Inconceivable these days, Bernard Pacaud began his apprenticeship with the Lyons culinary legend La Mère Brazier when he only 15 years old. Her demands on the quality of ingredients of all kinds defined Pacaud’s cooking philosophy very early: “Only use the best. The guests end up paying for it”, he says. Pacaud also does not pose for front pages and rarely appears on television. “I’m just interested in doing my job as well as possible,” he says. But Bernard Pacaud is disillusioned: “Just look at what has become of gastronomy!”
In terms of experiencing this Age d’Or de la Gastronomie, which is what we think every aspiring gastronome who already hasn’t should, there are luxury hotel restaurants to go to where you can be surrounded by opulence with formality dating back to the late 19th-century such as L’Epicure, the main dining salon in the Hotel Bristol or the Alain Ducasse Restaurant Le Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, where the cuisine and service hark somewhat back to this Golden Age. Yet in our estimation, no restaurant quite captures the undistilled essence of fine dining in France of the last 30 years of the 20th-century than L’Ambroisie.
Because the globe-trotting “influencers” have been paid to promote restaurants that are sponsored by business conglomerates, the overall result has been the decline of true fine-end destinations, in general, and “la grande cuisine francaise,” in particular. But “la grande cuisine francaise” is not yet gone. How else can one explain the sudden arrival of Le Clarence onto the dining scene in Paris?
I went to Chef Romito’s Reale with the highest expectations and left somehow puzzled. I was puzzled because there was a discrepancy between what I had expected and what I found. I expected purity and intensity in a myriad of deceptively simple but complex preparations. I found interesting cooking, excellent broths, uneven dishes, technically good, but sometimes imprecise dishes. Some courses were excellent, while others were bland, bordering on ordinary. I got the impression that the cuisine is geared more to impress other chefs than to give pure pleasure and satisfaction.
It is no wonder that I revere Guy Gateau. In a remarkable twist of fate or coincidence he prepared the cuisine at both my all-time favorite bistro and formal restaurant: Le Petit Coin de la Bourse in the Paris IVth and Restaurant Alain Chapel in the outskirts of Lyon. About 15 years ago, I tracked Guy down when I was doing some research into Alain Chapel after I saw Guy's name in a photo caption in the magnificent and detailed book from 1978 “Great Chefs of France”. We have had several get-togethers and have always kept in touch. Guy has now written this personal tribute to Joël Robuchon which I share here.
Japan has more than its share of difficult-to-book restaurants, particularly some of the sushi and kaiseki ones in Tokyo. In planning his recent trip to Japan, a provincial restaurant named Yanagiya caught Robert Brown’s eye because of its sky-high score on Tabelog, the Japanese restaurant-goer’s rating site. That it also was the only one of its breed–an irori restaurant, an old, traditional but dying class of grilling-over-charcoal cuisine–among the elite Tabelog restaurants really stirred his juices.
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.
When a living legend is no longer living, the air immediately after the demise is filled with no shortage of eulogies, remembrances, idolatries, and platitudes. Never is heard an oft-told discouraging word until someone writes an unauthorized biography of the subject in question. The loss of Paul Bocuse, while waiting for such a biography, is no exception. As I have a gastronomically-oriented Facebook feed, nearly half of the posts I received on January 20 were chefs’ tributes to Bocuse or obituaries from publications throughout the world.
I have dined three times in the new location in Girona. Now, besides being a Michelin three-starred restaurant, Can Roca is the second best in the world according to Restaurant Magazine’s infamous “Top 100” list. I think that fame and a very busy schedule has taken a toll on Juan Roca. He does not have the time, nor the energy to concoct and perfect new great dishes. So what we are seeing at Can Roca is also endemic to many of the world’s highly prized trendy hot spots: There is a shift away from concocting memorable dishes towards creating a unique experience for the diner.
It is probable that neither Abel of Güeyu Mar, nor Aitor of Elkano perceive themselves as great chefs. Probably they consider themselves as having mastered “a la parilla” (grilling) techniques. But there is no way you can find this level fish in any Michelin three star restaurant or in any of the so-called top 20 restaurants of the world (with the possible exception of Asador Etxebarri).
In recently planning the most rigorous European dining trip since going back to living full-time in the States, my goal was to find out to what extent I would be able to dine for two weeks in London, Glasgow, Paris and Cancale by returning as much as possible to my formative dining roots; in other words, going home again, gastronomically-speaking. Accomplishing the goal meant doing away with tasting-menu-only restaurants and fixed three-or-four course meals such as those belonging to the class of bistronomy restaurants.
If one ranks Mediterranean countries in terms of their handling of seafood, Greece will not make it to the top three of the list. I especially have a hard time in the islands where it is hard to find non-frozen fish, and it is even harder to find a place to eat grilled fish that is not dried out. I was therefore quite stunned to find this rather simple looking fish shack in the Kalithea district of Athens, with a jolly and a touch tacky atmosphere.
Tasting menus have played a major part in the debasement of dining in better restaurants. I derive it from being a veteran eater, cutting my gastronomic teeth most notably in highly-rated and otherwise interesting restaurants in provincial France in the last 30% of the 20th century, and stuying change in mass or popular culture. As a result, I have witnessed, noted and participated in the changes between upper-level restaurants then and upper-level restaurants now.
Is there a French chef of the 21st century who has done more to jettison the hallowed conventions of the Classical French restaurant than Passard? What I admire is that the iconoclastic gestures are primarily effected towards reinvigorating the pleasure of eating in a convivial environment, rather than towards gratuitous statement. When he cuts his roast to include the offal or when he serves a simple ratatouille of vegetables, he lifts the inhibitions of Classical restraint and overly sublimated dishes.
Few meals in recent memory have left me as frustrated and angry. I was disappointed because we had ordered the menu degustation and had a succession of 12 courses before cheese, and I do not recall any Michelin three star meal that left me so baffled because of inconsistencies. I was also angry because we had had an excellent “bouillabaisse” meal at Le Petit Nice not too long ago
"If you eavesdrop on the culinary press and tastemakers, you are likely to overhear the bombastic claim that French haute gastronomy is dead. What this translates to is that French gastronomy now shares the limelight, as markets seek to shift and expand, and novelties are most expedient to the marketing apparatus."
Once a year in the early spring, the restaurant world holds the equivalent of a beauty contest for restaurants and their chefs called the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. This initiative's metamorphosis from a modest initiative aiming to “provoke discussion and spark debate” into a supposed “absolutist food-first ranking” conceals certain flawed and disheartening aspects to the undertaking.
A recent meal there in April 2017 moved me sufficiently to write about Hedone. To put it very bluntly, in my first meal I have had some good and very good dishes, but not a single great or signature dish. Now I have found three to four signature dishes. As such, I can say that it is a destination place.
The world looks like a bigger place when you stand on the edge of a hill in Piedmont, Italy. Light blue, dark blue and green… These are the colours that you can see on the horizon in Piedmont, Italy. It is clearly a landscape with an inspirational spectrum of colours for any artist. But, if you are into food, the colour that you should associate with Piedmont is actually white. That is because of tartufo bianco, which almost single-handedly places the region on the world gastronomy map.
A Pierre Gagnaire dish might be extremely cerebral at its initial conception and dangerously experimental during its development. Such a process may strike one as cunningly relying on accidental discoveries. One may also be tempted to qualify this practice as tainted by a self-absorbed, self approbating ego who presumes the fatality of circumstances will often bring about flavors he is entitled to, feeling certain that when that doesn’t happen his clientele should still be more than content to be able to take part in “his” adventure.
Ca l’Enric makes me think of the cold, game, mushrooms, the forest floor, and savoury truffle. Their fireplace and the woodcock spring to mind. It transports me to a rural setting that has been transformed to the 21st century and it makes me think of what it would have been like in the beginning.
Ettore Botrini is an excellent chef with a clear vision. Before heading to his restaurant I had the wrong impression that his cuisine was dominated by the molecular philosophy. It is not, except one amuse with a green olive served in a spoon where he uses the spherification technique, and another amuse with squid ink caviar with the same technique. Otherwise his cooking respects the natural and local ingredients, and the tastes are clear. He achieves depth without sacrificing clarity.
I started serious dining out in 1986 when I had a fellowship to study for a year in France and lunch menus in three star restaurants were affordable. [...] Nowadays things are very different. While it is still very difficult to get the highly-coveted third star, many three star restaurants are not worth the special trip. This is the bad news. But the good news is that there are still quite a few great product-driven destination restaurants. They are simply not captured by the criteria used by Michelin.
Manresa’s multi-course degustation menu is among the few exceptions for several reasons. Chef Kinch knows well how to build a progression throughout the five hour meal and the courses are not repetitive. He also does not adopt the trendy Scandinavian formula of composing multiple dishes around the same theme of the trio of “raw seafood-fermented green-dairy” and “lots of vegetable stocks”. His cooking is more complex, but remains focused and balanced.
Le Petit Nice is the only three starred restaurant in the close vicinity of Marseille. Some claims that Michelin accorded three stars to Petit Nice due to political reasons. I disagree, based on my own experience. The service, wine list, surroundings, product quality, conceptualization, execution, etc., are all first rate and what I would expect from a Michelin three starred restaurant.
We are witnessing a very interesting moment in history today, regarding food and wine criticism. On the one hand, there is a proliferation of bloggers, some with very good taste and the capacity to shape customer preferences. On the other hand, the established professional critics/judges are losing ground and credibility. This is for good reason. Maybe the common disease is that many critics may be able to tell good from bad ingredients, but they do not know about nuances and relative ingredient quality. Hence they focus more on techniques applied to transform ingredients, and they are in a constant search for “novelty”. Such as Mr. Bruce Palling of Wall Street Journal. I read his review of Ibai in San Sebastian with awe and disbelief.