Friday, 24 April 2009


“Chemicals, n: Noxious substances from which modern foods are made.” - Author Unknown

Pierre Gagnaire is a famous French chef who has a restaurant in the Hôtel Balzac in Paris’s seventh arrondissement. A meal there will cost you about $400 AUD per person for the food, house wine included. The type of food you can have there is interesting, to say the least, in the best tradition of nouvelle cuisine. For example, A veal gelée topped with a single white haricot bean; maize cooked in a consommé and served with egg yolk and a slice of melon. A single strawberry with a sugar glaze with stewed mango and a caramelised hazelnut, topped with a chorizo crisp and a marshmallow with red pepper purée and raw red onion. A frozen pink grapefruit ice cream topped with a radish, chives inside filo pastry, puff pastry served with goat’s cheese and seaweed and a wholemeal bread stick. And that’s only for starters!

For main course, you can sample sole with apple and pink grapefruit, served with braised lettuce, turnip, spring onion, peas and cream sauce. Shellfish consommé and five very tender crayfish with a cream sauce. Duck cooked in small pieces in a gravy of the cooking juices, along with a dish of potato with a crisp outside and laced with foie gras and girolles. While dessert can include a caramel soufflé with allspice, served with liquorice ice cream and a glass of caramel syrup topped with a swirl of spun caramel; or maybe you would fancy a chocolate soufflé with a chocolate sauce served on a dessert bowl rather than a soufflé dish. Maybe all you would want would be a little ice cream of pistachio and chocolate, a few almonds and hazelnuts, a raspberry purée, vanilla cream and chocolate cream and a parfait of pistachio, vanilla and chocolate.

I don’t know about you, but just reading all that puts me right off. I mean, grapefruit ice cream topped with a radish? Strawberries and chorizos? Give me a break! I would like my food more honest and earthy, simple (how difficult it is to do good simple!) and tasty, savoury flavours separate to sweet ones (no I do not like sugar in my savoury dishes, nor salt in my sweet ones). Fruit is delicious on its own or in desserts - fish with apple and grapefruit? No! Nevertheless, his restaurant enjoys the status of three Michelin stars!

More recently, M. Gagnaire has outdone himself. He has created a menu based on totally synthetic ingredients! How does this sound to you: “Jelly balls in apple and lemon flavours made entirely of ascorbic acid, glucose, citric acid and maltitol (otherwise known as: 4-O-a-glucopyranosyl-D-sorbitol).” Or maybe this is more appealing: “Polyphenol sauce – made with pure tartaric acid, glucose and polyphenols”. Yummy! I hear you say…

The chef says: “In the future, chefs would shun vegetables, such as carrots, and would instead use the molecules, which make up carrots - carotenoids, pectins, fructose and glucuronic acid - instead.” M Gagnaire purports that: “If you use pure compounds, you open up billions and billions of new possibilities. It’s like a painter using primary colours or a musician composing note by note. Compound cooking not only can taste good but can also end food shortages and rural poverty because farmers could increase profitability by fractioning their vegetables.”

Oh, to have a slice of home-baked crusty bread, a freshly cut garden salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, lettuce with natural virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar! A plate of home-made gnocchi with delicious pasta sauce made slowly and naturally! M. Gagnaire can keep his Michelin stars and his 4-O-a-glucopyranosyl-D-sorbitol…

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