When chef Alain Passard decided to strike out each and every red meat dish from his three-star Michelin restaurant, L’Arpège in Paris, it could have seemed as a risky proposition to most in the restaurant industry (it’s tough to conjure a hearty French meal without beef steaks and beef bourguignon). But, Passard knew where he was headed to. After introducing an all-vegetarian menu, the chef — who took to cooking at the age of 14 — grew a kitchen garden at an old chateau in the French town of Fillé, where he grew organic vegetables with a team of 10 farmers, who believed in Passard’s ‘green’ endeavour. At his two-hectare labour-intensive garden, machines are absent; draught horses help farmers till the soil during harvest.
The chef, who recently visited The Taj Mansingh, New Delhi, says that his green enterprise covers the health factor and also helps create varied flavours. "Vegetarian food is the best food in the world. It’s the healthiest, and it offers a lot of creativity to a chef. Vegetables fascinate me as they add so much colour and life in my food," he says.
And, when he explains his point with an analogy: "It feels like a painting", you’re eager to hear more. "There’s hardly any art that you can create with meat. But each vegetable is special in itself. Be it a carrot, a turnip, an onion, a tomato or an aubergine, the possibilities are endless. It feels like creating art and music," he adds.
Nature’s produce relies on seasons, and the chef knows its value. "Season to me is what grows best in the sun. Tending to vegetables is similar to wine — you focus on the right location, temperature and texture," says the chef, who believes that unless you have the right type of vegetable to cook, your dish will never taste right. "That’s why I have the garden and a team to look after it. That singularly draws my guests back for more surprises."
All about Passard
Alain Passard is a French chef and owns the three-star Michelin restaurant L’Arpège in Paris. Passard began his career in the kitchen at the age of 14. At 26, he became the youngest two-star chef. He has appeared on famous TV shows, such as Great Chefs of the World and Great Chefs of France on the Discovery Channel. The chef shot to international fame after participating as a
challenger on the popular Japanese show Iron Chef. He made it to the last round, where he was defeated by chef Hiroyuki Sakai. Although he lost, Passard’s Ronkonkai Chicken à la Dragee — a preparation he slowly cooked and covered with minced dragee (almonds covered with a sugar glaze) — qualified as one of the 10 best dishes ever created in Kitchen Stadium, the show’s special cooking arena.