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The asparagus season is here! It’s upon us like a rainbow – short-lasting and colorful. At restaurant Cru in Oslo, head chef James Ian Maxwell-Stewart – Max among friends – has even made a special tribute menu to this lovely spring vegetable. Two of his dishes use the green Galis asparagus from Provence in France, and two has the white asparagus from Hessen in Germany. They are both in season from now until the end of June and delivered by August Arnesen – the department of the Bama group which supplies the high-end restaurants in Norway. From mid-May, they also get the Norwegian ones available, of course. I visited restaurant Cru with a good friend of mine last month. We grabbed the counter seats downstairs where the kitchen is located, which turned out to be the perfect spot for a chat with the head chef himself.
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The Green Galis Asparagus From Provence in France
The green Galis asparagus is grown in Provence in Southern France by the former chef, now farmer, Jerome Galis. Asparagus is his main produce in addition to peas, beans, and truffles. As a chef, Galis knows a thing or two about restaurateur’s expectations when it comes to the flavor and quality of vegetables. The farmer’s love and care, combined with a unique climate, contribute to the Galis asparagus’ intense flavor and aroma, bright green color, meaty texture, and large size. That’s how Jerome Galis has become the number one choice for French top restaurants.
– I have always loved asparagus, ever since my dad used to cook them on holiday in France with melted butter, Max tells us.
The British-born chef also gets a lot of inspiration from his upbringing in Worcester and the English countryside. Since 2015, when Maxwell-Stewart took over the lead, restaurant Cru has served modern British dishes. That is evident both in the first snacks courses, where we get Max’ version of the classic dish Welsh rarebit, and later in the meal when we enjoy an English muffin topped with a langoustine Benedict. The first asparagus dish out, however, is green Galis asparagus with a browned-butter hollandaise, egg cream, and shavings of cured egg yolk.
– Asparagus is easy to work with, but the challenge is not to overcook it and keep the color from being military green instead of a nice bright green color.
Delicious aromas of asparagus, egg, and butter filled the room, and, shortly after spring twigs with a deep green hue were placed before us. The sweet, juicy, and firm Galis asparagus didn’t need much help, but a sprinkle of love from the salty, fatty, and creamy egg and butter sauces made the balance just right.
The White Asparagus from Hessen in Germany
A lovely caraway bread came with whipped browned butter infused with sherry vinegar and reminded me of a bread serving I once enjoyed at the small island of Bornholm in Denmark. Next up, we were having the white asparagus from Hessen in Germany. The German white asparagus has a unique standing in the world. Due to the right combination of temperature, soil, and climate, the quality of these pale sprigs is coveted by chefs from all over the world during Spargelzeit – or asparagus time.
– We are lucky enough to work with some fantastic, big, white asparagus which have a wonderful flavor – and I love the size of them, Max told us as he served the dish.
White asparagus are cultivated under the soil and not exposed to sunlight, which prevents the photosynthesis from coloring the spears green. At Cru, they sautée the white ones in butter and serve them with a smoked trout tartar, dill, tarragon dust, and a creamy sauce made from baked potatoes that reminds James of flavors from when he was a kid growing up. Having a reference point from your childhood is something Max believes to be important for any chef who is trying to interpret a culture or tradition.
Why Are Asparagus Best During the Spring Season?
Freshly delivered asparagus are less fibrous, more sweet, and less bitter. Asparagus in season are more tender, firm, and crips. Also, the vegetable can’t really be frozen successfully, as it doesn’t withstand temperatures below 4°C.
– I love the flavors of the different asparagus and how versatile they are! Unfortunately, the season is so short that it makes them extra special when they first arrive… and extra sad when they disappear.
Don’t be sad – get out there and enjoy Spargelsaison while it lasts!
Finishing With Some Signature Cru Dishes
Our meal ended with some of James’ signature dishes. The langoustine Benedicte is one of them. It’s an English muffin topped with sautéed spinach, a lightly fried Norwegian langoustine (still raw in the core), and dressed in a delicious brow butter hollandaise espuma. I could eat that for breakfast any day.
The classic combination of lamb and mint, made popular by Queen Elizabeth I, was sublime. Tender lamb meat from Jæren in Western-Norway, accompanied by a smoked almond potato espuma, anchovy mayo, and a lamb sauce seasoned with the bitter herb.
Lastly, a sticky toffee pudding à la Cru! Originally the dish is made with a moist sponge cake filled with finely chopped dates, topped with toffee sauce and vanilla custard or ice cream, but Max’ take is a little different. Instead, the toffee cake is drained in a salty caramel sauce, as well as a toffee espuma, with a more refreshing kefir sorbet on the side. And that’s how you make the heavy British cuisine a bit more balanced and pleasant!
– The last 10 years has seen a food revolution in Norway which is great, people are so curious and open-minded nowadays. We can make dishes and serve people ideas that wouldn’t have been possible before, Max concludes.
If their aim is to be a quality-focused neighborhood restaurant with tasty, modern food, I’d say they are succeeding very well at that.
Where else should I eat asparagus now that it’s in season? Please leave a comment below if you have any recommendations.
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