Chef and owner of a collection of renowned restaurants, including his eponymous three-Michelin-starred establishment in Paris, Pierre Gagnaire is a culinary icon across the globe and a leader in modern French fine dining. The legendary chef lets us in on the secret to continually creating such innovative cuisine.
What makes your restaurants special? I have restaurants in many places but I can still say that I’m always in the kitchen. It’s important for me to maintain this energy. I’m not a big company — I have it all in my own hands — so to maintain the quality of that many restaurants, I need to be in the kitchen all the time and have a very good team with me. When I take on a chef, it’s a big opportunity for them but it’s also a big opportunity for me.
How would you describe your style of cooking? I work with my heart, with passion. I try to give each dish a real identity. When I started it was easy to surprise the guests with a dish I’d made, but it’s harder now that everybody has Instagram — they’ve seen what they’re going to eat before they come. But my goal is to first create something that tastes good, and then that makes you go ‘wow.’ I think that is our signature style. Each dish is based on something classical but made into something that isn’t classical anymore.
Where do you find your inspiration? For me it’s about passion and the ambition to keep offering something new. I always want to make something special. When I’m creating new dishes I need to be alone and to be healthy, because when you’re tired it’s impossible to think. But the real secret is that the creativity comes with the product. Sometimes I become fascinated by an ingredient. For years I was fascinated by the beetroot and after I went on to licorice. I travel a lot to be in the kitchen at my restaurants and even though I don’t get my inspiration when I’m traveling, it is important to be open to it. If you close the door your creativity is dead. You must always stay open to what’s around you.
Is there a dish that stands out at restaurant Pierre Gagnaire right now? We have a special dish in which duck is marinated in cacao for two days and presented at the table at the beginning of the meal under a bell made from chocolate. The duck is smoked at the table with herbs and wine, then we break the chocolate bell and take the duck to the kitchen to be cooked. At the end of the dinner when the guest leaves, we give them a small bag with the smoked chocolate inside. Everything about that dish is classic — the way we cook it and the sauce — but the end result is something completely different.