At the age of 26, Giselle Wellman was recently named executive chef at Petrossian Boutique and Restaurant in West Hollywood, California, a spot with roots in Paris that has put caviar in the spotlight on its menu for more than 90 years.
Wellman has a stellar fine-dining background and has worked in the kitchens of chefs like Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, and Tony DiSalvo; she also trained at Le Cordon Bleu Academie d’Art Culinaire in Mexico City. She’s been a hit since taking over earlier this year, with Grub Street saying that “Petrossian feels more accessible than ever.”
Here she talks caviar with Food Republic (and then gives the stage to Petrossian’s general manager, who tells us 6 Things To Know About Caviar).
Where are you from?
I was born in San Diego in a Mexican Jewish home. I feel very Latin even though I am third generation American. My grandparents fled from Poland and Russia and ended up in Mexico.
Do you think your background influenced your cooking?
I think the chefs I worked for rather than the food I grew up eating is what influenced me. I love Mexican food, but there isn’t a Mexican flair in my food…except during the family meal at the restaurant.
Being Jewish, I grew up with food, and all of the holidays are based around food. Our dinners brought the family together and placed an importance on the meals. With my food, I try for an instant satisfaction—either people love it or they don’t.
Caviar seems so haughty. How do you make it approachable for the average guy?
Caviar is such an easy way for men to make a great impression on a first date or a special occasion. If they’re on a date, it’s such an easy way to sweep women off their feet. I feel you can have caviar often, but not too often. I like it to keep its charm.
What do you like about it?
Caviar is kind of sexy. You can pick up the 30g tin and eat it in a very traditional manner, but you can also use caviar in different ways. With caviar, everything is personal. One of our regular customers at Petrossian buys caviar all the time and comes back in to tell me what he did with it and he’s so excited to share.
One notable dish on your menu is striped bass and caviar. How do you prepare that?
I wanted a traditional caviar, potatoes, and vodka dish. So I decided to play around with the ingredients. I start with a crème fraiche vodka foam and then I take Yukon gold potatoes and I use the mandolin slicer to make thin Tagliatelle noodles out of the potatoes. I blanch them and finish the noodles with cream and chives and serve them with striped bass and caviar. It’s traditional, but I get to be more playful and creative with the food.
BONUS: 6 Things To Know About Caviar
Courtesy of Petrossian’s general manager, Christopher Klapp
Really, what is Caviar?
Caviar is sturgeon roe and salt. This may sound simple enough, but it takes a lot of effort and specialized knowledge during the entire process to bring caviar to the customer.
What are the different types?
There are many species of sturgeon. I believe it to be 26 species in all. Not all of them are fit for making caviar. At the moment we have 7 different species of sturgeon available in the West Hollywood Restaurant & Boutique:
- Shassetra Schrenki
- American Hackleback
- Chataluga Prestige (Paddlefish Roe)
How does one buy it?
In terms of size, we offer our caviar starting with our 12g tin, then 30g, 50g, 125g, and from there at 250g and up in size it is a special order. We also use (American-grown) Transmontanus Caviar in a wide range of approachable dishes available on our regular brunch, lunch, and dinner menus. So we do our best to find a way for everyone to be able to try and enjoy caviar.
What are the best and most sought-after caviars?
Beluga is still prized throughout the world. However, at the moment Beluga is illegal for importation into the United States due to its current status as a critically endangered species. It is sought-after for its unmatched taste, size, and the fact that it is known to be hard to get, which naturally pushes those that seek rare and luxurious items to seek them out.
How do you prepare caviar?
There are many ways to eat Caviar. My personal preferred way to enjoy is simply put the eggs on a mother of pearl spoon and pair with a flute of vodka. We serve the caviar here at the restaurant with crème fraiche and blinis. We never serve red onions, capers, or chopped egg. If a customer insists, of course there is no wrong way to eat caviar. But there is the preferred Petrossian way, and after spending as much time and effort as we do to bring the finest caviars in the world to our customers, we feel they should savor the caviar—not ruin it with the tastes of onion and caper!
What pairs well with caviar?
Vodka always being the preferred choice, but a nice dry Champagne or white wine will suffice.