Alain Passard's life for the last thirty years has been inextricably entwined with his passion for cooking. With an artist's meticulousness, he works detail by detail to coax the best from his ingredients, exhibiting all the while a respect for the product itself.
Like a musician interpreting a composer's music, Passard sees himself as an interpreter of flavours, careful to allow their essential qualities to shine through. He faithfully conveys the essence of his ingredients, ensuring that their unique colours, flavours and scents are retained.
The flames of passion
Alain Passard was initiated into the joys of cooking by his chef grandmother, Louise Passard. They had a close and special relationship, sharing culinary secrets in front of the fire, his grandmother's favourite spot. Even at age 10 Alain showed a desire to learn, and from the pâtissier near his parents' home in La Guerche in Brittany he discovered the mysterious powers of fire. Working with Alain Senderens at L'Archestrate, Passard underwent another "baptism of fire" in the restaurant that would eventually become L'Arpège: here the relationship with the flame is ongoing and constant, an unending source of inspiration.
A passion for vegetables
Alain Passard has always tried to pair products from the land with their perfect marine alter egos, highlighting an ingredient's essential character in an almost musical harmony. He is now venturing into a hitherto-neglected domain: vegetables.
His deep curiosity is at the heart of an overflowing enthusiasm that extends beyond the usual and traditional. Passard follows his inspirations, discovering in them new ways of expanding his art. In vegetables he has found a whole new palette of extraordinary and satisfying flavours, and now he wishes to make something noble of them, to bring out the subtlety of their flavours through simple and uncomplicated preparations. Within this realm of almost inexhaustible possibilities, Passard pairs vegetables with herbs, spices, flowers, dairy products, shellfish… He wants to contribute to the development of this whole unexplored area of cooking. Working with vegetables is an invitation to rework the earth, to invent a new language with a brand-new vocabulary.
Fire and flame
Surprisingly it is fire that inspires his work with vegetables. "Working the fire is crucial in cooking them," he explains. He takes an alchemist's delight in his work. "Knowing how to move a sauté pan around the flame so as not to rush the cooking, working the flame to avoid evaporating all of the vegetable's essence, playing with it to prevent the colours from fading, making the flame dance to preserve all their luminosity and transparence…" With a good-natured smile he adds, "Trying to preserve the essence of white onions cooked in salted butter can become a passionate quest."
"A true vegetable cuisine has never really existed and to some people it even seems inconceivable. However it's important that this cuisine take its rightful place alongside fish or meat cookery. Perhaps because they've been thought of as lacking in taste or nutrition, vegetables have been relegated to the role of accompaniments. For me, delving into this area brings the happiness of moving beyond the commonplace, the freedom to open up a whole new world."
An ingredient has a name, an origin and an identity that must be revealed. In any professional activity, whether artisanal, creative or industrial, a worker has to be as familiar with his raw materials as he is with the tools he uses in his trade. You can't work blindly with a product that remains silent. "A cook will achieve a new way of cooking once he gains an understanding of his raw materials."
Like the "painters of happiness" who one day walked out of their studios to set up their easels outdoors along the riverbanks and in the fields, who knows whether Alain Passard, a chef of his time, is not mapping out a new path for the eating habits of tomorrow…
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