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Five minutes in the kitchen with:

Chef Antoine Gerneau, Manhattan personal chef and Ile de France recipe developer

Since falling in love with French cooking as a teen in the mid 80s, Chef Antoine has been working with fresh French cheeses to create unique appetizers, salads and desserts. After working at several restaurants and cafes in France and the United States, he settled in as a personal chef and recipe developer in New York.

What do you like best about working with French cheese?

First and foremost, the cheese is a pure delicacy: smooth, mild and full-flavored. An There’s tons of variety in terms of flavor, texture and even color. I also like that most of the cheeses can be enjoyed on their own - with very minimal preparation - and also can be used in advanced recipes. The cheeses are so versatile

What are some of you favorite things to make?

Ji’aime to create full meals that highlight different courses and flavors. Adding new twists to familiar items is a big goal. If I’m creating a menu for a dinner party, verrines are a must.

The colors and presentation are always a hit. People constantly comment on how the dish is so simple and fun that they’re surprised the concept hasn’t been around longer than it has.

When did you learn about verrines?

I remember hearing about them a few years ago when they were invented in Paris, in about 2002 or so. They’ve become popular much more recently. For most people seeing them is a new experience.

At first, the concept sounded rather dull, but, of course, once you see them you realize why they became such an instant hit in French culinary circles. The clear glassware that verrines are served in really become like frames for the various foods inside them.

What is your favorite verrine?

I don’t have a favorite – the best part about verrines is the experimentation. I rarely make the same one twice, since it is so easy to change them up and add different twists and seasonings. I almost always have gourmet cheeses in my verrines, either on their own with fruit or as part of a sauce or other mixture. The creamy colors really look beautiful in the glasses.

How do you adapt your cooking for the changing seasons - especially for spring?

When the weather starts to get warmer, naturally, people want lighter foods. More salads, more items served cold. Fresh ingredients are always integral to French cooking and that’s even more the case in the spring and summer season. In the warmer months I’m much more likely to use fresh fruits in any type of dish, from salads to pastas and desserts. Since French cheeses pair so well with fruit, spring is one of the best times of the year to serve them. Gather wine, sliced fruits, Brie and goat cheese and voila - an excellent snack to serve in the spring.

You are having a party – what’s on the dessert menu?

As a French chef, I like to present cheeses in ways that many Americans aren’t used to. So, I’ll serve different cheeses with everything from ice cream to light cake. I generally like to keep desserts very light and very rich, so a little bit of big flavor goes a long way. For example, I’m big on pairing cheeses with chocolate. Creamy cheeses like Brie go really well with dark chocolate. Something really simple like sliced brie, sweet apple sauce and chunks of dark chocolate can become a really elegant dessert when small portions of each are offered as separate items.

Also, being a Frenchman I enjoy serving cheeses in more traditional ways, especially on cheese boards. A cheese board with different cheeses and fruits, along with sweet wine, can be a great dessert by itself.

Any advice for beginning cooks?

I recommend a few essentials to any aspiring cook; a quality, sharp serrated knife, fresh ingredients (including herbs and spices) and a big imagination. Cooking should be a personal experience so experiment with what you like. Making the same recipe multiple times can help you determine the subtle flavors you like the best, so don’t be afraid to make different versions of the same dish.

As for fresh ingredients, they are really a must. Make sure meat, fish and poultry are odorless and not slimy in the least. Use fresh herbs and add them at the end or your recipes to preserve as much flavor as possible.

As for cheeses, refrigerate them until an hour or two before you serve them, then let them warm to room temperature. Once they warm up to room temperature, they are ready to be savored.
Bonne appétit!