Renowned French chef Marc Guebert is Johannesburg”s Mr Souffle. A magician with egg whites and a whisk, he estimates that in the last 30 years he has conjured up more than 400 000 of his light-as-air creations.
In French, the expression “à bout de soufflé” means “breathless”, and Marc’s soufflé has consistently left Johannesburg diners gasping in admiration. From his early days at Ile de France and later at Bistro 277, the popularity of his soufflé has remained stable. When he sold Bistro 277 in March this year Marc’s fans bade farewell to the master and feared that they would never again know the warming joys of his chocolate soufflé on a cold afternoon or the pleasures of his asparagus and shrimp soufflé at a summer lunch party. But the soufflé has risen again. This time it’s in a tiny café, appropriately named Le Soufflé, at Pineslopes shopping centre in Fourways.
Marc had been open for business for 11 days when Food & Home Entertaining visited him in his new kitchen. Buttering the inside of a ramekin and dusting it with sugar, Marc recalls that he first learnt to make soufflés when he was a teenage apprentice at Restaurant Henri IV in Chartres, France. “I hated them because it was my job to beat all the egg whites by hand,” he says. “The first soufflé I perfected was the Grand Marnier and I have been making it ever since. I made it when I worked for the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace in England in the early 1960s and I am still making it today.”
As he gently folds egg whites into a rich crème pâtissière panade he laughingly remarks, “Despite my teenage hostility, over the years I have come to love soufflés. The older I get the more I love them. When I sold Bistro 277 my wife Irene and I had a struggle to find premises for the new business. Landlords today only want franchises. So we were at home with time on our hands and Irene said that after 30 years of marriage she wanted to learn how to make a soufflé. So I taught her and now we make them at home all the time.”
As the chef mixes and folds, happy customers tuck into breakfasts of fluffy omelettes topped with apple and Camembert cheese. Marc’s daughter Natalie arranges platters of flaky croissants and buttery golden brioche. A table of yummy mummies, complete with designer pushchairs, forego conventional breakfast offerings and order six raspberry soufflés despite the fact that it is 9am. As Marc puts the Grand Marnier soufflés into the oven he says he doesn’t mind sharing his soufflé recipes.
“There are no real secrets to a soufflé other than that they take practice to perfect. Recipes are just a guideline and there is no substitute for experience. There are only two tricks. First, you need to learn how the mixture should feel and second, you need to know your oven. Eggs come in different sizes so mixtures will be sloppier or stiffer, and you need to practise until you can judge the consistency.
Similarly, ovens are not all the same. At work I use a convection oven where the circulation of heat makes for foolproof soufflés, but at home I use a standard domestic oven, which works well once you know what you’re doing.” The perfectly risen Grand Marnier soufflés come out of the oven, are dusted with icing sugar and doused in a flaming ladle of liqueur. Fifty years after the teenage apprentice made his first soufflé the combination of caramelised citrus and creamy crème pâtissière is still a flavour marriage made in heaven.
Le Soufflé, Pineslopes shopping centre, corner Witkoppen Road and The Straight, Fourways, 011-465-4116.