Paul Pairet, more-than-a-show

Here’s the French chef, though he doesn’t look like it, who’s creating much noise with Ultraviolet in Shanghai

French Paul Pairet is the chef at Ultraviolet in S

French Paul Pairet is the chef at Ultraviolet in Shanghai: beloved by his colleagues, he offers a very original format combining food, images, sounds, emotions. Not to everyone’s liking however... Alessandra Gesuelli reports

Even Asia’s number one, Anand Gaggan (we wrote about him here), was afraid for a moment that the first place would end up in China, when in Bangkok the top ten at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2016 was announced. After all, there had been insistent rumours that Paul Pairet was among the favourites for the first place (in the end, he got the Chefs' Choice Award). We’ll see now where he’ll stand in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in New York in June. Because ever since he opened his Ultraviolet in Shanghai, in 2012, everyone has been speaking of Pairet.

French, cosmopolitan, in love with Asia. He started by standing out at the Paris Cafe Mosaic where he arrived after acquiring experience all around the world. Alain Ducasse noticed him and hired him at the Ritz Carlton in Istanbul. In 2005 Asia called him and his adventure in Shanghai thus begun. In 2009 he opened casual and innovative French restaurant Mr & Mrs Bund, where he presents classics and new takes. The Chinese metropolis fell in love with him and he soon went up the critics’ lists in Asia. For 15 years however Pairet also had another dream and it came true in 2012 when he opened Ultraviolet.

Four of the possible "disguises" of the dining room at Ultraviolet

Four of the possible "disguises" of the dining room at Ultraviolet

Performance cuisine
On the one hand, chefs from all around continue to appreciate his innovative project, on the other, he is criticised as “trendy” for this very reason. And who cares if Ultraviolet is only one of his two souls, the more revolutionary side project. Meanwhile Pairet is no longer the only one to present such formats: in 2013 the Roca brothers launched the el Somni experiment, the following year Paco Roncero from Madrid presented something similar in Ibiza with his Sublimotion. And even Ferran and Albert Adrià arrived in the Balearic Islands in 2015 with Heart, a food and performance experience designed together with Cirque du Soleil, which is to be back this summer too.

Food at the heart
Not everyone likes Pairet. For some his is always going to be “a marketing activity”. This is what happens to someone who presents a multi-sensorial cuisine, a dinner as an immersive totalising experience, combining location, taste and even the guests’ emotions. The chef, for sure, has different ideas: «It’s not a show, just a new way of sharing the experience of a meal. I believe food stays at the heart and it must always be good», he says in English, with a strong French accent, an army style beret on his head, the unshaven face of a fine dining bad boy.

This is how Ultraviolet is designed: you book online, there’s only one table for ten people, twenty dishes and two menus, UVA and UVB. Clients arrive all together, the location is formally secret, and guests are driven there on a van from the meeting point, which is Pairet’s other restaurant. How about the prices? It’s not cheap, starting from 500 euros per person.

Tomato Mozza and Again

Tomato Mozza and Again

A dinner nonetheless
In the dining room you sit at the table, surrounded by gigantic screens on which images are projected recalling the texture and origin of the dishes and the ingredients. It’s a continuous and elegant game of references to which one has to add music, lights and even scents. «We’re not focusing on the scenic effect though. We don’t want to distract guests from the food. This is why we modulate the stimuli, which must enhance the main dinner experience and not take its place. I’ve never thought of calling famous video makers or DJs. In fact, what happens all around is much simpler than one would think, so much so, if we removed everything, it would still be an excellent dinner», he explains.

Of course, one must pay for the experience and then, among the guests, there are those who get touched to tears in front of an image, a scent recalling their memories. And this doesn’t happen elsewhere. «I believe the menu and the creation of the dishes come first. Images and all the rest are ancillary. Hence it is taste that must prevail on all my creative work, and the technique I choose come as a consequence. As in my Tomato Mozza and Again: two twin dishes, presented together, which turn out to be different in flavour, one is savoury and one is sweet, but with common ingredients, one with tomato and mozzarella, the other with red fruits, mozzarella and sweet tomato pulp».

See also: Journey to the centre of the earth with Pairet, by Claudio Grillenzoni


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