What France in the 1980s was and what Spain continues to be since the early 2000s is what Japan is today—a pre-eminent “go to” country for the inveterate gastronomic traveler. The entire country, however, is blessed for its rich and varied produce, too rich and varied to go into here. What you notice in watching the chaotic, unsightly, unplanned scene rolling past your Shinkansen window is that thrown in with the five-to-ten story apartment blocks; the landless single-family houses with brown tile roofs and a car port; the pachinko parlors and small industrial “ateliers” are small plots of land on which grow rice, vegetables or other produce. It’s no wonder, then, that the Japanese have a gastronomic landscape in the most far-reaching sense of the term.
Neo-nouvelle cuisine is what can be seen as the logical progression of nouvelle cuisine, it is what some might call classical French with a contemporary twist or the adaption of technical progression and contemporary trends into French cuisine. Frothed sauces, micro-herbs, acidity, Asian products, sous-vide cooking or gels are some of the cornerstones of what makes it necessary for me to differentiate this certain style from classical Nouvelle cuisine. Neo-nouvelle cuisine is a logical continuity, something one could possibly call a “conservative revolution” of French cuisine. One of the representatives of this approach, admittedly in a rather conservative way, is Éric Fréchon, chef éxécutif at Epicure in Paris.
Le Coquillage is not a restaurant that attempts to solicit diners. This is a rare case where the “figure” of the chef is probably not a PR fabrication. Chef Roellinger eschews marketing himself or his products according to the expediency available to him, such as the “free trade” tag for his spice blends. He could avail himself of that tag but chooses not to. Meanwhile José Andres and David Chang harness their benign stance against Donald Trump as if it were some radical gesture when it is a facile way to monetize their commodified empires. So I admire Roellinger, as I do his refusal to, for instance, open a seafood restaurant in Japan, precisely because he believes in a sense of place.
At Gastromondiale, we are moved by dishes that entice our senses and only subsequently instigate us to consider the technical or semiotic dimensions of a dish. The organoleptic aspects may provoke comparisons. One tastes the rey fish at Güeyu Mar and the variegated textures also encountered in wagyu are superseded by a depth of flavor more profound than any beef. The historical relevance of a dish can equally follow suit. Alain Passard’s vegetable pasta transports the diner to an alternate history of Roma, where the spaghetti carbonara might have benefited from the minerality of potatoes. Suffice it to say, both dishes send one uncontrollably on a path of rumination. In their initial, visceral appeal, they resemble madeleines. It is in this spirit that we appropriate the Proustian icon to denote three privileged moments from the dining year 2017.