samedi 15 septembre 2007

L'Ambroisie: Pacaud's sublime sadness

Tourte de canard sauvage -- photo Gastroville

La version française est ici.

This is another comment about Pacaud’s style, following comments by Steve Plotnicki on the earlier post “S’il n’en reste qu’un” (see also Souvenirs d'Ambroisie).

Steve thinks he gets bored at l’Ambroisie because it is stuck in the time of Nouvelle Cuisine and refuses innovation. I believe the reason is that there is something intrinsically sad about the chef and the restaurant.

One point we can agree about is the consistency of the setting, the style of cooking, and the overall experience.

Again, I will point out to the film about Pacaud, “Les secrets de cuisine de l’Ambroisie”. Intertwined are shots of the restaurant’s life, and the tale of Pacaud’s life, which he talks about seating in his dark apartment upstairs, reviewing old pictures and a letter of encouragement from la Mère Brazier.
(Picture Michael Namikas)
That tough little guy is often close to tears in this movie. As a small child in Bretagne, he used to cook himself to try to lighten the tensions at home. Then he was abandoned and went to an orphanage near Lyons. He went one Sunday up to the Col de la Luère, at “La mère Brazier”, then a three-star restaurant renowned for his poached poularde, to wash the dishes. “I never came back” he says. He, like the others in the restaurant, called her “La mère”.

When he left, he wanted to be a gym teacher, but she wrote him the afore mentioned letter, in which she writes that she thinks he has “un beau métier” (that is, some skills). He then met Claude Peyrot at le Vivarois, another three-star restaurant in Paris, a very influential cook. At first a unpaid intern, Pacaud quickly ends up running the kitchen. When he left to open his own restaurant, Peyrot did not keep the third star long (seabass, fennel and saffron, photo lxt).

My overall impression is that the little guy has his life on the line with every dish he sends. Cooking, for him, is salvation, he finds some eternal truth there. Can’t trust the parents, had to leave the adoptive ones (Brazier and Peyrot), but there is one stable element: how to get the best of each ingredient. It starts with finding the best possible product, handling and transporting it with care, preparing it as soon as possible, serving it at the exact best possible moment, etc.

Immortal Pacaud: Jerusalem artichokes, truffle, pigeon juice -- that's not even a recipe (this picture and others MobyP)

In the movie he says how much he likes to make gnocchis, cause he knows exactly how this is going to go and how long this is going to take. It soothes him.

This, in my opinion, results in a cooking whose only purpose is the maximisation of the intensity of the taste of each ingredient. Combinations are just one tool at the service of this endeavour. Everything else, I believe, leaves Pacaud uninterested. Starting with novelty, innovation, the spirit of times. He says in the movie that we believe we invent but only rediscover over and over again, taking the example of the figs with fennel he thought he invented but later found mention of in a book about Louis XIV. (Photo Pierre Matsuo)

I am sure he does not reject innovation, providing it is submitted to the ultimate goal of maximising intensity of each taste. He says that he does not do risotto anymore because an Italian friend of his makes it much better than he. I guess he would either start sous-vide cooking or abandon roasting if he believed sous-vide gives better results for what he does.

Is maximising the intensity of the taste of a product its “truth”? Obviously there are alternative responses, but this one is convincing, not so much for the brain as for the palate.
C'est qui le pigeon maintenant?

Obviously too, the refusal of anything else that this maximisation has something sad because it ignores all the other good things in life and in food. Furthermore, because Pacaud only reached for his kind of perfection, any imperfect meal at l’Ambroisie, though it is rare and still technically admirable, is bound to totally miss his point.

As they say in the Michelin, in a three star restaurant, you eat “always very well, sometimes wonderfully”. The reason why it makes sense that some consider l’Ambroisie the best restaurant in the World is that no one cooks in a more intense way than Pacaud. But clearly it is not worth it if it is not a litteraly stupefying experience, one that speaks for itself, gives a feeling of absolute truth.

Le "feuilleté belle humeur": une truffe, une tranche de foie gras dedans, de la pâte feuilletée autour, une sauce aux pelures de truffe en-dessous. Amen.

See also Ambroisie's memories for more Pacaud.

Aucun commentaire: