Born in 1972 and awarded with three well deserved Michelin stars, Pascal Barbot has been one of the pioneers of a new generation of French chefs anxious to distinguish themselves from the old culinary school. Despite the Best Cook of France accolade conferred to him in 2005 and the constant appearance of his Parisian restaurant, l'Astrance, in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, he continues to define himself modestly as a “petit cuisinier français”.
His is a cuisine that focuses on the essence of flavour: he favours the use of extra virgin olive oil, very little butter or salt and no cream. The dish destined to make him immortal is Mushroom and foie gras tart marinated in verjus.
We met him at the dinner signed by two chefs that was part of the densely packed programme of the S.Pellegrino Sapori Ticino 2016 event: an evening in which he played a protagonist role at the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano, where he cooked side by side with restaurant chef Domenico Ruberto. This is what he told us, starting from the very dish he prepared during the event in Switzerland.
What is the most representative dish you prepared at the S.Pellegrino Sapori Ticino dinner? Why did you chose those particular dishes?
I prepared a menu composed of 6/7 dishes, all of which are currently served in my restaurant in Paris. All the courses were very seasonal, including our signature dish made of mashed potatoes and vanilla Ice cream: it gives a good balance between sweet and savoury before dessert is served.
What 3 things do you think really count in a dish?
The way to season, to slice and to cook the ingredients. My kitchen is very seasonal because I believe that seasonality is the best way to be sure about the quality of the food product. I’m a big fan of the ingredients so the most important thing is how you treat the raw material. The same ingredients can produce very different results, based on how you work with them. Details make the difference, how you cut them, it’s usually an underrated step but this technique gives the product great differential. The method of cooking is also important, it’s the main job of the Chef. You have to mix between ancestral methods and new techniques in order to find the best way to meet your customer needs.
What’s your opinion on the new role of the chef?
To be a chef today is a chance to help people to realize that it's really important to feed ourselves! It's really important not to overeat. Eat really good food… but not too much! To help all the farmers, fisherman, people who raise poultry... all these very important people who wakeup very early in the morning to provide us with the best food products they can! We need to respect and help these people! We are lucky because we can travel a lot and we have occasion to meet really nice people. Chefs are over-exposed nowadays. We are Chefs, we might influence people that follow us, but we are not going to save the world.
What do you think about the so called “no meat” trend?
We are eating too much meat but we don’t have to stop eating it. We should eat less, but we have to eat it well, respecting the animals and farmer that raises them. We have encouraged local producers to use their knowledge to raise their animals in a good way. That’s why I usually use local products.
You contributed to the book Dashi and Umami. Why are you interested in Japanese cuisine?
I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture. They have really amazing products, and most of all they have a strong seafood philosophy: in the past raising animals for certain types of meat was illegal so they turned their attentions to seafood. There is a great tradition of fishermen, and this fascinates me because you can find a lot of tradition that survived through the years. There is also a lot of parallelism between Japanese cuisine and French Cuisine. In fact French have the same attention regarding meat that Japanese have regarding fish. For example in French you can find a lot of words related to all the jobs in meat production , and in Japanese it’s the same for the fish. Moreover in French we used to classify meats in different categories, in Japan, they do the same with fish. It’s really interesting how two different cultures can be related by the cuisine!
Any future projects?
My future project is to have the restaurant fully booked for lunch and dinner every day. Of course it’s important to do business, but one of my goals with my restaurant is to help local farmers and growers to continue their job and maintain the quality of what they produce because they are the real excellence of our land.