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.
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.
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.
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.