We are so lucky !
Part of our program at Ferrandi was a "chef demo". We are lucky that our chef Sebastien has great connections to chefs in Paris, one of the reasons I chose the program, by the way. So for our chef demo, he had contacted a while ago a guy that he had worked with about 10 years ago in the 3 star restaurant Arpege under Alain Passard. This "guy" was nobody less, than Pascal Barbot, chef of l'Astrance in Paris, one of the year 2007 additions to the few chefs in France, that can be proud to have three stars in the Michelin Guide Rouge.
We were completely excited about this happening to us. A three star chef, just coming exclusively to give a demo to our class !
This Monday was eventually the big day. We discovered quickly that Pascal Barbot is not how you would imagine a typical three star chef. He and his concept of cuisine are quite different from what is common in the haute-gastronomie.
He arrived in a small Peugeot, with sneakers on, and just "Pascal" on his simple chef's jacket, not even his last name. He was easy to approach, very humble, loved to share his knowledge with us, lots of energy, very young looking (he's only 34), passionate about everything he did and very inspiring to us.
In the morning he had prepared everything for our demo and here are a couple of things that he brought with him that we usually don't get to see in the classic French cusine curriculum : cédrat (the yellow fruit in the middle), pate de sesame, bergamotes, fleur de bourrache, gingembre nouveau, soja noir fermenté, pulpe de tamarin, reglisse concentré, café concentré, etc., etc....
Pascal Barbot likes to travel and his experiences and impressions from time spent in New Caledonia, Australia (where he worked 2 years), India, Japan, Scandinavia, etc. inspire his way of cooking. He surprised us with quite some statements, that we hadn't expected to hear from a French top chef. One of them was his opinion about, salt, pepper and sauces. Three elements that are key to the recipies we are working on in our program. Salt and pepper : "ridiculous". Sauces : "no need". Basically he replaces salt and pepper by other spices or flavours and sauces with "condiments", often combining classic French ingredients with Asian products.
Of course we asked him a lot of questions to learn more about him, his work and philosophy. He started his career at the age of 14, already knowing then that this was what he wanted to do, without any history of a cook or restaurant owner in the family. His kitchen in l'Astrance is half as big as our class kitchen, and he has a small team of six cooks only (I guess that is a record for 3-star restaurant). Three days per week closed, working hours from 9 to midnight everyday, with a break between the two services. L'Astrance accepts only 25 reservation per service. And he confirmed that his 3rd star will not change anything to the way he runs his restaurant. Another specifics about l'Astrance is, that customers do not get to chose the plates of their menu, and there is no a-la-carte option. You only chose the menu category (normal or big), then Pascal Barbot and his team will decide what to cook, depending on the customer habits, preferences (many regulars), and the wine chosen. I find this an amazing concept.
I asked him what he had found most difficult when moving from an employed chef to running his own restaurant. He had to think a moment and thought it was a difficult question. I would have expected something like responsibility for people, financial pressure or similar. His reply was, that he found it difficult after having always done other chef's cuisine, to find his own cuisine style. However I believe he managed that quite fast and successfully, as he got his first star only a couple of months after opening l'Astrance.
On Monday he cooked three different dishes for us :
Asperges à la poêlé, coulis cédrat et amandes caramélisés
Unbelievable, what you can make out of just a couple of green aspargus, by having a top product (Pascal Barbot works with 80 different suppliers, "the best for every product"), cooking it to perfection, and adding unusual but matching flavours and spice combinations. And then look at the colors....
Coquilles Saint Jacques dorées et condiment bergamote-sésame
This dish as well, it was done so quickly, looked so easy, but of course with the perfect cooking and a creative, but not complicated way of presentation and flavouring. Isn't it beautiful !
Selle d'agneau grillé, curry noir et poivrons rouges marinés
The preparation of this dish was so interesting, because he used the time while the meat started to cook to explain us a little bit about the right meat cooking technique. While one of his first statements was, that "it is impossible to explain how to cook a steak, as you must feel it, and this comes with experience" was a bit discouraging for me (so I will know in 10 years how to cook meat correctly ?), he demonstrated to us with the lamb saddle his key principles of good meat cooking. Most important things : "meat needs to rest", "cooking needs to go slowly", and he said "nothing, nothing has 2 sides". What he meant with this was demonstrated with the lamb saddle that during 10 minutes he kept moving and turning continuously, to make sure at the end all the sides, edges and corners of it had been in contact with the same amount of heat from the grill. It was amazing to watch. Below on the picture you can see how he used a small sauce container, to lean the meat against it. In the second phase, the lamb saddle was continued at only 85 C in the oven for 25 minutes. The result was overwhelming. I can't remember that I have ever tasted so tender lamb meat in my life. Meat that was melting in my mouth...
All in all it was an extraordinary afternoon. This will remain as one of the highlights at Ferrandi in my memory. Merci chef pour cette opportunité !
And of course it created a big desire, not only for me, to go to l'Astrance one day and enjoy more of his cooking as a customer....
4 rue Beethoven
+33 (0)1 4050 8440
(for lunch reservations call about 1 month in advance, for dinner about two months)