TOP TOQUE

Ni­co­las Sale is the 10th chef to helm the kitchens of Ritz Paris since its open­ing in 1898. He shares with Jes­sica Chan how he is pen­ning a new chap­ter in haute cuisine at the iconic ho­tel’s La Ta­ble de L’es­padon.

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Ni­co­las Sale of La Ta­ble de L’es­padon, Ritz Paris

It’s a Fri­day af­ter­noon. Twelve guests are clink­ing glasses of Cham­pagne Ritz Réserve Brut at Chef’s Ta­ble, Capella Sin­ga­pore. Over at the open kitchen, guest chef Ni­co­las Sale hunches over each plate, metic­u­lously adorn­ing Brit­tany lob­ster tails with blue­ber­ries. We may be in Sin­ga­pore but it feels as if we had just waltzed through the doors of the iconic Ritz Paris and set­tled into the two Miche­lin-starred La Ta­ble de L’es­padon.

Sale is the 10th chef to stage at the cel­e­brated kitchen founded by the leg­endary Au­guste Es­coffier. (It turns 120 years old this year but was only named L’es­padon from 1956.) Ap­pointed in 2016, the 46-year-old didn’t just suc­ceed Michel Roth. Sale ush­ered in a new age for the restau­rant by di­vid­ing L’es­padon into two ex­quis­ite din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences: the Les Jardins de L’es­padon for lunch and La Ta­ble de L’es­padon for a lav­ish din­ner af­fair. And, it came as no sur­prise when he swiftly took home one and two Miche­lin stars re­spec­tively within a year.

The for­mer pro­fes­sional cy­clist – he won his first lap at age 16 – be­came en­am­oured of the culi­nary arts, thanks to the many va­ca­tions he spent at his grand­par­ents’ farm in Mayenne. “I loved fam­ily din­ners; the ca­ma­raderie of peo­ple com­ing to­gether for good food and com­pany,” muses Sale. The stars aligned when he found a men­tor in Freddy Faverot of L’ecurie, as it led to a suc­ces­sion of stints at some of Paris’ most sought-af­ter din­ing spots; three Miche­lin-starred Pav­il­ion Royal and two-starred Le Meurice Alain Du­casse, to name a few. It took win­ning a star for Hô­tel Du Castelet to land the il­lus­tri­ous chef on the high-oc­tane din­ing map of France. Not one to rest on his lau­rels, he con­tin­ued with an­other star at Les Pêcheurs and two each for La Ta­ble du Kil­i­mand­jaro and Le Kintessence in Courchevel.

Why did you choose to di­vide L’es­padon into two dis­tinct ex­pe­ri­ences?

Ritz Paris had just awak­ened from a four-year hia­tus, due to the mas­sive ren­o­va­tion in 2016. It was a time to rein­vent L’es­padon but in a way that con­nected its his­tory with the present and fu­ture of haute cuisine. Les Jardins de L’es­padon is solely for lunch, where ser­vice is quicker (with­out di­min­ish­ing the L’es­padon ex­pe­ri­ence). It is also where I ex­per­i­ment with new pro­duce and dishes. It’s a lab­o­ra­tory for me. Dishes that res­onated bet­ter with guests are re­fined for din­ner ser­vice La Ta­ble de L’es­padon. An ex­am­ple would the rab­bit with mus­tard, that’s pre­sented as a con­fit shoul­der and roasted rack with physalis pick­les. And the menu here changes ev­ery Mon­day; it’s al­ways a sur­prise.

La Ta­ble de L’es­padon is the quin­tes­sen­tial Ritz Paris ex­pe­ri­ence. The menu is in­spired by fish­ing. In­stead of starters, mains and dessert, it is di­vided into L’ap­pat (the lure), Le Fil (the line) and, fi­nally, La Touche (to hit). The for­mer is a sig­na­ture of mine where I awaken ap­petites and prime palates with three in­ter­pre­ta­tions of a sin­gle in­gre­di­ent.

Can you tell us more about the con­cept?

While work­ing in the moun­tains of Courchevel in 2012, I had the idea to present one in­gre­di­ent as dif­fer­ent tex­tures and flavours. An ex­am­ple is my Brit­tany lob­ster “dishes”. You’re work­ing your way through just one lob­ster. There’s the gelée, which show­cases its sweet­ness, fol­lowed by the suc­cu­lent lob­ster tail that comes slathered in a tart blue­berry sauce and, lastly, ten­der claws and bisque with an aro­matic, herbed fo­cac­cia. The same goes for our desserts. It’s an orig­i­nal way of pre­sent­ing the menu, and it def­i­nitely brings some­thing unique to the din­ing land­scape.

What does the Miche­lin Guide mean to you?

I bought my first guide book back in 1992, and hasn’t stopped. It’s a ref­er­ence for my ca­reer. Win­ning stars for Ritz Paris is im­por­tant as it re­warded the years of work put in by the team. I see it not as an ac­com­plish­ment but a step in my jour­ney. We must still give our best ev­ery day to keep the stars. It’s a recog­ni­tion as much as a re­spon­si­bil­ity. Think of us as Olympic ath­letes. I drive my team (and my­self) to con­stantly ques­tion our­selves and evolve.

Tell us more about your un­usual source of in­spi­ra­tion.

Vogue or ar­chi­tec­ture mag­a­zines. I get my ideas from words that evoke a feel­ing. I want to cap­ture that emo­tion and present it on a plate. For my cur­rent menu, it all started with a book on fish­ing. I re­alised I can use its process – hook­ing the bait, reel­ing in the line and so on – as the struc­ture of my menu.

Why have you de­cided to come to Sin­ga­pore for a Four Hands col­lab­o­ra­tion?

See­ing the world helps me stay open-minded. I’ve got­ten a first­hand taste of lo­cal flavours and how it’s used in French cuisine. While I can’t find these in­gre­di­ents in France, I can be in­spired to cre­ate new dishes based on these ex­pe­ri­ences.

Any ad­vice for young chefs? Work, work and work.

What’s on your plate for 2019?

I’m al­ways work­ing on a new dish. The sea­sons dic­tate what I present, in a way. Right now, I am still re­fin­ing the spring menu, but I al­ready have a big sched­ule for the next six months. I’ve ac­tu­ally got an ex­cel sheet de­tail­ing all the dishes I want to serve ac­cord­ing to weeks and months.

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