Alex Gauthier showcased his exciting innovations on French culinary form at this year’s StarChefs showcase. You might think that classic French cuisine is all played out, that there’s nowhere to go from fine terrine of foie gras or coq au vin. If you think that, Alex Gauthier’s menu at La Grenouillère intends to prove you wrong.
It’s not that the ingredients or the flavors are new; rather, it is the techniques he uses to manipulate his food into something that stands apart from traditional cuisine. It is not surprising, then, that Gauthier believes his work has created a totally unique experience at the French table. Indeed, by merely changing the physical structure of his food, he changes the way we eat it, and thus how we taste it. His work lives through the “architexture” of food.
By now you must be curious to know what’s so magical about Gauthier’s cuisine – fortunately, he did not cut corners in his demonstration. We sampled six examples of his new nouvelle cuisine (forgive my Anglicization), but four were particularly interesting. These were the roasted, buttered green bean bundles with mint and basil, grilled squid with pomade of fresh pig’s blood, a most divine potato strip “pasta” cooked in smoked-garlic-infused butter, and his most “pretentious” dish (in the sense that Gauthier, a French chef, has deigned to serve corn to Americans) a sweet corn dessert, which presented the ingredient in a variety of unusual textures.
Out of those four, the most interesting were the vegetarian savory dishes. While his ability to pull bright flavor out of gelatinized pig’s blood is remarkable, the combination with the squid was not the highlight of the demonstration. It was excellent and flavorful, but perhaps not the best early morning fare.
Much like the pig’s blood showcased Gauthier’s encyclopedic culinary knowledge, the green beans were a showcase of technical ingenuity. By bundling the beans around sprigs of mint and basil and then roasting them in butter for just the right length of time, he created a beautifully simple plate whereupon no two bites would taste or feel the same. The herbs imparted their flavor to the beans in the center of the bundles, which remained fresher, if somewhat steamed, compared to the browned, succulent beans on the outer limits. All in all, it was wonderful study in contrasts.
Although the potato pasta appeared to be one of the simpler dishes of his demonstration, it was my favorite of the demonstration. It’s a clever take on a European classic. In his area of France, potatoes and garlic is one of the most popular dishes; northern Italy shares similar tastes, although they replace the potato with pasta. Gauthier bridged the gap – he chooses large, cylindrical potatoes with thin skins, cooks them till they’re tender, and then shaves perfectly al dente noodles from their bodies. In the meantime, he cooks cold-smoked garlic in butter so as to inject the butter with the essence of garlic before cooking the pasta in the same pan. The end result is marvelous, a dish that I would not mind sitting down to night after night.
It gave me great pleasure to taste what he whipped up in the demonstration area; each one featured a different twist on more classic French cuisine. It was one of the most exciting culinary demonstrations that I was lucky enough to observe – both for the novelty of eating buttery potato pasta and green beans bundled like tiny logs and for the gratification of seeing such a promising and innovative up-and-comer in the French culinary game. I look forward to visiting La Grenouillère with my father as one of the top highlights of our upcoming European adventure. Expect a full report in the near-ish future!
All photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D.