(BPT) - Chefs Laurent Manrique, Roland Passot and Gerald Hirigoyen hold the most envied title of their profession: Maître Cuisinier de France or Master Chef of France. Chefs are chosen to join one of the world’s most prestigious culinary associations through an exhaustive six-month review process that dates to 1951.

For the three Bay Area residents and San Francisco restaurateurs, being named a Master Chef of France is a lifetime achievement, significant career milestone and distinct honor all in one. This year, they also play host to the organization’s annual Global Conference in San Francisco. They gathered to discuss what’s inspiring them and how local ingredients shape their dishes.

The common food item on their short lists? Pistachios, with which they are very familiar, having seen the pistachio orchards that line the landscape throughout central and northern California.

“One of our duties as a Master Chef is to participate actively to promote products of ‘top quality,’” said Hirigoyen, owner of Piperade. “Pistachios grown here in California, not far from San Francisco, are superior in color and taste. I love to use pistachios because not only are they a great thing visually, they are healthy, too. They’re buttery in flavor, but the lowest in fat, actually. They can go in toppings, fillings and soups."

The green nut’s versatility appeals to the proprietor of popular Café del la Presse, Manrique, as well. “When I came to California, I discovered the greatness of cooking with pistachios. There are so many things you can do, from savory dishes to sweet. The inspiration is endless. Put them on salads and in pates. Even when you cook pistachios, they keep that wonderful texture and crunch.”

At La Folie on Russian Hill, Chef Passot’s cuisine blends French tradition with contemporary culinary creativity, and features seasonal, fresh, organic and sustainably harvested fare that is locally sourced whenever possible. “French cuisine doesn’t have to be rich to be delicious. I use pistachios because of their natural, healthy fats and oils. Plus they have great flavor and give you energy, just eating them out of hand with an aperitif.”

Pistachio Gazpacho with Watermelon and Cucumber

By Chef Gerald Hirigoyen, Piperade, San Francisco

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 cups pistachios, shelled

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced in 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup celery stalk, diced

1 1/2 cups Pain de mie (or other soft white bread), chopped

2 small garlic cloves, degermed and finely chopped

4 cups cold water

Juice of one lemon

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup watermelon, 1/4-inch cubes

1 cup croutons

4 sprigs fresh tarragon

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

In a large bowl, combine the pistachios, most of the diced cucumber (reserving a small amount for garnish), celery, pain de mie, garlic and water.

Working in two separate batches, pour half of the ingredients into a blender and puree on high speed until contents are smooth throughout, about 2 minutes, and then transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Stir in the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass bowl or airtight container, gently pushing all of the liquid through with a spatula or back of a ladle. Discard the solid ingredients.

Season the soup with salt; refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

To serve, divide the soup into 4 shallow bowls and garnish evenly with the reserved cucumber and diced watermelon. Scatter croutons and a sprig of tarragon on top of each bowl. Season with ground white pepper to taste and drizzle small dots of extra virgin olive oil over the top.

Serve immediately.

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