Recently I got to spend an afternoon with a man Roseburg only knows as a custodian and bird enthusiast. Unbeknownst to them, he is a world-reknown chef with a very big A-list of friends and customers. Now retired, he is such an example of humility, and not to mention - an amazing chef. Here is his story and some great recipes.
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Serge Queant loves birds. On a good spring morning, Queant will open his kitchen window like turning over the “open” sign of a café. A variety of birds will come in, sit on the butcher block and eat. “They want breakfast,” he laughed. “It is like they know I am a chef!”
Before the birds, Queant catered to a much tougher crowd. Born in Paris, Queant moved to San Francisco in 1980 in search of a “new horizon.” After spending more than twenty years in the kitchen, specializing in fine-dining menu-planning and presentation, Queant and his family moved to Roseburg for a less stressful lifestyle and to start enjoying the little things – like birds.
“But today, the bird is on the table,” said Queant in a thick, French accent as he prepared an exquisite, four-course holiday meal featuring quail.
While the kitchen bubbled and steamed, Queant bounced back and forth, opening cupboards and asking his wife for a bowl, an egg or where something is. “Mommi, I am not very good with your kitchen I tell you,” said the chef in a tall hat and clean, white uniform embroidered, World Trade Club of S-F Executive Chef Serge Queant.
After retiring from what Queant defined as a “very unhealthy and stressful” career, he now leaves the cooking to his wife of twenty-years, Marta, but will occasionally create a menu or cook for friends. “Chef was my job before; it was a job not a hobby, but now I do as a hobby,” he said.
Grabbing one spice after another and naturally adding them to his Brandied Pumpkin Coconut Soup, Queant smelled and then tasted a spoonful. “To be a good cook, you have to like food first. If you like French fry from McDonald’s, then I wouldn’t advise cooking,” laughed Queant, nodding in approval to the taste of his soup.
Once the soup is complete, Queant pours it into a miniature pumpkin. “People pay $1.50 for soup in a bowl, but $4 for the same soup in the pumpkin,” he said.
Like the soup, Queant turned his pocket change into a lot more. After studying the social behavior of primates for nine years in France, Queant moved to San Francisco with basic, French cooking skills. He then began apprenticing under a top chef from the once famed French restaurant, Lutèce, in New York.
After several years of training, Queant’s European culinary background and innovative cooking style in California Nouvelle cuisine, Asian Fusion and Fine Dining graduated him quickly from the second course as a chef to the third course as executive chef.
He started working at the San Francisco’s Banker’s Club then moved to the Metropolitan Club, followed by the The Squire Room of the Fairmont Hotel.
For the last 11- years of his career, Queant was the executive chef at the prestigious World Trade Club of San Francisco, catering to the rich and famous – international, industrial or politician. Queant defined it as a place where the Beluga caviar, foie gras and Don Perignon had to be a la carte.
“MommÍ! Prawns?” asked Queant whisking a Lemon Beurre Blanc sauce, causing it to splash over the sides. “Of course it spill all over the place – that is the style of a chef, no?” said Queant.
Before methodically scooping his Sea Scallop Quenelle and placing it in each split prawn, Queant quickly chopped a bundle of chives. “I tell them, ‘I will teach you how to cut twice as fast,’” said Queant referring to his occasional volunteered community cooking demonstrations he enjoys doing. Queant then takes out a second knife and begins chopping with two. “See? Cutting twice as fast,” he laughed.
Queant gracefully pours the sauce over the prawns and then sprinkles the chives on top, making sure the prawn tail is up and the overall look of the dish is up to his high standards.
“People want it to look nice,” said Queant. “It is the way you can be successful in cooking, too – is to be creative; I’ve been blessed in creation skills.”
As an executive chef, Queant spent his time designing the meals, putting together the menu and making sure the presentation of each plate made his guests gasp in approval. “If it looks good, it will taste good,” said Queant explaining how diners eat with their eyes.
Not only did Queant’s plates look good, they tasted good too. Guests such as Tony Bennett, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Neil Armstrong, George Bush, the Kennedy family, Nancy Pelosi, James Brown and many others not only gave rave reviews, but enjoyed Queant so much that they typically extended their relationship.
Examples include Queant being invited to the White House to head-up Hilary Clinton’s birthday party, a surprise party for him thrown by James Brown and not only being asked to cook for Tony Bennett late on New Year’s Eve, but then being asked to eat with him.
Taking out the quail and laying them on a baking sheet, Queant’s professional chef side fought with his new love of birds. “Oh, poor little bird; I hate to kill the bird,” he said softly.
Then, it was back to cooking as Queant took each quail and tossed them away from him on the sizzling frying pan. “People are always wondering why they get burnt,” he said. “[Cooking] is based on common sense…good taste and common sense.”
After searing the quail, an essential step in cooking meat in order to lock the juices in, Queant placed it in the oven and set the timer.
Queant also mentions his strong opinion against using lots of salt. I will say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ and they will reply, ‘Because my grandmother or mother did it,’ I say, ‘It isn’t because grandma was doing it 50-years-ago that she was right!’” he laughed.
When the September 11 attacks took place, it took down the World Trade Club of New York, leaving many attendees of the clubs too scared to continue to go.
The downslide of the economy also began rolling, causing Queant to be even more stressed out in his career.
“The life of a chef is not healthy,” he said. Not only did he mention how the job is physically unhealthy due to constantly tasting all the food, but emotionally as well due to the high expectations and no breaks.
The timer buzzed and Queant pulled out the quail, putting them gently on a plate, drizzling a fragrant cabernet reduction sauce over the top and then with a pastry bag, artistically decorating the plate with pureed sweet peas and mashed potatoes creating a festive plate of reds and greens.
“I am just playing with food – that is what I do,” said Queant putting the finishing touches of a beautiful vegetable bouquet on the dinner plate.
“Even people who don’t like vegetable will like the vegetable on their plate,” he said. “In fine dining, you have to make a potato look like a million dollar.”
In 2005, Queant resigned from the culinary profession and moved his family to Roseburg, which along with his wife included their two sons, Jimmy, 17, a student at Roseburg High School and John, 18, a student at UCC who is a member of the local band, Hemlock Lane.
The 60-year-old former chef now works for Roseburg High School as a site operator/custodian. He said he loves not having stress, being around the kids and sleeping well at night. “At my age now, it is time for me to relax in life,” said Queant. The extra time allows him to pursue his passion of bird watching.
“Mommi, the wine!” he said as he finished the fourth course, dessert, and placed it next to three other stunning plates of food, warming the soul with their smell and stimulating the eyes with their colors.
Queant looked over his creation and picked at it gently, moving the quail leg a bit and then changing the order of stemware. “I’m a picky chef,” he said.
A smiling Queant in a professional, intimidating chef’s uniform reveals the laid-back, tropical button up shirt underneath. While he has an incredible knowledge of cooking and a fascinating mouthful of stories, Queant is “living the good life” and now concentrates on his new customers: the birds.
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Brandied Pumpkin Coconut Soup
Chicken broth (15 fl oz)
Pumpkin puree (15 oz)
Coconut milk, unsweetened (14. fl oz)
Curry powder (1 teaspoon)
Salt (to taste)
White ground pepper (pinch)
Mixed herb seasoning (pinch)
Diced carrots (10 oz)
Diced celery (10 oz)
Diced onion (1/2 onion)
Bourbon (2 tablespoons)
4 small pumpkins (5 inch diameter)
Canola oil (2 fl oz)
Preparation for the soup
- Peel and dice celery, onion, and carrot. Sweat them in oil on medium heat, until soft.
- Add chicken broth, pumpkin puree, coconut milk. Bring to boil. Stir occasionally to avoid bottom burning.
- Add curry powder and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Let it cool down and add brandy.
- Transfer the soup into a food blender and puree for about 15 seconds, until smooth.
Preparation for the pumpkin and serving
- Cut the top and hollow out the mini pumpkin, make sure the inside is free of seed and flesh. Use a soup spoon to scrape the inside wall until smooth.
- Pour some boiling water into the pumpkin, and keep in a warm oven for a few minutes before serving time.
- Empty the hot water, taste your soup for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the soup into the pumpkin and serve on a plate under liner, with some green leaves as garnish.
Sea Scallop Quenelle on Jumbo Prawns
8 jumbo prawns, headless (16-20 size)
Sea scallops (8 oz)
White sole fillet (8 oz)
1 egg white
Heavy whipping cream (½ pint)
Panko bread crumbs (3-4 oz)
Cognac (1 teaspoon)
White pepper (pinch)
White wine (8 oz)
Salt (pinch, to taste)
Preparation of quenelle
- Preheat oven to 400º
- Rinse your scallops under cold water, then chop into pieces. If you see a piece of tendon attached to the outer part of the scallop, it has to be removed (This tiny piece is very tough and shrinks during cooking, making it tougher).
- Rinse the white fillet of sole under cold water. Remove any possible remnant of skin or bone. Then chop in to pieces.
- Remove the prawn shell, except for the tail end. Slit open the inside flesh until you reach the vein, then pull it out. (Do not cut any deeper. You want the prawn to be intact, not in two halves).
- Flatten the prawns and put back in refrigerator.
- Put the chopped scallops, sole, egg white, Panko bread crumbs, cognac, white pepper, and salt together in a food processor and start pouring the heavy cream slowly as the machine is turning to create a fluffy mousse-like texture for about 10 seconds.
- Stop and scrape the edge of the bowl with a spatula, incorporate the scraping into the mix, then run the processor again for another 10 to 15 seconds to ensure a very smooth blend. (Repeat another 10 seconds if necessary).
- When scallop mousse has reached a pasty consistency (not runny; if so add more Panko crumbs) reserve in refrigerator for a few hours to set.
- When mousse (quenelle) has hardened, lay prawn on the cutting board and use a table spoon to scoop out the quenelle and place it on top of the prawn.
- Then fold the tail end over the quenelle, with it opened up “butterfly-like.”
- The prawn quenelles are now ready to be transferred over to a 2 inch baking pan.
- Add about 8 oz of white wine in the pan, cover with aluminum foil (tight around the edges) and bake at 400º for 12- 15 minutes.
Lemon Beurre Blanc sauce
1 Chopped shallot
Chablis wine (6 fl oz)
Half a lemon (squeezed)
Heavy whipping cream (½ pint)
Unsalted butter, diced, cold (4 oz)
1 chive sprig
White pepper (pinch)
Salt (pinch, to taste)
Preparation for sauce
- In a sauce pan, pour Chablis wine with shallots. Bring to boil and reduce to almost dry.
- Add ½ pint of heavy cream. Reduce again to half volume, then turn down heat, incorporate diced cold butter, piece by piece and whisk continuously to emulsify, (Try to avoid boiling. Always keep sauce on double boiler for later use or it will brake, a butter sauce can not be reheated).
- When finished (approximately 2 minutes) add fresh squeeze of lemon juice, white pepper and salt to taste and serve immediately.
Serving for Sea scallop Quenelle and Lemon Beurre Blanc sauce
- Place the quenelles on a plate.
- Glaze the top with the Lemon Beurre Blanc sauce and chopped chives.
- An elegant garnish of tomato peel, rolled into a rose and a couple of parsley leaves will enhance your plate presentation.
Roasted Stuffed Quail with Cabernet Reduction and Bouquetiere
Ingredients for Quail and stuffing:
4 boneless quail (4 oz)
Ground veal meat (8 oz)
Ground sausage meat (4 oz)
Chanterelle mushroom (sautéed in butter)
Dried cranberry, rehydrated (2 oz)
Walnut pieces, blanched (2 oz)
Pistachio nuts, blanched (2 oz)
1 small apple, peeled, diced
Herb de Provence (pinch)
Black pepper (pinch)
Salt (pinch, to taste)
Preparation and cooking of stuffed quail
· Preheat the oven to 425º.
· Mix veal, pork, chanterelle, apple, cranberry, walnut, pistachio, herb de Provence, black pepper together in a food processor for about 20 seconds.
· Fill the quail with the stuffing, brush some cooking oil over the bird, and sprinkle some more herbs and pepper before placing in the preheated oven.
· Roast for 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 160º.
Ingredients for Cabernet reduction:
½ bottle Cabernet sauvignon
Madeira wine (6 fl oz)
Brown gravy mix (2 Tbsp)
Unsalted cold butter (2 oz)
20 pieces of boiling onion
Preparation of Cabernet reduction
· Pour cabernet in a sauce pan, bring to boil, and reduce 2/3 of its volume.
· Add Madeira wine, brown gravy mix, boiling onion and reduce about 1/3 of remaining volume (stir occasionally to avoid clumping).
· The last minute of cooking add cold butter and whisk continuously until melted, and salt to taste.
Ingredients for vegetable Bouquetiere (bouquet of vegetable)
2 green zucchinis
1 bunch of pencil asparagus
1 bunch of green beans
1 bunch of baby carrots
1 yellow squash
1 head of broccoli
1 head of cauliflower
1 small red bell pepper
1 clove of garlic, chopped
Butter (8 oz)
Diced potato (12 oz)
Split pea (6 oz)
1 can chicken broth
3 large potatoes, boiled
Preparation of Bouquetiere
- Form a vase with the zucchini. Cut into cylinder of about 4 inches long, then with a scooper dig into zucchini and scoop out flesh to make it hollow (Leave thick walls and bottom).
- Gently flatten the bottom, so it will not roll on plate when filled.
- Cut the different color vegetables, so they can all fit in the hollow zucchini.
- When the bouquet is ready, steam all the vegetables together, “All dente” (meaning slightly under cooked) and cool them down quickly in iced water, so they will not mush and lose color.
- Put them back in arrangement on a tray, to go in warm oven with the quails.
- Boil split peas in chicken broth until soft and puree them in a blender.
- Make mashed potatoes, and put in blender with 3oz. butter. Puree until smooth and creamy. Salt to taste.
- You can add split pea puree to it or serve separately.
Serving of Roasted Stuffed Quail with Cabernet Reduction and Bouquetiere
- With a pastry bag, pipe the potatoes and split pea puree on a warm plate.
- Place the bouquetiere drizzled over with melted butter and fresh garlic (done the last minute before serving) on a plate.
- Next, place the quail on the plate and glaze it with the onion Cabernet Reduction.
- Use your creativity for the plate presentation; some sprig of fresh herbs (thyme or rosemary) will add appeal to your vegetable bouquet.
Strawberry with Champagne Sabayon
1 basket of fresh strawberries
1 basket of fresh raspberries
4 egg yolks
Grand Marnier or other orange liquor (8 fl oz)
Champagne or sparkling white wine (8 fl oz)
Optional sherry wine (4 fl oz)
Granulated sugar (4 oz, to taste)
1 sprig of fresh mint (chopped)
Dark chocolate shavings (2 oz or more)
Preparation for Strawberry with Champagne Sabayon
- Clean strawberries and cut in half.
- Put them in a glass bowl with chopped mint and Grand Marnier to macerate in the refrigerator for about an hour.
- Boil water in a large pot to create steam.
- Put the champagne, Sherry, sugar, egg yolk and salt together and whisk in a stainless steel bowl and place over the steaming pot.
- Whisk vigorously until you obtain a foamy mixture (approximately 3-4 minutes).
- Make sure that the yolk does not coagulate in the bowl (to avoid coagulation by overheating, remove the bowl from the steam pot and keep whisking).
- If the mix is too thin, you can add some sugar to thicken it.
- The Sabayon is ready when it reaches a thick runny consistency.
Serving of Strawberry with Champagne Sabayon
- Place the cold macerated strawberries in a large sorbet glass and smother with the warm champagne Sabayon.
- Top with fresh raspberries and dark chocolate shavings.
- A cigar wafer and a fresh mint leaf will compliment the display.
Chef safety tips:
- When working in kitchen, remember that, A knife with a sharp blade is safer than a knife with a dull blade
- When using a cutting board, make sure that the board is secure on a flat non-sliding surface.
- Before starting a food processor, make sure you hold down the lid with your hand and a kitchen towel to avoid splashing.
Bon Appetit – Chef Serge