Jul 17, ’21
Featured in 10th
edition of Luxeat Insider
French chef Alain Passard may not resemble a radical vegetable lover on a mission to change the way the culinary high-brow consider produce, yet he has, completely. A green superpower? As he confides, “I’m a different man when I’m in the vegetable patch”.
Passard sees a world of creative possibility in cooking fruits, herbs and vegetables, far more than in working with animal proteins. Something I particularly like about Passard is his preference for simple vegetables, like the common carrot or turnip, which he manages to turn into rare delights.
The succession of bright salads and lightly-cooked vegetables that make up his menus are proof that he is still being inspired by the garden almost 15 years after putting the harvest at the center of his cooking. Think, a simple salad twinkled with bright edible flowers, vegetable-stuffed zucchini blossoms as delightful to look at as they were to eat, or a surprising dessert paired luscious roasted plums with sorrel leaves.
I’m a different man when I’m in the vegetable patch.
A maître rôtisseur, Passard opened his much-revered Paris restaurant l’Arpège in 1986 and quickly made a name for himself with his impeccable slow-roasted meats. Then in 2001, he stunned the (food) world when he announced that red meat and fish would no longer appear on his menu. He seemed like an eccentric outlier at a time when molecular cuisine and meaty mains were, literally on everyone’s lips.
Passard cultivates more than 500 varieties of vegetables across his three farms across France, each with their unique qualities that bring particular richness to his menus. From the sandy soil and beehives in the Sarthe, the clay soil in the Eure, while the most recent, the Jardin des Porteaux, located opposite the bay of Mont St Michel has its own orchard.
The farms use low-impact techniques inspired from permaculture, a beyond-organic gardening method that uses natural systems and relationships between plants and animals to promote healthy soil for sustainable agriculture. Animals are used instead of machines to work the land, and incorporate natural pest control methods—like pond frogs to eat salad-hungry bugs. Passard’s carefully tended vegetables are driven into Paris everyday in time for lunch at l’Arpège; they never see the crisper drawer of a refrigerator, which perhaps accounts for their intense flavor.
Passard may have shocked the world in 2001, but his dedication and artistry in all things vegetable have taken root. It’s a delight to see the number of restaurant-owned farms cropping up across the world, as more and more chefs realize that Passard was onto something when he walked away from meat all those years ago. Today he’s looked at as the pioneer of back-to-the-land cooking, not only for his emphasis on vegetables, but also for his commitment to cultivating them with the utmost respect.