Yannick Alléno: "Gastronomy must be in tune with its time"
The role of creativity, knowledge and tradition: an interview with the three starred chef and now mentor to the French S.Pellegrino Young Chef finalist.
Yannick Alléno is a pillar of French gastronomy. In 2007, at just 40–years–old, he entered the prestigious circle of the best chefs in the world by earning three Michelin stars for the restaurant at the Le Meurice hotel in Paris. In 2015 he repeated the feat, this time at the head of the Pavillon Ledoyen, and the same year he was given the Chef of the Year Award by Gault & Millau.
But the Parisian is more than just a highly successful chef. In 2008, eager to spread prized French gastronomy throughout the world, he founded his own food services group, the Yannick Alléno Group. The chef has since dedicated much of his time to various projects of reflection and research worldwide, including sauces that, in his own words, "symbolize the great French cuisine".
Having been among the Seven Sages at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015, Yannick Alléno is the jury president of the 2016 French jury and mentor to Shintaro Awa, the winner of the French final held just a few days ago.
What do you think made Shintaro Awa stand out from the other candidates?
I think that one had a demonstration of the quality of the service and a true understanding of the product – with that little box, that ‘hung’ mackerel… The right cooking, no product waste, the transformation of a simple potato into a monument of crispness: his dish is a complex French dish. Not complicated, but complex. Shintaro Awa understands French cuisine!
What advice would you give to young chefs?
You have to know tradition, master it, and know that it is exceptional in order to stray from it and come up with something totally new. It is with this approach that we signed up to develop modern cuisine as a renaissance of French cuisine itself. The first foundation of this new approach is our reflection on sauces and extraction work. The starting point is that sauce symbolises the great French cuisine; it's its beating heart, its verb. Then, with our concrete knowledge in the daily practice of its conjugation, we can develop a new era that better corresponds to our time.
What is your secret to constantly having new ideas and inventing new dishes?
Creativity is a muscle; the more we work, the more we create. However, attention must be paid in order to create something completely original. This by no means copying, revisiting or voluntarily placing yourself in opposition, but rather to focus on yourself to better stray from what exists and offer a real alternative. Going back to modern sauces, these are sauces that once did not exist. We leaned on a solid foundation in order to offer new technology and enter new grounds of expression.
What are your expectations with regards to the future of gastronomy?
Cuisine is now a worldwide phenomenon, and we are fortunate to be able to be confronted with formidable international influences, whether Moroccan or Taiwanese. As such, I think that gastronomy must be maintained in line with its time, which is extraordinary given the wealth of inspiration and information that we receive. In my opinion, modernity has several levels. We can obviously imagine meeting physical and emotional needs, and within other physiological needs, mastering nutritional intakes and gustatory pleasure. There is also the social dimension, both in terms of the respect and encouragement of individuals both in the kitchen, as well as the dining room, in the very act of gathering around a shared meal. The ecological aspect is also fundamental in our duty as regards nature, particularly by means of responsible procurement and the fierce support of local products par excellence. It is the whole purpose of the "Parisian terroir", local Parisian products that we have defended and supported for over eight years now.
Do you have any new projects? We have many wonderful projects underway. The first is in the pursuit of this work on modern cuisine, which symbolises the rebirth of French cuisine; we will unveil the second pillar of reflection – fermentation – in June. In the meantime, I would like once again [to] place the main course at the centre of attention. We will build on the model of the Gastronomic Meal of the French, recognised as a Cultural Heritage of Unesco, which constitutes the most important part of a menu: a generous and unique dish that can even stand on its own. This will be called the "Principal", or main dish, and will be served at lunch at our location on the Champs Elysées, at the Pavillon Ledoyen.