Over the past 30 years we see how trends changed significantly during our culinary adventures , and is sustainable really sustainable? This is an important question, but this article isn’t all about what is sustainable, or what isn’t sustainable, it is just food for thought to make readers think a little more about what they eat, where they eat and how they eat. Whenever I enter a French restaurant I think about the four mother sauces, a notion of the 19th Century yet one of importance.
Marie-Antoine Carême, a Frenchman many say was the first celebrity chef, he was best known today for the spectacular sugar, marzipan, and pastry sculptures he designed and built called pièces montées which still exist in fine dining. Accredited with being the first cookbook author to use the phrase, “you can try this for yourself at home.” he was a major culinary force and his work helped pave the way to European cooking techniques.
The Four Mother Sauces
Allemande: light stock, lemon juice, egg yolks
Béchamel: milk thickened with a butter and flour roux
Espagnole: reduced brown stock with tomato sauce
Velouté: light stock thickened with a butter and flour roux
It is difficult to overstate the importance of experience in cooking or enjoying a gastronomical event without some basic knowledge. It’s like watching baseball and not knowing anything about the sport. You enjoy it, but you miss all the nuances and you cannot enjoy much more than the excitement. In many ways, amateurs dine out time and time again, and illustrate the importance of what they enjoy. This is very important but in a limited way, and we see on instagram time and time again plenty of people posting what they like to eat. In many instances it provokes food for thought, and in many other cases it is just unimportant. Most of the time posting what you like is for self gratification and it leaves a huge empty space when it comes to food knowledge.
Many culinarians sit back, and the same goes for many critics, they dream they know taste. But for those us who are amateurs, Nouvelle Cuisine was born after the Second World War, and it changed the way foods looks nowadays and how we approach raw materials. In the West, the idea of Haute Cuisine, that is to say a cuisine radically different in principle from ‘home cooking’ and was born when two apparently unrelated events occurred.
One was the ambitions of Louis XIV who reigned for 72 years, was François La Varenne of Cuisinier François ( The French Cook), the first book on French cooking to appear in several decades, and the cookbook was still used in France until the French revolution. If you’ve heard of Bouquet Garni, he introduced the first bisque and Béchamel sauce, replaced crumbled bread with roux as the base for sauces, and lard with butter. Here one finds the first usage of the terms bouquet garni, fonds de cuisine (stocks) and reductions, and the use of egg-whites for clarification.
Winding forward, only a few cooks consider the history as important and in the 20th Century, chef’s like Roger Vergé and many others chef of his generation used simple broths; added oil, lemon and an essential extracts of herbs, and a back to the freedom of a new culinary avenue. An infinite number of sauces and ragoûts were born and each with a different name. This is arguably the advent of a new style of cooking where French food and an air of novelty changed the direction of French cuisine for all of us.
We understand the transformations of the last half century, which have caused a radical evolution in the concept of novelty is what made us go from creams and classic sauces to a new frontier. In England, protests against French cuisine will always remain, and, in Italy to the concept of Haute Cuisine is still was contested. Through the course of three centuries, some chefs had been able to attain a reputation and see their creations become well-known, but most had not been able to escape the level of domestic worker. We see how life evolved from the more formal ways, to novelty and swinging plates of Spanish dishwashers who turned into world class Culinarians. Showing molecular spheres and foams setting the stage was popular for 50-minutes, yet the innovation and discussions in dinning rooms all over the globe made way for magnificent change all thanks to Ferran and Heston etc.
Wind the clock forward to 2022 and the trend of the over trendy prevails all over the globe. Prices are going up, and the service is going down. Perhaps that’s an extreme way of putting it but the glory of Haute Cuisine as we know it today is slowly disappearing and fusion cuisine is raging. Can you imagine food chains such as Nobu, Hakansan, Buddha Bar, etc., use truffle oil laced with chemical aromas, frozen or farmed fish probably pellet fed, and other foods which have little material benefit. In the future all what we know will change and even more if wars continue.
8-years ago when famed chef Alain Ducasse thought about sustainability, he thought of how we can get away from the meats and be more ethical. Drop these expensive fish purveyors who are abusing the seas, and the eco system so he made a daring move. Yes, it was a daring move for any three started Michelin chef, and he gambled on the trend of sustainability. Others chefs followed albeit much later, and chef Daniel Humm departed from his classic menu to plant based meat, and decided to move away from most unsustainable foods.
But there are a few chef who remain unknown and only a select few would have crossed their paths. Japan has long been home to some of the world’s great cuisine, and a personal friend and chef who deserves to be known wider is Hisato Nakahigashi.
Miyamaso was a family run business and it brings tears to my eyes when I think about what happened after he passed away, he prepared a meal for us which was handcrafted from the surrounding forest. I am not laughing but when I think about the food revolution we live in today, we lost track of tradition and sustainability, and we are grabbing at new ideas, many are senseless, even lies to market the images of certain chefs. But I am not taking this opportunity to ut down and chef, because it is a thankless job, a job which deserves the utmost respect, even if there are few exceptions.
And chefs like Michel Bras, iconic whose eponymous restaurant in the hills above the commune of Laguiole won three Michelin stars in 1999. He is famed for the deep connection to locally grown and foraged vegetables, herbs and wildflowers and he is not alone. None other than chef Alan Passard made front-page news in 2001 when he announced that his three-Michelin-star restaurant Argepe would switch to serving only vegetarian dishes. I had his chef work for us for a year and we tried all his dishes and many were outstanding including his tomato desert, what a genius creation. So, to those chefs seeking substitution foods, like seeds as caviar, be careful because who cannot turn a donkey into a horse.
Its challenging no doubt to replace certain foods and when chef’s say and believe the modern food system was “simply not sustainable” it becomes a dare and a challenge. The style of cooking in which new ingredients stand in for those they replaced, like Tonburi seeds for caviar, is ineffective and disappointing. But for those seeking hedonism and wishing to eat caviar, stick to caviar and chef’s should stop pretending.
Tonburi are dried seeds from the tree summer cypress, a speciality of Akita prefecture. It is often called land caviar and the seeds are used in Chinese medicine to help with hypertension, obesity, and urinary diseases. So, why not create a sustainable fairytale with a focus on all the health benefits. But, really, what is novelty in cooking? The question can, in fact, be approached from two sides: from the point of view of the practitioner, he who produces, or from the point of view of the eater, he who consumes.
Chefs should ask themselves, how can we open restaurants to attract clients, and if you think about it, that’s pretty damn hard and any chef who risks his career to do what he believes is right must consider all consequences. The development of the restaurant and the birth of the food critic promoted the production of novelty in cooking and we all suffer their opinions and criticism.
I am appalled by the Claridge’s Twitter post, they cannot even add Humm name without adding his name to spellcheck, and that says it all.
I can’t help to think about the power transfer from Imbert to Ducasse, as I sit wondering how it all happened. Probably because when Ducasse started at Plaza in Paris, he was at the top of his game, a chef who had the Prince of Monaco behind his project Louis XV, and he was young energetic and still cooking. I used to see Ducasse at Le Roquebrune-Cap-Martin with his then girlfriend on Sundays for lunch, and he was a star then: https://mesubim.com/2020/05/21/le-rouquebrune-not-fake/
Newspaper Le Parisien called the news “seismic” and headlines in Le Point and Le Figaro all announced “Alain Ducasse and the Plaza Athénée, they’re finished!”
Welcomed by executive chef Jean Imbert to his classic Parisian brasserie styled cuisine. He is well known for history telling: http://www.mamiejeanimbert.com and no doubt this young chef’s grass roots, his admiration, charm and intelligence of French cuisine has given him the cutting edge, and now sharing is in. A long table, and I haven’t tried the new Plaza’s menu but I will in due course after I get myself ready.
The new space at Plaza Athénée 2022 (Denis Courtiade pictured left)
I am not passing any judgement on the new chef’s position which was highly critiqued and we must give him a chance. Behind the scenes, I am quite sure the hotel is getting big boost from the PR of chef Imbert who hobnobs with movie stars and known celebrities.
Subsequently as his empire grew he hired a general director, named Laurent Plantier, who handled the finance-management which were of no interest to Ducasse. Laurent wasn’t what I would call the right person, and as Ducasse was developing his culinary dreams, he failed himself in not having better control and sustainability. The turning point began a long while ago, and from right under the nose of the chef. Many of the key chefs working for Ducasse left and opened their own restaurants or moved, and today chef’s Kei Kojima, Christophe Moret, and Jean-Francois Piege have all moved on successfully.
There is no doubt the flagship in Paris was under the close control of Denis Courtiade, the consummate Maitre d’Hotel and a person we know for almost 30-years, and we admire his service standards and professionalism. But it all changed on Monday 17 May, 2021 during Covid, when their partnership ended, and Mr. Denis Courtiade who is no doubt the backbone of the restaurant in Plaza Athénée stayed and Ducasse left.
The news was harsh for any Ducasse fan, and departure of the chef, who worked as a consultant for the Plaza for 21 years, would now leave the Dorchester Collection Group, but he would continue the collaboration at the restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse in Paris and in London. This news didn’t come as a big surprise to us, but we felt the disappointment of watching a great 20th Century chef begin to see his empire be diminished.
I can guess the chef’s management contract was terminated due to non-performance, and we can expect these kinds have a life span. These restaurants are the signature of the hotel and hotels are often willing to have a lost leader in supporting the financial losses for ***star chefs. All three start restaurants loose money these days and aren’t sustainable and without a patron they cannot survive. Even Robuchon realised with his partner, a TV producer and cleaver yet a non-foodie they had to get away from *** stars and focus more on casual dinning. There comes a point and time when the buck stops, and it did.
I know the cuisine of Ducasse at the Plaza as well as anyone, and when we lived in Paris I was a regular. Ducasse was always criticised by the community of classic chefs, but there is no doubting his place in history. I thought his move to a re-open the non-meaty restaurant in 2014 from a *** starred was daring yet genius. The king of haute cuisine in Paris, he took a bold step and banned meat from the menu of his world famous restaurant. The menu of Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée focused on fish, vegetables and organic cereals in a bid to return to more natural foods.
“The planet’s resources are rare, we must consume more ethically and equitably”
Ducasse had always been known for the three Michelin stars when it closed, and now the focus was less on stars and more on the raw materials and re-branding. It was not clear whether Ducasse would follow the exhortations of various environmental organisations to serve what they class as “sustainable” species, but he is insisting on using “humbler” types of fish. This is because they often posed more of a culinary challenge than the more expensive species such as turbot.
Ducasse hails La trilogie: Fish, Vegetables, and Grains.
The dinner menu costs €380 and for anyone, a dining experience like this would fall into the “very special occasion” category. So, what is there to say about the transfer of power at the Relais Plaza, from Alain Ducasse (Louis XV in Monaco to Jean Imbert, a logical shift. I do not blame Ducasse and he can perhaps consider the management of this relationship had taken its course.
The trends have changed and people want more show, and the extravangant interior (and it cost a fortune) undertaken by Patrick Jouin was also either adored or detested. I appreciated the intensity yet it missed the point and the transition from three stars to no stars it didn’t make sense. I am not sure the hotel management ownership appreciated the dramatic change after paying the renovation and losing millions the brand value vanished.
I will never forget my invitation to the restaurant: https://mesubim.com/2014/11/11/ducasse-hotel-plaza-athenee-videos/ it was epic and the experience was educational, delicious and inspiring. I remember discovering the breads of Chambelland and many other treasures, it was epic-awesome and a dinner I will never forget thanks to Denis.
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