Best known for his triple-Michelin-star restaurant La Vague d’Or at Cheval Blanc St-Tropez, if there was a culinary walk of fame, 44-year-old chef Arnaud Donckele’s name would be firmly cemented on it. That’s why the recent unveiling by Donckele of Plenitude — his new fine dining restaurant at the new Cheval Blanc hotel in Paris — represents one of the city’s most anticipated openings of 2021.
As well as Michelin stars, the beautiful Mediterranean-inspired works of art that the French chef plates up at his St-Tropez outpost have earned the restaurant a 19/20 rating in the Gault Millau guide as well as Donckele the title of Gault Millau ‘Chef of the Year’. Of course, we also have to mention the award of ‘World’s Best Chef 2019’ at the prestigious World Chefs Summit, in which the chef from Normandy pipped the likes of Yannick Alleno and former mentor Alain Ducasse to the top prize. However, despite continuing to rack up the accolades, the creative chef isn’t one to court the limelight, often preferring his food to do the talking.
The question is: will the food of Donckele at Plenitude be able to replicate the same level of success as the food of La Vague d’Or? The answer is, it’s highly likely.
His new restaurant is a sentimental celebration of the French terroirs, the intrinsic role the seasons play in creating the country’s diverse bounty and the small-scale producers, artisans and fishermen that cultivate it. Donckele has placed great emphasis on building strong ties with ethical and sustainable suppliers. It is through this that the chef says he hopes to put the savoir-faire back at the heart of the meal.
Immensely passionate about creating pleasure for all who are lucky enough to taste his food, Donckele is the type of chef who wants to move diners with his cooking. “The essential ingredients of a recipe are heart and affection: cooking is an act of love, of generosity, so that everyone can discover their own Proust’s madeleine,” he says.
The chef was introduced to the culinary world at a young age via his parents who ran a butcher’s shop whilst also working in catering. Certain a career in the kitchen was for him, Donckele went on to work under the likes of renowned chefs Olivier Brulard, Michel Guérard and Alain Ducasse before taking the helm at La Vague d’Or. Donckele will still manage the seminal eatery when it opens during the summer months but it is Plenitude that will remain his key focus until then.
Inspired by the culinary culture of the countryside, France’s rural traditions form the base of Plenitude’s menus. And in particular, sauces. This may be a surprisingly specific thing to focus on but when you think about it, nobody can lay historical claim to a good sauce quite like the French. Sabayons, veloutés, vinaigrettes, broths, consommés; each fermented, jared, aged in the time-honored tradition of preservation. With these aromatic elixirs, Donckele combines garden-grown herbs and whatever seasonal veg, fish and meat arrive in the morning. It is this philosophy that forms the two tasting menus at Plenitude.
Taking inspiration from alchemy, each of Donckele’s skillfully complex “magic potions” has been given a number. For example, his Velours n°1 is composed of bonito belly filets, prawn consommé, Lambrusco-and Chardonnay vinegar, chestnut honey and citron essence, rosemary infusion, roasted fish-head oil and Java pepper. Others include Juice n°2, Cream n°7, Vinaigrette n°6 or Bouillon n°9. You get the picture.
The seasonal six-course ‘Symphony’ menu is a “composition of sauces in six acts.” Dishes include Scarlet shrimp with artichoke and buddha’s hand (a citrus fruit shaped like an octopus). This is adorned with a foamy velvet sauce named ‘Chopin Carmin’ made up of a shrimp broth infused with citron and Thai basil and a touch of bergamot. Then there is the Turbot with sea apple, hazelnut and caviar. This is married with Donckele’s ‘Ode a Liode’ broth of fish stock, caramelized lemon and lemon balm branch, plankton, flat oyster and Furio wine vinegar.
If diners want more of a selection, they can opt for the ‘Sail Away Together Menu’ which offers three savory dishes chosen from the wider prelude, fish, meat offerings and one sweet treat to finish.
For dessert, Donckele has collaborated with renowned pastry chef, Maxime Frédéric (who also oversees the baked delicacies available at Cheval Blanc Paris’s patisserie-focused restaurant, Limbar). Dessert is also sauce-led with decadent jus and emulsions covering an array of fruity delights.
Both menus come with the option of wine pairings featuring exceptional French vintages and meticulously selected bottles from little-known global producers.
Perched on the first floor of the hotel overlooking the River Seine, Plenitude’s dining room offers a chic and intimate ambiance to sample Donckele’s creations. The light and bright setting, like the rest of the hotel was designed by in-demand American architect Peter Marino, only adding to its style credentials.
Plenitude, Cheval Blanc Paris, 8 quai du Louvre, 75001 Paris, chevalblanc.com