We met him at the Ciani Restaurant in Lugano, where he cooked a sumptuous dinner with the help of house chef, Nicola Costantini. Here is the gist of our conversation.
World's Best Restaurant for LA Liste 2016, 19 out of 20 points in the Gault &Millau guide, 3 Michelin stars. You follow in the footsteps of Frédy Girardet and Philippe Rochat. Is this responsibility a heavy burden to carry?
The only way to do our utmost at all times is to be proud and aware of the role we play, without feeling overwhelmed by it. I simply continue to work as I did for many years alongside Benoît. In my activity, I nurture respect for a great past. But above all, I focus on the customers, the farmers and their produce, the brigade. In twenty years' activity, complicity and friendship with Benoît we have had some marvellous times and some extraordinary culinary experiences. With Brigitte, Violier's widow, I look forward to sharing joys and successes as before.
What is meant by classical cuisine nowadays? What changes have taken place?
As I see it, “classical cuisine” is all about knowing the basics, satisfying the palate and not being afraid to come to terms with those ingredients that have determined the success of haute cuisine: for instance, lobster, foie gras, pigeon, morel mushrooms. Naturally, it is also important to be consistent with one's own personal style down through the years which, in my case is the style of a great maison. This means resisting the temptation to follow ephemeral trends or an excess of technology. It means not betraying the customer who expects to find that precise atmosphere and consistency, albeit in constant evolution. What we have learned today, as opposed to the past, is that extra touch of lightness. Another important difference is the fact that sugar and fats have been reduced in desserts and certain dishes. Our aim is to find a perfect balance with half as many calories.
What triggers the creation of a new dish?
My first commandment is that of a cuisine based on seasonal and locally grown produce. I start from the ingredient, which is sacred for me. For example, to celebrate spring, I have created a number of dishes inspired by asparagus. One example is the Vallese white asparagus teamed up with Oscietra caviar and sprinkled with finely crumbled egg, which is on the menu this evening here in Lugano. Each dish must fulfil an objective: it must show respect for the customer and be a joy for all five senses. Two fundamental concepts underlying our menus.
A further tribute is paid to Violier's heritage by giving priority to training...
Certainly. My commitment as Chairman of the Académie Suisse du Bocuse d’Or evidences this intention. We have also set up the The Benoît Violier Cooking Academy: I believe no other 3-star restaurant has a school dedicated to eight-year-old children, cooking enthusiasts and professionals who may obtain a diploma after a three-day course.
What about a tip for those wishing to organize an important dinner party at home?
One thing must be clear from the start: haute cuisine must not be confused with home cooking, haute cuisine is the highest level of perfection and it requires time, study and concentration. One tip that always holds good: cook at least one vegetable to accompany each meal.
Dal is one of those recipes that goes all the way back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. Unlike dishes such as biryani, brought to India by the Moghuls, it is one of those foods that has always been there. It is therefore a building block of Indian culture.