Michelin 3 star chef Alain Passard is another chef i got to write about.
He is special because in 2001, he stopped cooking meat and turned to vegetables. He was one of the first few chefs who turned to a veg centric menu and he talks about his decision here. And although he is speaking in relation to his art of cooking, the principles apply.
In January 2001, Alain Passard made the headlines, having declared that ‘my menu will be entirely and exclusively dedicated to vegetables’. His decision was motivated mainly by personal choice, but in part by health concerns too (mad cow disease had reached France the previous year). The chef, having spent thirty years establishing himself as a maître rôtisseur, admitted that he ‘didn’t take any pleasure any more in eating meat’ and that ‘blood and animal flesh’ had stopped being a source of inspiration. The situation became so serious that Passard spent an entire year away from his kitchen, only setting foot in the restaurant to eat. ‘I no longer wanted to be in a daily relationship with the corpse of an animal. I had a moment when I took a roast out into the dining room and the reality struck me that every day I was struggling to have a creative relationship with a corpse, a dead animal. And I could feel inside me the weight and the sadness of the cuisine animale.’
Vegetables were his salvation. He needed new motivation and found it by replacing the raw materials with which he moiled, ‘like an artist who works in watercolours and turns his hand to oils or a sculptor in wood who changes to bronze’. The colours, flavours and perfumes of greens, herbs and flowers appealed to and stimulated him; more to the point, they changed his life.
‘All the terrible nervousness and bad temper that are so much part of the burden of being a chef were gone with the old cooking. I entered into a new relation to my art, but also to my life. And the lightness of what I was doing began to enter my body and my entire existence and it entered into the existence of the kitchen. It was like a light that I saw and a door that I walked through’.
How He Became A Chef
Passard’s repute was primarily built upon a talent for roasting meat and poultry. This he learnt from Louise Passard, his grandmother and also his teacher. It was through her that he developed not only an understanding of how to cook – and form a relationship with the flame – but also how to host and prepare a meal: ‘they’re all her recipes. She gave me everything, taught me what to look for when I made my first purchases, taught me the right cooking times and temperatures.’ Around the hearth, they spoke of the fire and its ability to sculpt the product; the importance of watching and listening to it; and the sensitivity of a cook.
His parents, a musician and dressmaker, lived in La Guerche, Brittany, and their neighbour, the village’s pastry chef, was Passard’s second inspiration. At the tender age of ten, he began to train with him, discovering the ‘rhythm and activity of the laboratory and the evocative qualities of aromas’. At fourteen, he became an apprentice cook at Hotel du Lion d’Or, Liffré under Breton star, Michel Kéréver, learning la cuisine classique and the appreciation of good products. Four years later, he moved to la Chaumière, Reims to work with Gaston Boyer, furthering his classical education whilst studying the art of seasoning and cooking. In 1977, he joined Alain Senderens’ l’Archestrate and enjoyed the most instrumental period of his career. Under Senderens, ‘a perfectionist in constant search of originality’, he discovered his creativity and the power of imagination; it was a ‘baptism of fire’ cooking in a small kitchen, but with a tight team and exceptional atmosphere. Here, he expanded his repertoire of and improved his touch with spices (and possibly picked up his cigar habit too).
After three years, he took the reins at le Duc d’Enghien in the northern Parisian suburb of Enghien-les-Bains. Within two years, he had earned two Michelin stars and, not yet twenty-six, became the youngest chef to have ever achieved such a feat. It was during the four years spent at this restaurant that he conceived some of his classics including carpaccio de langoustines and le chaud-froid d’œuf à la ciboulette (the possible precursor to the infamous l’Arpège egg). The next two years saw the chef at le Carlton, Brussels, were he was once more awarded a first and second star successively in that short time. It was not until October 1986, however, that Passard was able to proclaim, ‘je suis chez moi’. Senderens had moved to Lucas Carton and Passard had moved into his mentor’s old home, l’Archestrate. By March of 1998, history repeated itself, a second time, and the newly-named l’Arpège had been visited twice by Michelin within two years; although the chef had to wait eight more, until 1996, to finally win his elusive third star.