Tributes to Bernard Pacaud, Part II: The Last of the Mohicans

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!”

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Tributes to Bernard Pacaud, Part I: The Silence of the L’Ambroisie

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.

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Le Clarence: The Return of French Fine Dining?

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?

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Niko Romito’s Reale: A Puzzling Experience

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.

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Chef Guy Gateau Recalls Joël Robuchon

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.

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Japan Journey Journal, Part Two: Restaurant Yanagiya, A Revered Country Cuisine Sketched In Charcoal

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.

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Japan Journey Journal, Part One: Tokyo Dining, Particularly Sushi, Overall

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.

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Epicure – Harmony, Products and Precision

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.

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Feeding Off Each Other: Brandon Granier & Robert Brown Discuss Les Maisons de Bricourt–Olivier & Jane Roellinger’s Brittany Seafood Haven

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.

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Gastromondiale's Madeleines of 2017: Part I (Editors)

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. 

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Paul Bocuse: Larger than Life

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.

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El Celler de Can Roca: End of History?

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. 

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The Apotheosis of Western Seafood: Elkano and Güeyu Mar

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). 

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My 2017 You Can Never Go Home Again (Or Can You?) Tour

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. 

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Restaurant Review: Argoura, Athens

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.

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Form Swallows Function: The Tyranny of Tasting Menus

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. 

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Revisiting Passard’s L’Arpège – Intermittently Brilliant and Unwrought

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.

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Last Trip to Passédat's Le Petit Nice

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

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The Society of the Illusionists: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List

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. 

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