Nov 05, 2009|
He tells me his first memory of food is foie gras—homemade by his grandmother from their ducks on a farm in Landes, a southwestern province of France. Perhaps if more people gave their children goose liver in lieu of canned baby food, they would all grow up to have the palate of Alain Ducasse.
“You’re not going to eat that without wine, are you?” comes the thunderous voice of the chef, gesturing to my plate of sole normandie—two delicate fillets of sole topped with an emulsified sauce made from mussel stock. “One must eat this with wine,” he continues. Emphasis on the “must.”
Now why couldn’t my teachers at school have lectured me less on how to construct a mousetrap car in Physics class and more on whether that Hi-C lemon tea was really the right pairing with my PB&J? Seriously, guys—a mousetrap car?!
I have a working theory that just as people after a certain age can’t pick up a second language without a foreign accent, likewise, it is infinitely harder to adapt to acquired tastes as adults. I guess that’s just a more scientific way of saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Mr. Ducasse was one of the lucky ones. He was initiated into the culinary arts from the very beginning. Sitting there, suited up and no longer in chef whites, a lot has changed since his childhood days. Having left home at just 16 to pursue his training, he had won the first ever three-star Michelin rating at the mere age of 33. These days, the chef finds it hard to keep track of just how many restaurants he owns. “High 20’s?” he answers apologetically. “I don’t really keep count anymore.”
But ask him when he created his first signature dish, and he’ll answer with an exact date: March 10, 1979. He recalls with alacrity how he had purchased the vegetables from the market, how he then carefully cooked them each separately, and how he decided to use their juices as a sauce for pasta.
That same dish one year later—substituting truffles for pasta—became the focus of the menu that won him his first Michelin star. During a time when fine-dining was all about meat, the dish was simple yet innovative. I’m sure a million chefs across France smacked themselves on the forehead for not coming up with it first.
“Recently,” says the chef, “I tried yuba in Kyoto. Good flavor, no?” A quick glance at the new menu in his restaurant, SPOON, reveals hints of Japanese influences from kabocha squash to hirame (fluke) fish.
“Food is an evolution—it doesn’t happen over night. So you must keep on eating and trying new things.” And to this, I’d add – the earlier you taste it, the better.
Did you hear that Gerber? Applesauce just doesn’t cut it anymore.