What a treat rubbing elbows with the crème de la crème of the culinary world during the annual “friendship” luncheon at La Jolla’s Marine Room celebrating the pride and accomplishments of two elite French organizations — the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France (MCF), and the Academie Culinaire de France (ACF). The event was hosted by Master Chef Bernard Guillas, a charter member of the former gastronomic club. I was quickly welcomed by this group of more than 100 Master Chefs from around the globe, from Vichy to Vegas, Montreal to Memphis. More effervescent and jubilant than the Champagne Devaux, Grande Reserve, brut flowing abundantly during the reception, the chefs reveled in their passion and French culinary traditions.

To paraphrase Christian Tetedoie, president of MCF (worldwide), this coveted title is also a commitment to preserve a lineage of French chefs using their personalized style of cuisine full of artistry.

Jean-Louis Dumonet, Executive Chef of the Union Club of New York city, and president of MCF’s North American delegation, explained the painstaking efforts to becoming a Master Chef and the life-long duties attached to this prestigious Master degree. First, the candidate has to be of French nationality, and not only be a good chef, but make it their mission to educate and transfer culinary knowledge in a tutelage to burgeoning French chefs. They must also have good personal and professional relationships with colleagues, and have a focus on the carbon footprint, embracing seasonality and local farmers.

The ACF has a common mission to its sister organization. According to Fabrice Prochassa, president for the worldwide ACF delegation, “while the chefs don’t have to be French (citizens), they must keep the tradition and history of French cuisine throughout the world, along with supporting small local farmers and producers, especially wine and cheese makers in France.” And the ACF ensures that traditional farming and animal husbandry practices are respected without the use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and GMO’s.

Not surprising, every Master Chef I spoke with told me that the most important ingredient in their repertoire was butter. And one notable curiosity was “Sweetie Pie,” nickname of Chef Sylvain Leroy from the Paris Gourmet in Carlstadt, New Jersey, whose claim to fame is his chocolate menu from soup to nuts, including a gazpacho with Parmesan foam, and a risotto with white chocolate sauce.

Each dish at le dejeuner was a masterpiece blending vibrant color, local, seasonal herbs, fruits and vegetables, along with sustainable seafood and assorted organic offerings. The meal began with a porcini goat cheese pot de crème, followed by a Livermore red walnut crusted Alaskan Halibut with barberry freekeh (young green wheat), and Kurobuta Pork Cheek and duck foie with squash blossoms and cloud ear mushrooms.

The piece de resistance of the vast array of desserts was the mouth-watering lemon bar with locally harvested hibiscus, and an almond cumin crust, recipe shared!

Catharine Kaufman can be reached at

Chef Bernard Guillas’ Hibiscus Infused Lemon Bar

Almond Cumin Crust: 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3/4 cup almond meal, 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 cup all purpose flour, 2 large eggs, 1 large egg, beaten.

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Butter 13x5x1-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Beat remaining butter, sugar and vanilla in large mixing bowl until creamy. Mix in almond meal, cumin seeds and flour using wooden spoon. Beat in 2 eggs to form dough. Transfer to floured board. Knead briefly. Wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 2 hours. Return to floured board. Knead to make pliable. Roll to 13x5-inch rectangle, 1/8 inch thick. Ease gently into tart pan. Prick dough with fork. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Line dough with parchment paper, fill with pie weights or beans. Bake 10 minutes. Remove weight and parchment. Brush shell with beaten egg. Bake additional 5 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven. Cool on wire rack.

Hibiscus Lemon Curd: 3 large eggs, 3 large egg yolks, 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, 1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1 cup lemon juice, 1 lemon, zested, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons almond liqueur.

Whisk eggs, yolks and sugar in large mixing bowl until pale yellow and ribbony. Fold in flour, hibiscus flowers and baking powder. Slowly whisk in lemon juice and zest. Place bowl over pot of simmering water, being sure bowl does not touch water. Whisk constantly until mixture thickens and reaches 160°F on instant read thermometer. Strain through fine sieve. Whisk in butter and almond liqueur. Pour into tart shell. Cool. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. Run tip of paring knife along edges of tart pan to loosen. Unmold. Cut crosswise into 1-inch bars.