The example of Alain Passard

A signature graphic novel successfully sums up the importance of the great French chef

28-04-2014
A scene taken from the storyboard of

A scene taken from the storyboard of "In the kitchen with Alain Passard" by Christophe Blain, published in Italy by Bao Publishing, 88 pages, 15 euros (the English version was published last year by Chronicle Books). This graphic novel sheds some light on one of the greatest (and wariest) chefs in the world - since 1986 at the helm of restaurant Arpège in Paris, 3 Michelin stars. It also contains 14 unpublished recipes

The beautiful book translated in Italy by Bao Publishing, “In the kitchen with Alain Passard” by Christophe Blain, didn’t make too much noise on its publication. It is beautiful for various reasons: it is a graphic novel based on a chef – one of the very first in the kind – and it is signed by a great French comic artist, a very fun one. We can already bet on the future success of this genre in the gastronomic circuits.

The book cover of the Italian edition, you can buy it here

The book cover of the Italian edition, you can buy it here

The book is focused on one of the greatest chefs in the world. Fifty-seven year old Alain Passard is a silent queen bee in the Parisian and world scene. Those who keep to the surface, accuse his restaurant of being the most expensive in the world (the tasting menu is 350 euros); those who scratch to see what’s below, for instance his colleague on the other side of the Ocean, David Kinch, do not hesitate in defining him «the only chef in the world who can unequivocally define himself an artist».

Passard took over the establishment in Rue de Varenne in 1986, after Alain Senderens, a Nouvelle Cuisine guru and his master. He changed the restaurant’s name from Archestrate to Arpège and led it straight away to one (1987), then two (1988) stars, and a few years later (1996) to the highest achievement. It’s funny how, in a scene in which the chef speaks with Blain, the pupil bucks off his master: «I’ll never open a second restaurant», he tells the comic artist who had the honour of watching his work behind the scenes for weeks, «I enjoy cooking, with people coming exactly for this reason. It seems that all of a sudden for other chefs this is no longer the case. They’re never in the restaurant. They’re no longer interested. Even Senderens, my master, one of the founders of the contemporary chef myth. He’s a genius, but I cannot do without the action in the kitchen».

Alain Passard, 57 years old. In between his pupils, Pascal Barbot, Adeline Grattard, François Chartier and Bertrand Grébaut

Alain Passard, 57 years old. In between his pupils, Pascal Barbot, Adeline Grattard, François Chartier and Bertrand Grébaut

This dialogue perfectly explains the anachronism of a chef who does not like to appear but prefers to stay in the kitchen, composing his cuisine légumière: he enjoys cooking vegetables with carrot oil, cutting vegetables with surgical precision, creating mixes based on colours firstly. He’s a dandy «in a constant trance» who exerts his authority without ever raising his voice. His behaviour puts the haute heaviness aside: «Royale style hare? It’ll take you two days to digest this dish», he explains at one point, «I find handling a dead animal exhausting, just the idea makes my eyes sore». It is so much better placing on the triple-starred table some carrots and turnips that are still covered in earth.

This is where we arrive to the most incredible part of the book: the comic artist’s trip to the vegetable garden in Fillé sur Sarthe, Passard’s real Eldorado, a 2-hour drive from the capital, 4 hectares of cultivated land and 55 of forest, the source of most of the vegetables you will find at his table in Paris. «Four tons of tomatoes and 2 and a half of onions come from here», Sylvain explains. «See those apple trees? Each one gives life to a different fruit». They are essential for the making of Bouquet de rose, his famous rendition of apple cake, «it’s the best recipe I have ever created», Passard lightens up at one point.

Sylvain, Passard’s trusted horticulturist

Sylvain, Passard’s trusted horticulturist

The one in Sarthe is only one of Arpège’s 3 vegetable mines: the soil is sandy, perfect for cultivating asparagus too, as well as carrots and leeks, all strictly organic. But then there’s the clayey soil in Eure, a fertile land for cabbage or celeriac and the alluvial soil in Manche, perfect for aromatic herbs. This is an incredibly current home-made-foraging project: every chef who really has the destiny of our planet and that of what we eat at heart, should follow the example of Passard’s tireless passion. «Do you every go on holiday?», Blain asks him. «Never», replies the chef, «holidays are for people who work». What an example.


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