Inspiration. Pure inspiration. His words alone were culinary artistry. Poetry even. And when he spoke, his passion filled the room.
Alain Passard, the three star chef of one of the most prestigious Parisian restaurants, L'Arpège was recently in the Netherlands to present his newest cookbook. I had heard of him and knew he had devoted his life's work to vegetables, but not being one to easily fall for the whole 'star' thing (I prefer little odd restaurants), I didn't really know what to expect. Well, let me tell you, from the minute Monsieur Passard (The Vegetable God) opened his mouth, I was swooning. Never had I seen someone speak with such passion, such charisma... about vegetables!
He spoke about the art of cooking vegetables. About the importance of arranging them into a proper bouquet. About eating them only in accordance with the seasons. He told us about his gardens in Normandy and Bretagne. As I listened to him, I couldn't help but experience that same emotion that comes over me when I look at a Rembrandt painting. That upllifting feeling that only art can bring out. Alain Passard is so much more than a great chef. He's an artist in every sense of the word.
Cooking nature's gifts is his art. His hands are his paintbrush.
Some of the things he taught us that afternoon:
-Respect the unique quality of each vegetable when cooking it. Pay attention to its color, scent, texture. Its bouquet.
-Make sure the vegetables are cut into small, bite-sized pieces.
-Cook vegetables in a big wide pan, making sure never to crowd it.
-Use a little bit of water, a knob of salted butter (he likes its 'animal' taste) and a drizzle of olive oil when cooking your vegetables. Cook them al dente and only add salt after cooking as it takes away their precious moisture.
-And of tremendous importance...eat seasonal! If possible, grow your own vegetables.
At the end of the presentation, he was asked to play the 'one word game'. A word was mentioned and he had to say what came to mind.
Cookbook? Written by nature. Adventure? Daily life. Tomorrow? More creativity. The sea? The same as the earth; a garden. Death? As late as possible. Women? The most beautiful creatures on earth.
He didn't need to add that. He had me from the moment he lifted that bulb of fennel to his nose and took a deep breath...