FOOD ARTS
U.S.A. - March 2001



Rare and cher - Paris

What is purportedly the world's rarest and most expensive seasoning/cooking oil
recently made its debut in the United States. Virgin argan oil, an amber-colored elixir
extracted from the pits of the fruit of the argan tree that grows in the wilds of southern Morocco,
has been made and used by Berber women for centuries. But it wasn't until a French chef based
in New York City visited Morocco that he discovered this unusual ingredient and brought it back to the States.
"Argan oil is unique. It has a very powerful fragrance, almost indescribable, with a slighty nutty flavor,"
says Phillipe Schmit, executive chef of New York City's Orsay, the first U.S. restaurant to feature it.
Schmit uses it on grilled Florida snapper and drizzles it over his carpaccio of Anjou pears with arugula,
Auvergne blue cheese, and enoki mushrooms. A number of other chefs have since discovered it,
and it's now sold in a number of specialty food stores as well.
First introduced in France a little over three years ago by the young enterprising Argania company,
this exotic novelty quickly seduced some of Paris' most highly rated chefs.
Guy Martin (Le Grand Véfour), Michel Del Burgo (Taillevent),
and Pierre Gagnaire (Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire) are among the tall toques
who now sprinkle this subtle but strangely wild-tasting oil parsimoniously
over their creations, from cream of petits pois to Brittany lobster with wasabi.
"It's particularly interesting as a seasoning, a final note to be added to vegetables or poached fish,
asparagus or cod, for example," adds Alain Soliveres of Paris' Les Elysées restaurant.
Luckily, just a few drops of the precious product suffice. Elegantly packaged in a tall slim bottles,
the oil cost nearly $30 a pint. This liquid gold is not only a new gourmet's delight, it's also,
according to Argania, a way to perpetuate an ancestral tradition and to promote economic development
in its native region, declared a "Biosphere Reserve" by UNESCO in 1998 to preserve the argan trees.
For information, contact: comptoir Argania, 95 bis rue de Crimée, 75019 Paris; (011) 33 1 42 02 -5015;
or visit the Web site at: www.argania.org

Stephanie Curtis


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