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Everything about Indian cuisine interests me, says Chef Alain Passard

Humble to the core, three Michelin-starred chef, Alain Passard says that Indian cooking is regionally diverse, and involves intelligence and artistic gesture, which has always interested him.

more lifestyle Updated: Mar 03, 2018 16:59 IST
Aditya Dogra
Aditya Dogra
Hindustan Times
Chef Alain Passard,Bonjour India,Michelin Guide
Chef Alain Passard talks about his art, veganism and the allure of the Indian kitchen.(Sarang Gupta/HT Photo)

Alain Passard is not an ordinary man. He is a three Michelin-starred chef, known the world over for his vegetarian fare. The Rodin of restaurants and author of the book, The Art of Cooking with Vegetables, Passard approaches his craft rather organically. You could imagine that being one of the leaders in his team, he would have some air, some attitude. But it is only when you meet the chef, that you realise it isn’t true. This man cares only about creating plated, memorable masterpieces.

We got a chance to interview the chef at Le Cirque in The Leela Palace, where he had been flown down from Paris by Bonjour India and Rajiv Kehr (India’s undisputed premier wine lover) to present a special menu, paired with wines by Thibault Liger Belair and Domaine Douche.

ON INDIAN FOOD AND ITS DIVERSITY

“Everything about the Indian kitchen interests me.”

Chef Passard’ s face lights up when he talks about Indian cuisine. “Everything about the Indian kitchen interests me. I like the spirit of the Indian cuisine, the fire, the tandoor — all of it is just fabulous. There is an intelligence about Indian cooking, and artistic gesture, which has always interested me. I’m really interested in the regional diversity of the Indian cuisine, something that France doesn’t really have, and something that India should be proud of. Indian cuisine symbolises the five senses for me, and that is what attracts me to it every time,” he adds. Ask him what he’d prepare if he had to make a dish inspired by India, and pat comes the reply. “I’d make a Ratatouille with tomatoes, zucchini, aubergines and onions. Not the French ratatouille, but an Indian version of it,” he says.

ABOUT HIS WORK AND HIS INSPIRATIONS

Ask Passard why he shifted his focus to vegetarian cuisine despite being a master rôtisseur (an expert meat chef), and he says that this question cannot be answered. “Sometimes you’re just in an artistic space. It’s been almost 20 years now, but I still wonder how I shifted from the animal fabric to the vegetable fabric. I just wanted to change. I wanted to open the door of vegetarian cuisine and explore what was behind it,” he says.

Chef Alain Passard says that cooking vegetables is like painting or couture. (Sarang Gupta/HT Photo)

So, what does he exactly do now? “I’d define it as seasonal cuisine, which is very artistic in its own way. Cooking vegetables is like painting or couture. It’s not just a cuisine, but more like a school, which for me is about having the passion for transmitting the technique. You use the season, the texture of the vegetables, the colours, and create. It’s a creative space which hasn’t been that explored, yet I explore it every day,” he says.

Passard has his own gardens since he wanted complete control over what he puts on the plate, and uses natural practices to grow his produce. He wanted to revive a forgotten skill — gardening. “If you want to grow quality vegetables, you need to have your own garden. I have a direct connection with all my gardeners and thus can ask for a specific size or quality of the vegetables, whatever I basically require. The gardens have themselves become a space for creation, and also a space where I invite my clients. It is an important space for my creativity and my creations, and I have a special connection with my garden. Everything is natural and organic, and thus I am assured of the quality. It is also a conscious choice so that people in my restaurants have completely organic, pesticide-free food,” he explains.

“My inspirations always find space on my plate. I like the diversity of the hand. I use the hand to describe the skill that each person has. The musician, the artist, they have their own hand. Just like that, I have my own hand when it comes to cooking or art.”

The chef draws inspiration from opera, theatre, ballet, music, painting exhibitions, and sculpture. These are, in fact, the very things that he also enjoys. He has a gallery where he displays his paintings and has a space where he makes brass sculptures, too. “My inspirations always find space on my plate. I like the diversity of the hand. I use the hand to describe the skill that each person has. The musician, the artist, they have their own hand. Just like that, I have my own hand when it comes to cooking or art. It is all about using your five senses. You have to look at different things, hear different sounds, smell different aromas, have different tastes, and do different things with your hands. And that is how you don’t feel bored, find inspiration and renew yourself each day,” says chef Passard.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VEGETARIAN AND NON-VEGETARIAN CUISINE, AND VEGANISM

“They are two completely different jobs,” says Passard when you ask him how cooking meats and vegetables is different. “With vegetables, the touch, or hand of the cook, is like that of a painter with different mediums — it is completely different from meats. The cooking time is shorter, the seasoning is subtle, and you have to be
very careful when cooking vegetables. There are many choices and you can do anything you want to do with vegetables. It gives you an immense potential for creativity,” he adds.

The chef says that dietary preferences are about choice, and one can have myriad reasons for choosing to be a vegetarian or a vegan. “I was vegan for four months, then I came back to vegetarianism; I also cook meat at times. It’s about taste, choice, seasonality, sensibility and creativity. I am interested in people who follow a vegan diet because it is a space where you have immense potential for learning when you are a chef. You have to invent new solutions when you have to cook without butter or milk or eggs, and that presents a challenge which makes you grow,” he says.

ON THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY

According to Passard, social media is a great educational tool, if used the right way. “It plays a very important role. Many people aren’t aware of which vegetables grow in which season, something which is important to know when you’re cooking or consuming something. And thus, my Instagram account serves as an educational tool for them. I often publish pictures of the vegetables of the season to make my followers aware of what they should put on their plate. It is important to be aware of that, and thus every picture carries information for my followers,” he says.

Follow @htlifeandstyle for more.

First Published: Mar 03, 2018 16:59 IST