mardi 12 mai 2009

Good-looking young men can buy fancy ingredients (The OFF Feuilleton – part 2)

Humility and masterful skills, Cerruti style, were not everywhere during this food festival. One trend of current cuisine that could clearly be spotted in Deauville was the emphasis on charming, good-looking young men. To a point, this belongs to the very logic of such a cooking show, paradoxical in itself: food made here is not meant to be eaten, and does not impress by its taste of smell (which gets pretty much lost in a large theater, even when it’s onions or truffle). Chefs come here trying to impress by their gesture, their recipes, and their ideas. Now, of course this tends to turn into a fashion show.

De OFF 4- Day 1

The designated stars of this festival were pretty emblematic of that trend. Take Peter Nilsson, of La Gazzetta in Paris, chief among them. His demonstration last year, I was told, stole the show, was as a great moment. He got a standing ovation or something like it this time around. And it is indeed hard to resist that good looking, understated Swed who moved to France and refuses the categories of fine dining and bistrot. He has a very no-bullshit discourse about cooking, focused on simplicity.
De OFF 4- Day 1

At the same time, if you have the audacity of focusing on food, it’s hard to understand what the big deal is about grilling carrots and serving them with razor clams. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, mind you. But the enthusiasm is hard to justify on culinary grounds. It becomes even harder to justify when you actually eat at La Gazzetta, where many such “ideas” are implemented in a very casual manner (e.g. sand in the clams, under-aged beef, burnt vegetables…).

Another case in point is Gauthier junior in Boulogne sur Mer, apparently an old favorite of the organizers of the festival. You see this young genius can actually make sure that food is only served in one little side area of each plate. He can grade pumpkin and prepare it like raw carrots. He can half burn onion rings. He can deny it when an experienced cook and eater says the smell is strong. Pure genius, I tell you. Forget Guérard, Senderens or even Adrià, and rush to Boulogne.
De OFF 4- Day 1

There was Bertrand Grébaut, the chef at l’Agapé, newly Michelin starred. He’s a good-looking young-man too, like his business partner and maître d’(who is maybe slightly less young). Both are spin-offs from l’Arpège, and they opened together that Agapé place that has been all the rage in food circles last year. And indeed the young men have opened a kind of baby-Arpège, a not-so-hard discount of fine dining. Grébaut gave us a very Passard-like cooking demonstration, smoking an egg and slow-cooking some asparagus in pan with butter. He also slow-cooked a piece of yellowtail, wrapped it in lardo and served it with a Jerusalem artichoke purée.
De OFF 4- Day 1

That all looked like pretty decent cooking, if hardly revolutionary. Back in Paris, I went to check at their restaurant if there was more than meet the eye. There was not, but there was indeed a very-well trained cook, and they were using excellent ingredients. It may come as a relief that you don’t need to go to l’Arpège and pay Passard prices anymore to get the best of Bernard Antony’s cheeses (the Alsatian genius), or the wonderful veal selected by the posh Parisian butcher Hugo Desnoyer.
De L'Agapé
(Wonderful vanilla ice-cream)

But what l’Agapé demonstrates a contrario, is that slow-cooking, great ingredients, and a couple of other specific techniques, if they may make for good food, don’t make for a Passard. My meal still cost me something like 160€, which I’d much rather have spent at Le Cinq (see recent post) or La Grande Cascade (coming soon). Hell, I’d rather spend them on a lunch deal with tap water at the original Arpège.

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