Passard decodes five of his creations that exemplify his iconoclastic approach to cooking.
It was French chef Alain Passard’s decision in 2001 to abandon red meat in favour of vegetables at his restaurant, l’Arpege, in Paris, that bolstered the cult of veg-centric haute cuisine. It is not only for the exquisite artistry he achieves on the plate or the three Michelin stars he has held since 1996, but also for reaffirming the essential relationship between the chef and the produce, that Passard is hailed as a culinary legend. Passard, who was in Delhi last week as part of Bonjour India, spoke about the techniques and ideas that form the works of art on his plate. Despite the language barrier (he speaks a smattering of English), it was easy to grasp the romance he imbues into food-talk. “It is important for there to be harmony between what you see on the plate and what you taste. I want to create plates that are easy to read and understand,” says Passard. We caught up with him to decode five of his creations that exemplify his iconoclastic approach to cooking.
Chaud-froid d’oeuf or Hot-Cold Egg
This hugely popular 1986 creation is not only among the classics produced at l’Arpege, but has also hatched many adaptations. The dish is a play of contrasting temperatures, settled within a decapitated egg. “I give the yolk, only the yolk, a warm bath,” says Passard, “and the egg white is replaced with creme fraiche”. Flavoured with the warm notes of Sarawak pepper — considered among the best in the world — along with lemon and maple syrup, the dish is at once “sweet and savoury, lukewarm and cold”.
Made using an assortment of seasonal vegetables, the three tarts at l’Arpege are an “invitation to start your meal”. Within half-moon potato crisps, rests the vegetable mousseline — a cross between a mousse and a puree. “It’s closer to a puree but lighter,” says Passard, adding, “at the moment, we’re using turnips, carrots and beetroot. Sometimes, we use them separately and sometimes, we combine all three. The freedom to improvise in the kitchen is important.”
This marriage of game, half a chicken and half a duck stitched together, came to Passard while watching two ballet dancers on TV. “I was taken by the man and the woman dancing together, their bodies responding to each other,” says Passard, who then made “a chicken and a duck dance together in the kitchen” before sewing them together, to translate the chemistry between the two bodies on his platter. “While it cooks, the essence of the chicken fuses with that of the duck, and vice-versa,” says Passard.
Gratin d’oignons or Onion gratin
His play on the onion gratin — a popular culinary technique in his part of the world — is an attempt to mimic the texture of lace. As “the delicate framing of webs on the fine material” played muse, Passard spun a lightly browned crust of breadcrumbs and parmesan to reproduce the “lucidity and intricate design”.
Bouquet de roses or Bouquet of Roses
Developed in secrecy, Passard has been serving this creation since 2011. Created in a bid to “change the personality of the apple tart”, Passard carefully peels apples into intricate ribbons for his pastry. The coils are then rolled into the shape of roses and placed next to each other, looking like a bunch of flowers. “It is topped with a filet of caramielle — caramel with milk and honey,” says Passard, who was able to secure a copyright for this creation.