There are many countries in which people seem to live to eat. The cuisine cultures of Italy, Japan, and Spain stand out. But is there any nation with a prouder gastronomic tradition than that of France? The bistro dishes alone: duck confit, steak frites, cassoulet, onion soup. To sit and enjoy a moment of leisure, nourished by these hearty classics and a glass of house wine, is something verging on a French national pastime – a rite enjoyed by businessmen, civil servants, artisans, and construction workers alike when the clock strikes noon. Most remarkable about these classic dishes is how they show us that in cooking, more often than not, simplicity is the surest path to deliciousness. Worthy ingredients from the land (or the sea), close attention to detail, and a careful watch on, above all, time, are the most important factors for making good food.
This is true of oeuf mayonnaise, a dish consisting of hard-boiled eggs and, well, mayonnaise – that simple sauce, little more than an emulsion of raw egg and oil, perhaps with some dijon and fresh lemon juice. A French classic that can be whipped up from scratch in minutes, oeuf mayonnaise is best thought of as boiled eggs in egg sauce. Or, from the perspective américaine, as deconstructed egg salad intended to be consumed not between the bread of a sandwich, but as a proper dish. Of course, as with any good French meal, you will want bread on the table, preferably in the form of a warm, crusty baguette.
Oeuf mayonnaise is a dish that some gourmets take seriously enough to have started an organization dedicated to its preservation. The Association de Sauvegarde de l’Oeuf Mayonnaise (ASOM), which was founded by the late food writer Claude Lebey, has even produced a charter establishing the benchmark for how oeuf mayonnaise ought to be prepared: It should be made from a large hen’s egg, and the egg should be fully cooked through, but not overcooked.
ASOM puts on an annual competition in which chefs from France and abroad converge on the City of Lights and go egg-to-egg before an eggspert jury to determine whose oeuf mayonnaise reigns supreme. This is where the Egg Master, a watch created by the independent French watchmaker MAT (Mer-Air-Terre), best known for making quartz tactical/military watches, comes in. Built for timing the perfect boiled egg, the Egg Master is the official watch of this year’s “Eggs Mayonnaise World Championship,” as the competition is known. MAT Watches is also the competition’s official timekeeper.
In order to enter the Eggs Mayonnaise World Championship, competing chefs must preside over restaurants in which oeuf mayonnaise appears on the menu. A panel of judges rates the contestants’ plates according to five criteria: general appearance and presentation (out of 20); general taste (out of 20); size, cooking, and taste of the egg (out of 20); quality, texture, and taste of the mayonnaise (out of 20); and accompaniment (out of 20). The most recent champ is Chef Clément Chicard of the highly regarded Bouillon Pigalle, a laidback eatery specializing in French classics in Paris’ 18th arrondissement. Chicard’s award-winning dish is listed first on his menu, which makes mention of its world-champion status. Ever a dish of the people, the best oeuf mayonnaise in the world will set you back a mere €1.90.
I first learned of the Egg Master from the French watch journalist Paul Miquel, a foodie who recently joined ASOM. He and his good friend, Fabrice Pougez, CEO of the French watchmaker MAT, hatched a plan for a watch to time the cooking of eggs and pitched the idea to ASOM. (In addition to running MAT, Pougez is also foodie, a member of ASOM, and on the Eggs Mayonnaise World Championship jury; with a smile, he told me that he’s still trying to be a chef.)
Made in France with a Swiss quartz movement, the Egg Master is essentially a yacht timer in which the countdown function has been adapted for cooking, rather than maneuvering toward a regatta’s starting line. With the crown, one can position the central hand to count down events. Positioning the hand directly on the egg located between 8 and 9 minutes on the Egg Master track will count eight minutes and 40 seconds, the perfect cooking time for oeuf mayonnaise. The quartz-powered timer beeps every minute as the finish time approaches, and speeds up in the final moments, ensuring that the cook is well positioned to retrieve their egg from the pot of boiling water. On the dial, you’ll find ASOM’s crest – a plate of eggs – along with the organization’s motto, which translates to “Time flies, eggs are forever.”
I’m the first to admit that the concept of a chronograph for cooking eggs is pretty whacky. But is it really any whackier than a watch engineered to countdown the start of a regatta? As a die-hard foodie, it’s nice to see activities that I love – cooking and eating – placed on equal horological footing with loftier pursuits like driving, diving, sailing, and flying.
A limited edition of 99 pieces offered with three interchangeable straps, the Egg Master is being sold online by subscription at the MAT Watches website for a price of €1,199.
The 2020 installment of the Eggs Mayonnaise World Championship was to take place next week at Paris’ Brasserie Gallopin, but the situation caused by COVID-19 has resulted in some recent scheduling changes. Pougez, the watch’s maker, says the Egg Master will still launch on September 7 at a smaller event with the president and co-presidents of ASOM, some members of the jury, and others involved in the watch’s design. Some chefs have also been invited for a blind tasting. Pougez says that the world championship will be held later in 2020.
The MAT Egg Master. 44 x 14.2mm stainless steel case with screw-down crown. Water resistance to 100 meters. Antireflective sapphire crystal. Swiss caliber ISA 8270 with functions for hours, minutes, seconds, the date, and countdown timer. Delivered with interchangeable straps in blue rubber, blue canvas, and natural leather. Price: €1,199. For information, visit MAT Watches.