I think it was Rene Redzepi who first introduced me to Alain Passard. Through his undoubted status as one of the current great culinary minds, it took me little convincing to press the Follow button when Rene suggested that everyone should follow @ArpegeLive, back in spring.
While this clearly makes me late to the party of mildly obsessed Alain Passard followers, the moment I first saw his weekly picture plethora of painfully awesome food porn, I was hooked. This later made me want his first book In The Kitchen With Alain Passard, which gives readers a whimsical view into the mind of Alain through cartoon-like illustrations.
When the woman behind the counter at Books for Cooks in London first handed it to me however, I became sceptical. It seemed short and I didn’t want to believe that a graphic novel could satisfactory detail the creative workings of a chef. It seemed like a gimmick. I flicked through it and thought it looked somewhat interesting.
How wrong I was. After having read it, I can only say that rarely does a culinary book encapsulate me as much as this one did. The drawings are fantastic and the story line nearly makes you day-dream that you are in the kitchen with the author (Christophe Blain) and Alain. The book really made me question why there isn’t a complete series of books like this to cover more chefs. I reckon they would be a gigantic hit. Get on it, publishers! If you don’t already own it, buy it. Just like Sat Bains recently did. It is a matter of urgency.
As I tend to quickly establish a large appetite for a chef when I am in my obsessive state, the next step was to fire up Google to see if I could find any more material on Alain Passard. At first, I thought I hit the jackpot with this YouTube playlist, but it turns out that there is an even greater video selection available at Dailymotion. I have gathered that these videos have root in a collaborative effort with Le Point and Alain himself. Apparently they ended their first collaboration in 2013, but just a month or so ago it was revealed that they would rekindle the relationship. A brand new video would be released every Saturday from August 2014 and onwards. It is fair to say that I have been watching them quite a bit since I first discovered these in July.
While I unfortunately don’t speak or write a single word of French, I am establishing a basic understanding of general terms and ingredients which helps a bit. However, I would go as far as saying that you don’t need to understand French to appreciate these videos, as the huge passion of Alain sucks you in (or maybe I am alone?). Food really is a global language.
My greatest revelation from these videos, and by reading the book, is the appreciation of combining ingredients based on the harmony of their colours, either through assembling a bouquet or by laying it all out in front of you. Think of it as culinary painting or flower decoration. Why should the vegetables you cook always be decided by the protein you are using? Maybe some non-obvious ingredients go together, simply by sharing the same colour palette?
Alain treats vegetables with the respect one would usually only give to the finest piece of 30 day matured Scottish steak. Granted, he now has 3 farms producing his very own boutique vegetables of pornographic quality, but his philosophy can still be applied to the standard vegetables you buy in the supermarket or at the farmers market. Never before have I lusted for a salad this much, or realised that my casserole could be used for so many gentle vegetable preparations in addition to the stews or ragus I always cook. I also recently purchased a Japanese mandolin (I got mine at Japanese Knife Company in London), which has come to great use for creating delicious raw summer salads of courgette and fennel.
If you want even more vegetative inspiration, you should get hold of The Art of Cooking with Vegetables. Stand Up Asparagus, you’re next.
I salute you, Alain.