“Open up to emotion”
Practically everything has been said about Pierre Gagnaire. Today he is perfectly “at home” in rue Balzac, glittering in the haute cuisine firmament where stars are clustered in threes. Is he a man of clear certainties or stimulating doubts? Does he favor fine details or geometric constructs? Is he a genius or a flat-out worker? An artist or a researcher? A new leader or a lone trailblazer? The truth has many faces.
Exploration in the form of questions.
Does Pierre Gagnaire have a cuisine philosophy?
Unlike some chefs, Pierre Gagnaire has not invented a restaurant “concept”, he does not “do” marketing, he signs his work.
His cuisine reflects his life, his feelings. No preconceived ideas, just his personal experience, led by his childlike wonder and his insatiable curiosity. His greatest desire is to “open doors”. He does not theorize: he experiments, transforms, dares. He is fascinated by the possibility of “giving a banal product a soul”. Amuse-bouches or appetizers: spinach galettes served upright in a breadcrumb bed; side orders: red beetroot sablés with Beaufort cheese, cod cromesquis. Prepared with wild mushrooms, a cold cut becomes something more than a cold cut. Pragmatic, Pierre Gagnaire keeps in touch with the source and remains close to suppliers. Thus for Christmas he discovered outstanding 25-year -old oysters, and immediately reserved the entire harvest.
Where does Pierre Gagnaire stand on modernity?
He considers before replying: all classics were once modern.
Modernity is the exact opposite of illusion, posturing. It seeks truth. Not only the truth of the product, but also the artist’s. Pierre Gagnaire works in great bold sweeps, flashes of intuition subsequently tamed by the details of execution. The hint of gingerbread accompanying the flavor of scallops gives the taste buds an unexpected but not unwelcome jolt; Corsican coppa and ventresca may meet; a Tarbes beans velouté has an underlying taste of crayfish… Who else would think of arranging such marriages?
Modernity also involves the importance given to the dish “mise en scène”, its presentation. Without being minimalist, his presentations are esthetically pure. The observer is struck by the balance, the bold strokes and delicate lines of the handwriting. On a round plate, lamb noisettes are served with four long stalks of chive and a stream of brebis cheese velouté; the gold leaf on the mullet encased in sea urchin jelly gives it another dimension and refers to a very ancient culinary tradition that came from India and Asia. Pierre Gagnaire looks at every detail and if the visual balance is not perfect, the kitchens hear “that won’t do, let’s do it again”.
Is there a Pierre Gagnaire style?
Yes, and it is inimitable. Contrasts and oppositions, combinations so unlikely they would seem to be the product of chance (lobster and Sauternes?), progressive revelations… Pierre Gagnaire’s cuisine can only be grasped with “the intelligence of the senses”, it requires curiosity and an open mind. His focus: to astonish, everyone including himself, sometimes almost to the point of courting danger. His cuisine tells stories couched in flavors and textures, the way paintings tell stories with line and color.
No. Pierre Gagnaire has no tricks, no concepts. His talent relies on a solid culture of French cuisine. He refuses to be confined to a repertory, his art evolves ceaselessly following his intuition, his inspiration. He knows “just how far to go over the edge”.
How is the decor in harmony with the dishes?
It would be fairer to say that the decor creates a favorable climate for “communing” with the dishes. It is signed by Michel Halard. The dominant note is blond wood. The rest is done up in a sober harmony of colors: a palette of pearl gray, blue gray, taupe. Extremely refined details: small Zen gardens placed on the bar tables, floral arrangements by Christian Tortu. Soft lighting and a pleasant feeling of intimacy: the windows giving onto the street are covered in ivy. Comfortable chairs, white piqué table linen, pearl gray crockery… a contemporary classic look.
Has Pierre Gagnaire any “specialties”?
He gives the answer himself. His specialties are: “multi-sensory hits” or “disturbing minor details”. These are not the names of his creations, but the type of feelings he wishes to evoke. It is necessary to look, smell, taste… clear the mind to receive the message from the senses. A cuisine for insiders only? Certainly not: a cuisine for enthusiasts.
What are his “must taste” recommendations?
The question is irrelevant. Just follow the music of the menu, the description of the dishes which almost sound like incantations, your feelings on the day, your sensibilities… And yet… and yet… it would be a pity to miss the “grand dessert”, a 7-step papillary adventure: the tradition of French patisserie meets the contemporary art of “sweetness”.
Any details to observe?
There are hundreds, thousands! Lace bread: slices so fine they are practically cobwebs, grilled and curved like tiles; Tonka bean and Tahiti vanilla chocolate mignardises, made fresh each day in the pastry shop; amuse-bouches served in lined-up spoons…
When speaking of Pierre Gagnaire, a connection has sometimes been suggested between cuisine and chemistry. Is this really so?
His curiosity leads him to carry out experiments with specialists from other fields, in particular with Hervé This, a Collège de France researcher who studies molecular interactions. In this case the science involved is more biology than chemistry.
Together, they have explored the phenomena of emulsion, cooking, and the transformation of food in general. The idea is not to create a cooking laboratory, but to help cooking techniques advance and to “understand” a dish.
First Published in Men's Passion Issue #11