2001, the year of Alain Passard’s revolution

Restaurant Arpège was once known for meat. Then it focused on vegetables, and changed the restaurant industry

23-04-2019
Alain Passard, 62, since 1986 chef at restaurant 

Alain Passard, 62, since 1986 chef at restaurant Arpège in Rue de Varenne 84, Paris, 3 Michelin stars uninterrupted since 1996 (a portrait by Douglas McWall)

Alain Passard is not just a chef. He’s the first cook to create an entire menu based on vegetables, in a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. Before him, the culinary world was not ready for an exclusively vegetal fine dining establishment; but Passard has managed to change the rules and the perception given to fine dining.

Let’s start from the moment before this change: until 2001 restaurant Arpège in Rue Varenne was mostly known for its excellent meat. Since it opened in 1986, Parisian bonvivantsqueued to try the Steak entrecôte and duck, a masterpiece of experimentation: half chicken and half duck, it was sewn together with a thread. Passard, a pupil of the great Alain Senderens – from whom he had bought the location of Arpège – offered great French classics, with his personal take: buttery, generous, rich in meaty flavours, almost never vegetal.

One day everything changed. Alain could no longer look at meat: he started to considere it as a bloody, lifeless matter. He decided it was time to change. As he admits today, his salvation came from his two vegetable gardens, on the outskirts of Paris. Alain started to study the possible combinations of fruits and vegetables, salads and herbs and, step by step, he started to trace a new history, in which meat was no longer the main character.

Vegetable carpaccio 

Vegetable carpaccio 

Vegetal sushi with beetroot, olives and Balsamic vinegar 

Vegetal sushi with beetroot, olives and Balsamic vinegar 

Arpège Egg

Arpège Egg

His usual clients didn’t immediately get the audacity and the revolutionary force of this project; they didn’t agree with the sudden change, the abrupt ode to vegetables. They were expecting something meaty, bloody, juicy. Passard started to explain that Arpège was no longer the same, it no longer existed: vegetables were to characterise the new phase in the development of gastronomy. They could fill you and be appreciated in a new way, even though people were not ready yet.

Passard doesn’t give up easily. In fact, the challenge of melting his clients’ scepticism made him work even harder. And soon the results came.

Already on the first year of this almost vegetarian change in the menu, Arpège confirmed its 3 Michelin stars. Since then, the cook has never ceased to explore the endless roads of the vegetal world. This resulted in the birth of iconic dishes, the result of great experiments, creative processes, flights of fancy. Signature dishes like Arpege egg ( "hot-cold egg"), Jerusalem artichoke risotto, Vegetal Sushi, Ravioli with seasonal vegetables, Beetroot tartare, Vegetal carpaccio and Onion au gratin, an exercise that joins classic French tradition with Passard’s innovation.

With attention and carefulness, the usual clients  gradually started to appreciate this new phase. After a while, they started to return to Arpège. When in 2010 Passard started to serve meat once again, clients wanted mostly the vegetarian options. The cook from La Guerche-de-Bretagne had completed his revolution. 

Onion au gratin 

Onion au gratin 

Beetroot tartare 

Beetroot tartare 

Chocolate mount blank 

Chocolate mount blank 

Thanks to him, the restaurant industry is no longer the same. Through his example, he taught people to eat, cook, and love vegetables. He has shown that vegetarian cuisine can be fine and experimental. He has traced the future of fine dining.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

See also
The example of Alain Passard


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