Thursday, January 1, 2015

Alain Passard, an Amazing Perfectionist

Recently Nadège, the most loyal follower of my blog, recommended that I watch some short cooking videos by Alain Passard. They are terrific, and more on them later.

Passard is the chef of the famed Arpège, in Paris, where the spectacular and spectacularly expensive food is mostly, but not exclusively, vegetarian. A number of years ago, J and I went to Arpège with our good friends H and O and had a wonderful meal, but . . . we really felt ripped off paying nearly 300 euros per person (it's more now, of course) for the meal and we also felt that the restaurant's staff made the experience about them, not us. Yet I have to admit that I can still remember the taste of his most famous creation, a dessert consisting of a tomato that is confited for the better part of a day.

I thought nothing more of this until I happened upon a bande dessiné (graphic, comic-like book), En Cuisine avec Alain Passard, written by a journalist who got to spend a lot of time with him.

Reading this book gave me a new respect for Chef Passard. He sources nearly all the vegetables he uses at one of two organic farms that he owns. One is more or less conventional, the other uses horse-drawn plows and ancient planting and harvesting techniques. He tries growing the produce at each farm and then chooses the one that give the best result for future production. And he is a workaholic, spending virtually all of his time at the restaurant, creating, sampling, creating, etc. He has decided not to expand like other chefs because he cannot imagine producing the level of cuisine that he produces at Arpège without personally supervising every step. The level of Chef Passard's attention to detail is pretty amazing.

Now I get it.

As to the videos, there are a large number accessible by searching "alain passard youtube"; the dozen or so that I have viewed so far (and I plan to see them all) are remarkable. The food is amazingly creative and beautiful. And the lessons are so well expressed that they seem doable by a mere mortal who knows how to cook. But the best part is the enthusiasm displayed by Chef Passard. The man is clearly excited by what he does, a point made clear in En Cusine, but in the videos the passion is infectious; I want to cook each thing that he illustrates, right then! Here's an example, in which Chef Passard shows how to make a roulade of autumn vegetables:

There is one problem, which you may have suspected: the lessons are in French. The language used is not difficult, and the videos are so well illustrated that they are easily followed, but the fact remains that they are in French. Still, I encourage you to give them a try if you have even a little French and love to cook (or eat). Just looking at what he produces will be an inspiration.

Will I go back to Arpège knowing what I do now? I'm seriously thinking about it.

Bobby Jay


Amanda said...

I went for my yearly eye exam and the doctor and I started talking about food. He was saying that he was tired of going to restaurants and he would rather stay home and cook healthy food. I told him that a long time ago in France,restaurants served food that people couldn't make at home : complicated sauces, fresh food from a certain region, exceptionally talented chefs… Going to a restaurant used to be, if someone had money to spare, a monthly, annual or yearly event or maybe once in a life time event to experience a "Babette's feast" type meal. Now a days, we go to restaurants daily or so often to just eat "food" (that is what I call it when it is mostly nothing exceptional at all). Some of it is good, ok or mediocre. Just like everything in life, we settle for what we think is the best, be it cars, designer clothing, real estate areas… I would rather forgo going out for a month or two but eat at a fabulous restaurant.

Happy, healthy new year to you both! Wishing you fabulous trips and food from around the world!

Dorie said...

Hello from just a few blocks away. My son, Joshua Greenspan, suggested I contact you after your NY neighbor, Richard Grosbard, mentioned to him that he thought I should look you up. It has been a pleasure reading your blog, although I'm now wondering about our lunch reservation for tomorrow: Arpege! My husband and I are in Paris for only a few more days, but if you have a moment and would enjoy it, perhaps we could meet for a coffee. I'd like that. If you leave a comment on my blog (it won't be posted), I'll email you and we can see what's possible. Best - Dorie

bobbyjay said...

Thanks so much, Dorie. I am amazingly flattered. I have tried to post a comment on your blog but it has been rejected. The short take is that we are in NY, not Paris, at the moment. The longer take is more personal. I will keep trying to find you.