Yannick Alléno discusses future directions in gastronomy.
With a constellation of six Michelin stars to his name, Yannick Alléno is the epitome of modern-day fine French gastronomy. He manages no less than 18 restaurants, is passionate about pure expressions of taste and, as a chef and businessman, is considering the ways in which gastronomy can move forward. We sat down to talk with him.
What is a committed chef today?
A responsible one. I’ve launched a movement to reform the way restaurants work, to evolve from the idea of a triangular business, based on shareholders, clients and staff, to a quaternary one, including a positive impact, whether that be social or environmental. The room for improvement is vast when one starts looking on a day-to-day basis at all actions.
How about gender equality?
As much as we’d like gender equality to be a reality, it isn’t. There needs to be a general commitment and consensus around that question. Plus, to have more Michelin-starred women chefs, we need to give them better access to education and training. Safety is another important issue: young women who work for a small wage in luxury neighbourhoods can’t find a place to live nearby; coming home at night in the suburbs after a long shift is not always safe. Restaurants and communes need to be more responsible about staff lodging. For example, during peak season near the coast or in the mountains, seasonal staff migrate for work, and usually live in precarious conditions.
You co-founded the Collège Culinaire de France with Alain Ducasse. What is its aim?
We found out that there was no real, established relationship between quality growers, local producers and chefs. We’ve built an incredible network to put thousands of key players directly in touch. We see it as a democratic act, as chefs tend to keep good contacts to themselves. Gastronomy relates back to knowing about products, how they’re grown and respecting both product and the producer.
You collaborated with winemakers to produce micro-cuvées. What motivated this?
I wanted to experience it and understand wine first-hand. In France, we tend to think we know about wine, without actually understanding all the steps and knowledge that go into it. I wanted to learn from people I know are respected wine makers, such as Michel Chapoutier in the Rhône Valley or Guillaume d’Angerville in Burgundy. We looked at very small parcels, around half a hectare, that have a specific orientation and followed biodynamic principles to express the terroir of the vine. I’ve been surprised to see how winemakers use fermentation to achieve that. When a chef thinks about terroir, he sees a surface that produces a fruit or vegetable with a given taste, while winemakers focus on micro-organisms present in the soil to extract the specific character of a cépage [grape variety].
You focused on Terroir Parisien in a similar manner back in 2006?
Yes, I wanted to highlight that a product most reflects the terroir from which it comes from. And what better leap back into the history of French gastronomy than to delve into the recipes crafted in and around Paris? I imagined 75 recipes using local produce such as the asparagus from Argenteuil; cabbage from Pontoise; dandelion from Montmagny; the famous jambon [ham] de Paris; saffron from the Gâtinais; cress from Méréville; and mustard from Meaux. All these specialties relate to the land they were grown on and inform century-old recipes to this day. Today, it feels quite normal to cook and eat local produce, but such an urban ‘locavorism’ didn’t exist back then.
You’ve recently worked on an extraction technique to enhance taste.
Yes, we’ve patented an extraction process. Our guideline was the purity of taste: the extraction technique uses vacuum and cryo-extraction instead of heat, which can alter taste. Every now and then, even the most ancient techniques and knowledge need to be challenged and revised. We’re not excluding sauces from gastronomy: on the contrary, we’re focusing on expressing them in the 21st century.
What’s the future for three-Michelin starred chefs and restaurants?
One needs to know the history of gastronomy in depth to see long-lasting changes emerge. We all relate back, fundamentally, to foraging, fishing, hunting and preserving. In France, gastronomy is most of all a cultural movement: taste is achieved in the kitchen but influenced by artists, philosophers and winemakers alike. It is complexity that informs French gastronomy and the future will serve those who still want to learn and explore the boundaries of taste. Look at confits and candied fruit, for example: the last treaty on candied fruit was written by Nostradamus in 1555. Since then, there’s been no evolution in candied fruit. It’s incredible to think that there is so much room for innovation and new tastes.
This article was featured in:
The Makers Issue