FT Foodies: Alain Passard

Alain Passard is head chef at three Michelin-starred restaurant L’Arpège in Paris. For more than a decade he has eschewed meat in most of his dishes, instead focusing on vegetables, supplied by his own organic farm outside the capital.

Do you have your own Proust’s madeleine – a food that instantly brings back memories?
My grandmother’s shellfish, served still steaming with herbs and fresh butter.

What was the first job you were given in the kitchen?
As an apprentice chef (I remember the first day was July 13 1971) my tasks were to peel the shallots, finely chop the parsley and flute the lemons.

Were you ever tempted by another profession?
Oh yes, many others – I was very interested in couture, sculpture, painting, music and architecture – but I was only tempted by experiences where there could be beauty in the execution.

Were there any chores you disliked?
No, nothing. Even the washing up can be beautiful if you do it properly.

How would your sous-chefs describe you?
As a teacher, someone who helps the young to learn, and as a ferryman – someone who is concerned about passing on their profession.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find it in nature, in those in my entourage, in my gardens, at the Opéra de Paris, at the museum and listening to jazz.

Is the customer always right?
Yes, always. I am there to serve others’ commands, and I always do what I am asked to do. I put aside my own concerns when faced with a client who orders a dish cooked a certain way or asks for a certain seasoning.

Who are your culinary heroes?
My grandmother – of whom there is a portrait hanging in my restaurant – is the one who looked over me while I first learnt to cut and cook.

What appeals to you in particular about vegetables, as the focus of your restaurant?
My creativity comes from nature – and the smell and colour of vegetables and fruits are, for me, a real source of inspiration. I also like the lines and shapes that vegetables take, and their textures. I try to respond emotionally to nature in order to respect it fully.

What are the weaknesses, if any, left in your cooking?

What would you choose for your last meal?
An empty stomach – I would fast and then open the most beautiful cookbook, the one I’ve been waiting for all my life.

‘The Art of Cooking with Vegetables’ by Alain Passard is published by Frances Lincoln (£20).

L’Arpège, 84 rue de Varenne, Paris, +33 1 47 05 09 06

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