portrait photographer Josef Schneider.
“To simulate early morning light and create a proper breakfast atmosphere, I placed two strong video lights on the right,” says DePas. “ I aimed one of them to get natural starburst patterns on the wine glass, also suggesting the sun. To light the background, I used the classic setup—two smaller lights set at 45-degree angles. Finally, to get all those sophisticated little lighting accents that really make this picture look like a studio shot, I used about a half dozen small mirrors. Some are the ordinary kind you find in a lady’s compact, others are close-up mirrors like those used by make-up artists. In some cases, a mirror can function as a main light for a specific subject; in other cases it lets you shape the light to define the subject in a pleasing and natural way.”
“While this picture has an attractive directness, it was anything but simple to create. The piece de resistance was removing the image of Paris Hilton and the headline ‘We are good girls” from the front page of USA Today and substituting the name of Michel Richard and a picture of him hoisting a glass of wine. That was the only use of Photoshop to create this image. It is otherwise a straight, unmanipulated photograph taken with a Hasselblad H1, a 150mm lens with no filter, and a Phase One digital back. I made Michel a giant full-color poster of this image that is proudly displayed on the wall of his restaurant. But perhaps my greatest reward is that he invited me for dinner---breakfast included—at Citronelle.”
Chef Roberto Donna