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History in the making

Categories: News and previews

Ahead of his upcoming Bastille Day demo, Luke Robinson pays homage to one of the founding fathers of nouvelle cuisine: Alain Senderens

Alain Senderens shaped French cuisine. He saw the future of cooking while many of his peers were firmly planted in the past. When I was asked to demonstrate classic French cooking this coming Sunday in celebration of Bastille day, I almost immediately decided to take inspiration from Alain, who sadly recently passed away.

Along with Paul Bocuse, Pierre Troisgros, Michel Guérard and many other students of chef Fernand Point, Alain spearheaded nouvelle cuisine, turning his back on over-complication, heavy use of butter, over-saucing and long menus, swapping for a lighter, cleaner, regionally-focused type of cooking. There is a brilliant series of cookery books featuring Alain and nouvelle cuisine and what I really love about them is, they don’t rely on photographs to portray the food; the action is all in the words.

Alain Senderens had many famous dishes, but he is perhaps best known for the pairing of vanilla with lobster and butter—a dish I’ll be cooking at my upcoming demonstration. It’s a pairing only a seasoned chef with an exceptional palate could manage to pull together, and represents his status as a master of cooking. Remarkably, Alain was also the first to pair wine with the menu, using it to elevate the dish and as an important part of the meal as a whole. He also famously used sous vide cooking—something that didn’t really become mainstream until the late nineties.

Relaxing the room
After holding three Michelin stars for 27 years at L’Archestrate, at the Lucas Carton in Paris he handed back the stars and reinvented himself. This allowed him to serve more relaxed food at a reduced price, treating sardines with the same care as turbot. Another important feature of this transformation was stripping the table cloths and table decoration, relaxing the room and the clientele—a path many chefs have followed in the last few years, as the dining scene has become much less formal.

One thing remains unchanged, however, and that is the value of delving into our culinary past as inspiration for even the most innovative of chefs: Heston Blumenthal pays homage to British heritage at Dinner in the Mandarin Oriental; Alain took inspiration from Apicius, a Roman cookbook translation which he brought into the modern era with his roast duck, dates, cumin and honey recipe—a dish that I am going to demonstrate this Sunday.

Join Luke for tips, tastings and recipes in the Market Hall on Sunday 9th July, 12:30-1:30pm and 2-3pm