From foie gras to quinoa, how luxury cuisine changes in times of more ethical nutrition

Alain Ducasse's restaurant in Monte Carlo, Le Louis XV, is an emblem of fine dining - luxury catering - at its highest opulence. Magnificent interiors, spectacular dishes, Le Louis XV is a true stage for the cuisine of the French chef. In recent times, the fine luxury-dining sector is turning its attention to another type of kitchen. Via le orpelli, vast with ingredients that follow the natural seasonal cycles, the star chefs have undertaken research that constantly brings them into contact with topics such as ethics and sustainability, giving life to extreme catering realities and new ambitious cooking projects. What we offer you is a journey through the trends and temples of contemporary luxury catering to understand together how the idea of "starry cuisine" has evolved over time.

Alain Passard: the return to simplicity in Haute Cuisine

Anyone who has had the chance to eat at Alain Passard's L' Arpège will still remember it as one of the best experiences of their life. And it is certainly not for the interior - delicate, yes, well chosen - nor for the place, a small restaurant with about 60 seats, but for its vegetarian cuisine.

A triumphant dean of French haute cuisine, Alain Passard was born omnivorous with game cuisine and seasonings à la française. Ten years ago, however, Passard had an identity crisis that turned out to be an enlightenment: choosing the land and its products. Passard, who at that time - as still today - enjoyed enormous success, decided to start from scratch and left the garden. He buys a farm on the outskirts of Paris and devotes himself to vegetarian cuisine, inventing creations that never cease to enchant tasters. Why did we tell you this story? Because Passard was one of the first to feel the need for a breakthrough in Michelin starred restaurants, which no longer equate to opulence, white tablecloths and formalism. On the contrary, what can be observed in the world of haute cuisine is a return to simplicity, unreported and left black and white in communication. The simplicity of luxury catering starts with the ingredients, dialogues with presentation and goes beyond furnishings and environments.

René Redzepi's foraging and research by Magnus Nilsson

The dominant imperative in contemporary luxury catering comes from the deep North, thanks to the New Nordic Cuisine. The term was coined from the work of Danish chef René Redzepi of the Copenhagen Noma. It ran in 2004 and Noma had just opened its doors: born from a project by Redzepi and Claus Meyer, it is from this luxury "non-luxury" Danish restaurant that a real kitchen manifesto spreads. As in the best artistic avant-garde, the New Nordic Cuisine aims to enhance "purity, simplicity and seasonality" of the ingredients. The new gastronomic current is enthusiastically embraced by all the major representatives of the agro-food culture of Northern Europe and is expressed not only in the choice of raw materials, but also in cooking techniques.

The historical memory of the ingredients is the starting point and suggests traditional processes, updated in a modern key, and production cycles that proceed with maximum respect for nature. Chefs leave the kitchens and start to mix up with fishermen, farmers and producers. They begin to observe nature and its products with attention, coming up against a completely new practice for luxury catering, even though they have always existed: foraging.

Imagine the scene: Eburnean light, unspoilt landscapes and a horizon to get lost in. As he enters one of Denmark's greenest woods, Redzepi touches nature with fingertips, encounters mosses, pauses in front of berries and begins to look for "good" plants to use in the kitchen. Foraging is "only" this: borrowing what nature produces spontaneously and making it an ingredient of the finest cuisine. Redzepi senses the importance of integrating spontaneous plants into the menu of his restaurant, which has been awarded the World's Best Restaurant title four times, before the chef decided to close it and look for other sources of inspiration. Over time, Noma's chef has even launched a foraging app, Vild Mad - "wild food" - that has been working for three years. The application aims to help users and all those who are curious to understand how to forage, which plants to seek and others to avoid, "a resource to read and understand the landscape (Danish), finding wild food, and an inspiration to use spontaneous and edible plants in the kitchen," Redzepi remarks.

The real challenge of the New Nordic Cuisine is not only the respect of seasonality, but also the preservation of raw materials.

One of the most daring researchers in this field is Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson. Nilsson's cuisine is accustomed to dealing with a lack of ingredients: head of Faviken since 2008, Nilsson believes that eating in his restaurant is an experience impossible to try elsewhere in the world. This is not only about the atmosphere that you can breathe in this gastronomic sanctuary of only 12 seats, because here you have to deal with nature.

Because of the harsh winter, Nilsson's research is based on an attempt to preserve the ingredients as much as possible, all in an ethical way. At Faviken, fresh raw materials are saluted at the beginning of October and do not reappear before April. And the Faviken is a real luxury restaurant 2.0. What hides behind the Nordic starred restaurant is precisely this: research is the essential key to knowledge of ingredients and makes the kitchen highly sought-after. What we are witnessing to an increasing extent is a kitchen in which true luxury is sustainability, recovery and respect for nature. Concepts seemingly simple, but they carry with them a commitment often underestimated by those who sit for the first time in a starry restaurant. It is all too common for starry stars to be synonymous with fine ingredients - in the sense of expensive tastes - and for dinner to be more important than the history that each dish wants to tell.

Massimo Bottura's recovery kitchen

Osteria Francescana is Massimo Bottura’s restaurant. This chef aims to tell, through dishes, a story made up of childhood memories, research and love for his own culture and is regarded as a "chef-philosopher".  Hear he speak means finding oneself listening to a long and perilous story, which was born with the opening of his Osteria Francescana in 1995.

For a long time the Modenese have looked with suspicion at a restaurant that already in its name dared to desecrate a cuisine rooted in the territory, "the bones of the Modenese are made of Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar flows in their veins", wrote Bottura in Vieni in Italia con me, a tale of intimate and personal travel. Over the years, Bottura has carved out, thanks to constant work, a first-class place in the world's luxury cuisine industry. The Italian chef, a pupil of Alain Ducasse in his "Le Louis XV", in the year 2000 confronts himself with Ferran Adrià's spectacular and special-effects molecular cuisine, going to work at El Bulli in Spain.

Massimo Bottura demolishes the traditional principles of luxury cuisine and starts from the local raw material, handles it with care, manipulates it and returns it beautifully, transfiguring it into a new dish that waits only to be told. Italy is one of the most intransigent countries when it comes to cooking, where tradition is not a joke.

The terrain on which Bottura moved was always very fragile, but the chef of Osteria Francescana has brought Italian cuisine to levels never reached before, going where no one was; the topic of waste. Cooking luxury food with leftovers sounds like heresy. For everyone, but not for Bottura, who called to collect an unprecedented array of world-class star chefs and made them cook with waste. The project is contained in a book, Pane è Oro, recently released for Phaidon. Redzepi, Ducasse, Ferran Adrià, the Roca brothers, titans of luxury catering, made their contribution and gave life to a moving text, witnessing that attention to sustainability that does not remain on paper and in intentions, but becomes a living material from which to start to create beautiful projects.
Luxury catering today is this: a fertile soil with a pulsating soul, which is no longer content to amaze people using only white linen and silverware. It wants to excite people, turning its attention to nature and sustainability and giving people a story to tell their friends.

It is a starting point for learning to look responsibly at the land and its products.

This is the real luxury: eating a sustainable product, natural and without frills, exalted with mastery and devotion by the great masters of contemporary catering.

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