Thursday, 10:30 Pavillon Ledoyen. We speak to Yannick Alléno in the heat of the kitchens of his three-star restaurant while his team is busy preparing for lunch. And there is much to do: the chef, who speaks to us about modern cuisine and his new book Terroirs, Réflexion d'un Cuisinier, always keeps an eye on his assistants and the sauces that they prepare.
Even those who don't know much about French gastronomy know that Yannick Alléno is the king of sauces. "It brings consistency to a dish. It is my fight, my passion," says the Parisian. It is a passion to which he even devoted his first book, simply called Sauces. Reflections of a Chef in 2014, in which he presented his very personal process of extraction.
This cryo-concentration technique developed by the chef and the team of Bruno Goussault at the Research and Study Center for Food allows aromas to become concentrated under the effect of the cold. The water contained in the extraction is then separated from the liquid in a centrifuge for the preparation of a sauce without heat or chemical additives.
Today the chef goes even further by using fermentation to enhance his sauces. This ancestral method of preservation is a form of food processing by means of microorganisms, which is already used in many everyday products such as wine, bread and cheese. But this technique has been sidelined since Pasteur's work and the influence of Nouvelle Cuisine, stigmatising germs and bacteria.
To restore the credentials of fermentation, Yannick Alléno offers, in his book, the words of a friend and great French winemaker Michel Chapoutier, who argues that "Only fermented products can enrich the terroir". It is a statement that prompted the chef to dedicate more than 18 months to fermentation and what it could bring to the kitchen. Following numerous experiments, came the conclusion: "Before, when we talked about the land, there was talk of a single geographic area. Now, a new dimension is added: taste. Through fermentation, it was discovered that celery grown in Normandy, Paris or the south of France did not have the same flavor", said the chef.
"Sauce is the verb of French cuisine"
Of course, Yannick Alléno's goal is not to ferment all of his raw materials. But when the process brings real added value, it is like a "boost, a shock wave" of taste. Because the chef is convinced, "fermentation allows for a product to be tasted in depth." And to further intensify this taste, the chef sometimes performs the extraction of certain fermented products to give them a new length on the palate.
To support his statements, the chef even let us taste a lobster served in a celery blend extract with fermented cabbage. It is strong, powerful, intense ... So much so that the taste of this sauce will remain impregnated on our palates until lunchtime.
And that is precisely what counts for Yannick Alléno: "My desire is for people to understand that sauce is the verb of French cuisine, it is the only thing able to harmoniously bring together two totally different products to form a coherent dish. My goal is to put sauce in the heart of the debate. It was demonised by the health-based offensive that made us believe that sauce was too fatty and bad for our health", he insisted. "If the collective unconscious is convinced of this today, it is because sauces were poorly made for years. It's like a bad painter copying a work by Picasso. At the end, we get a dud. It's the same for sauces. It takes time and experience. It takes 15 years of work to become a good saucier!"
There is no use in trying to shake the chef from his convictions. Does fermentation bring bacteria into food? "Wine is fermented, and I have never been ill from drinking wine unless I drink too much of it", he jokes.
Does the sauce mask the taste of food? "I might agree, but let's distinguish two things: a plain tomato without frills can be delicious, but it's not in cuisine, it's food. For me, my goal is the gastronomisation of the land, to pay tribute to nature. My job is the art of looking for new flavours that have never been experienced before.
"When we create a sauce, we seek out the energy of different flavours just like when creating a great champagne", says the chef, who has developed exceptional dishes through all of his research. We particularly note the signature dish of the Pavillon Ledoyen: Avocados left for 18 months on the tree in a celery millefeuille and coconut extraction with chia slivers, a monument than an amateur chef would not have the audacity to try to recreate at home. "And even better” he jokes. “That way people will come here more often."