YAN­NICK AL­LÉNO ex­plains to STEPHANIE IP how he has stirred up a French rev­o­lu­tion in the el­e­vated world of sauce

#Legend - - EAT -

YOU MAY BE fa­mil­iar with chefs Alain Du­casse, Pierre Gag­naire and Joël Robu­chon, and the food em­pires they’ve built. Un­less you’re a gas­tronome, you’re prob­a­bly less well ac­quainted with Yan­nick Al­léno. The French chef is a vi­sion­ary. Al­léno’s restau­rant, Le 1947, in the Che­val Blanc ho­tel in the French Alpine re­sort Courchevel, claimed a third Miche­lin star this year and he is soon to bring his Ter­roir Parisien restau­rant to Hong Kong from Paris. Al­léno spoke about what he learned from the win­ners of the Meilleurs Ou­vri­ers de France com­pe­ti­tion for crafts­men, how his pas­sion for sauces re­sulted in Ex­trac­tions – a trade­marked line of sauces – and his favourite dish, Robu­chon’s hot foie gras soup with poul­try as­pic.

You learned from culi­nary masters. Tell us a lit­tle about how each of your teach­ers shaped the way you cook.

I started my train­ing at the age of 15, learn­ing from Manuel Martinez, Jacky Fréon, Gabriel Bis­cay, Roland Du­rand, Mar­tial Engue­hard and Louis Gron­dard. They were all Meilleurs Ou­vri­ers de France and, con­se­quently, clas­sic French cui­sine, ex­cel­lence and rigour ruled the first 25 years of my ca­reer. Each of them had a style but they all had the same de­mand­ing na­ture to­wards taste, with huge knowledge and a fab­u­lous will to pass on their ex­per­tise. I owe them ev­ery­thing. No won­der I am so into sauces to­day; they were all great masters of that. Still, the cui­sine I am do­ing to­day is quite dif­fer­ent from the one I learned. It is very per­sonal, more mod­ern.

You wrote a book de­voted en­tirely to re­search into sauces. Why is sauce so im­por­tant?

To me, sauces are part of our gas­tron­omy’s DNA, its found­ing pil­lar. They are the link be­tween all the el­e­ments on a plate and

80 per cent of a dish’s in­ter­est comes from the sauce fea­tured in it. I am used to say­ing sauce is the verb of French cui­sine. Try and build an in­ter­est­ing sen­tence with­out a verb. Im­pres­sive chefs such as François-Pierre de la Varenne, Au­guste Es­coffier or, more re­cently, Alain Chapel have all sung the praises of sauce. I am not say­ing this is the only so­lu­tion to French cui­sine evo­lu­tion but it is my an­swer, and I am ex­cited that many chefs have un­der­stood its im­por­tance. At last we are done with the dots and lines of olive oil, which I also did once upon a time, by the way.

What mo­ti­vated you to cre­ate your ver­sions?

When I left the fa­mous Parisian palace I had been serv­ing for 10 years, in 2013, I started trav­el­ling around the world, for I thought it was the way for me to find new in­spi­ra­tion. The more I trav­elled, the more I un­der­stood that the so­lu­tion I was search­ing for would only come from France – what con­sti­tutes its essence and, there­fore, sauces – and not from abroad. Ac­tu­ally, when you look at it, ev­ery­thing is a sauce. A con­sommé is a kind of clar­i­fied sauce. A sim­ple ice-cream is made of a crème anglaise. A choco­late ganache is a sauce. Ev­ery­where you find taste, you find sauce. That is when I be­came so pas­sion­ate about find­ing the per­fect dis­til­lates of flavour us­ing mod­ern tech­niques and why my re­search re­sulted in a col­lec­tion of juices that are known as Ex­trac­tions.

De­scribe your sauces to some­one that hasn’t tasted them be­fore. On the In­ter­net, there are videos that show you drink­ing sauces out of a wine glass. Are they com­pa­ra­ble to wines?

There is a real de­par­ture from the sauces as we’ve known them since an­tiq­uity. Be­fore, to make a sauce, one would put many in­gre­di­ents to­gether with some grease and, un­der in­tense heat, wait un­til it re­duced. Now we cook each and ev­ery in­gre­di­ent sep­a­rately at the right tem­per­a­ture, with­out any ad­di­tion, and then re­duce it by freez­ing it to ob­tain an ex­trac­tion of the in­gre­di­ent. To cre­ate the sauce, we blend sev­eral Ex­trac­tions to­gether un­til we find the per­fect, most tasty com­bi­na­tion. The re­sult is a sauce less greasy, less salty and more di­gestible. The ben­e­fit of that method is huge, as the taste of each Ex­trac­tion is phe­nom­e­nal. That is why we of­fer guests to try it in wine glasses, so they can bet­ter un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence. To an­swer the last part of the ques­tion, yes. French chefs have de­vel­oped sauces with a com­plex­ity that – in a way, in my opin­ion – echo the com­plex­ity of wine.

Ter­roir Parisien is a spe­cial project for you. Your fam­ily ran a bistro and this restau­rant con­cept was born out of two years of re­search. Tell us about the process of sav­ing France’s agri­cul­tural her­itage.

Food is a fam­ily tra­di­tion. My parents used to man­age bistros in the Parisian sub­urbs, so I was reared in this con­vivial and friendly am­biance of the neigh­bour­hood restau­rant. Paris is my land and, in 2006, I re­alised that we were all un­aware of the rich­ness of our ter­roir. I started re­search­ing it and found that we had hun­dreds of fab­u­lous na­tive Parisian va­ri­eties un­der our nose and that, un­for­tu­nately, they were close to dis­ap­pear­ing. That is when I be­came deeply in­volved in sav­ing this her­itage. Two years of work started, ref­er­enc­ing all the pro­duc­ers, their prod­ucts and the re­gion’s recipes. Our goal was to find qual­ity farm­ers – and these were the last of them – who had kept the orig­i­nal and un­touched seeds of the au­then­tic cab­bage from Pon­toise, as­para­gus from Ar­gen­teuil, saf­fron from Gâti­nais, pep­per­mint from Milly-la-Forêt, peaches from Mon­treuil, ar­ti­choke from Paris, spinach from Viroflay and many more. In 2008, we cre­ated a great menu for the three-star restau­rant I used to op­er­ate. In 2010, we pub­lished our first epony­mous book and, in 2012, opened our first ded­i­cated bistro. I am very happy that more than 130 chefs in Paris source lo­cally, us­ing the fab­u­lous pro­duce and mak­ing the whole vir­tu­ous process work. Ter­roir Parisien is an amaz­ing ad­ven­ture, one I am very proud of.

It’s been 10 years since you started the re­search. How far have you come and how much more is there to do?

There is al­ways more and we can al­ways do bet­ter. When you look at Mas­simo Bot­tura, Kamilla Sei­dler or Ron Fin­ley’s ini­tia­tives – to name only a few – you un­der­stand the tremen­dous en­ergy in­volved in mak­ing things change. We have to be con­scious of the world we live in and re­spect­ful of what na­ture offers us, es­pe­cially in restau­rants. I am deeply com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing our food waste and do­ing com­plete jus­tice to the pro­duce when cook­ing, for example.

Hong Kong is the sec­ond place where you’ve opened Ter­roir Parisien. How will you ex­e­cute the process here? Will the restau­rant serve al­lFrench pro­duce?

Ter­roir Parisien Hong Kong will be open­ing in the heart of Cen­tral, in Land­mark, Prince’s Build­ing. Ac­tu­ally, this is the first time Ter­roir Parisien has left its Parisian base for Asia and we chose Hong Kong. It’s a fan­tas­tic lo­ca­tion and our bistro will be join­ing some of the world’s most fab­u­lous brands, so we’re in good com­pany. We will fea­ture our Parisian ca­sual cui­sine and have recre­ated the orig­i­nal Wil­motte de­sign there, re­flect­ing the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion’s warmth and friendly at­mos­phere. I like to say that we are bring­ing a lit­tle bit of Paris to the heart of this Asian megac­ity. Our ini­tia­tive pro­motes lo­cal sourc­ing. It would be more than a lit­tle in­sane to im­port ev­ery­thing from Paris. We will mainly fo­cus on of­fer­ing our clas­sic Parisian recipes. We’ll use the best pro­duce that we have care­fully cu­rated and sourced and, of course, we will be im­port­ing some spe­cific Parisian pro­duce that sim­ply can­not be left out.

We can ex­pect the same menu as in the orig­i­nal Ter­roir Parisien?

Ter­roir Parisien is a real French bistro. Our idea is to share our tra­di­tional ca­sual food, which can some­times be com­fort food. Guests will be able to share the au­then­tic croque-mon­sieur or our madein-France pâtés, sam­ple some of our sig­na­ture dishes such as clas­sic Paris mush­rooms au gratin, stuffed with snails and a mix of shal­lots, pars­ley, wa­ter­cress and gar­lic but­ter that we serve them up­side-down as de­li­cious mouth­fuls you can grab with your fin­gers; or our trade­mark thick piece of pan-seared Charo­lais beef ten­der­loin with Bercy sauce; our lamb stew and spring veg­eta­bles in a casse­role; and, as a dessert, my favourite is the Nan­terre brioche French toast with vanilla ice-cream.

Hav­ing rev­o­lu­tionised the way we think of sauces, what’s next?

We are think­ing of many projects cur­rently. Some will take more time than oth­ers, and some are still quite confidential, I’m afraid. We’ll have to wait a lit­tle un­til we can ac­tu­ally talk about them, but we are work­ing on a new book from our Re­flec­tions of a Chef col­lec­tion, the one al­ready fea­tur­ing sauces and ter­roir. What I can tell you is we are su­per-happy to be open­ing a new Ter­roir Parisien bistro in Shang­hai at the end of the year and an­other one in Paris at the be­gin­ning of next year.

What was your most mem­o­rable meal? Who did you dine with and what did you have?

With­out a shadow of a doubt, it was Joël Robu­chon’s soupe chaude de foie gras à la gelée de poule at Jamin, his for­mer three-star restau­rant. It was a long time ago, as it has been closed for more than 20 years, but the mem­ory I have of this dish is so pow­er­ful. That is the magic of cui­sine.

You’ve cooked for many peo­ple, in­clud­ing top chefs. Who did you find hard­est to please?

The most dif­fi­cult per­son to please is my ev­ery­day client. Ev­ery­one is treated with the same at­ten­tion to their de­mands, as my only goal is for him or her to come back. It makes no dif­fer­ence to me who he or she is, and I am al­ways try­ing my best in ev­ery dish served.

“We have to be con­scious of the world we live in and re­spect­ful of what na­ture offers us. I am deeply com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing our food waste and do­ing com­plete jus­tice to the pro­duce” YAN­NICK AL­LÉNO

Above: Yan­nick Al­léno Right: Creme de Courge But­ter­nut aux Noisettes de la Brie

From left: Navarin d’Agneau; mille­feuille from the Brû­lerie Maubert in Paris

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