lunch with pierre gagnaire - sort of

i love the french language, especially the one spoken by people involved with food.  when french restaurant people come at your table to ask for your order, they most invariably ask you: qu'est-ce qu'il vous ferait plaisir? which literally means: what would give you pleasure?  not: what would you like? non! non!  the french do not eat for love, they eat for pleasure...

and so today, i learned a lesson of food preparation first hand from the master chef himself pierre gagnaire at a cooking demonstration and private lunch organised by the good people of the centurion american express.  when asked if he was going to work with recipes that he designed, he simply responded: ah non!  i will cook with ingredients that will give me pleasure!

his genius is that he cooks according to very classical methods but push the envelop with modern twists and turns using ingredients that are, in themselves very tasty, but might not be obvious combination for most people.  yet, he succeeds to create dishes with textures and flavours that are completely new, yet, totally recognizable.

take the gazpacho we had as a starter.  its preparation started in a very classical way.  all the basic ingredients were there to make the gazpacho a gazpacho.  tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, garlic, red pepper, etc.  but then, he added water melon and honeydew to the mix.  kept all the vegetables and fruits nice and slightly chunky and served it on a sort of creamy base made with milk, some of the fruits, mustard, plenty of olive oil blended together and, voilà!  a totally recognisable gazpacho taste yet incredibly complex flavours that were unusual and delicate, yet powerful and succulent. perfect with the white grenache wine from côte de provence - fresh, fruity and mineraly.

we then had mullet, or small pieces of it, served with basmati rice, fresh mushrooms and sliced cuttle-fish mixed in a super tasty and unusual caramelized sauce made with a combination or soy sauce, brown sugar.  a taste perfectly reminiscent of a strongly flavoured shanghainese dish, yet, fresh, light, and tasty.  fantastic with our white chateauneuf-du-pape wine - complex, peppery, spicy.

the main dish was a "patty"of "chopped" veal slightly pan fried served on a most interesting cream sauce mixed with grappa and ginger and toped with simple yet succulent caramelized onions.  intersting dish but difficult to match with wine however.

many guests in the kitchen who were assisting to the presentation were very eager to know his recipe and took copious notes of the way he prepared his dishes.  that is one way, i suppose, to wow your guests at home.

what i learned from pierre gagnaire today in his "private" kitchen is that when you cook, you have to give yourself pleasure.  and that this philosophy can take you pretty much anywhere.  to me, that is the beauty of cooking.