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Alain Senderens is a genius! An icon of French gastronomic history, yes. But now I know why; he dares fly in the face of convention. Take a little thing like olive oil, just like you, I’ve got shelves full, every time I go anywhere someone flogs me an expensive bottle guaranteed to be more extra virginal that the last metziah — fruitier, fuller bodied. If it was Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tim Robbins (bottled) I could understand why I always surrender, but a bottle of olive oil? Why am I such a walkover, an easy lay?
“And never put it in the refrigerator”, they warn. I feel if I do I’ll experience the apocalypse now, the plague, my children will crash their Porsches’s, not get reservations at Lucas Carton! Anyway as from to-day I’m liberated, I’ve burned my bridges, I’ve not only put my O & Co in the fridge, I’ve poured it into the ice cube trays, added a basil leaf (or I could have used mint, parsely, thyme etc). Next time I grill, steam, fry my rouget/sardines/sea-bass, I’ll just whip out a cube of frozen olive oil and let it drizzle all over the fish….mmmmm…merci Alain, sorry Olivier (that’s Baussan – head honcho at O & Co.).
I’m lunching with Senderens in his private dining room above his Lucas Carton restaurant, he’s testing new dishes. The room is circular, art nouveau with carved wood panelling, the walls covered in framed menus of his co- three- star Michelin confreres. The table is set with starched white cloth and silver signature cutlery, all chosen by Eventhia Senderens, a woman of immense elegance and style. Tall lilies gaze from the fireplace, Senderens sits, gets up, shouts some instructions. “I’m not a man of spectacle”, he insists. Senderens hates working the room, prefers to lunch most days, with his chef Frederic Robert (ex-Vivarois, Grand Vefour, Grande Cascade and L’Amboisie), sommelier Jerome Moreau and Madame. They debate the merits of, say, a tempura of sole, émulsion de conconbre perfumé au curry de Madras matched with a Condrieu “Les Grandes Chailléés 2000”. Because that’s what Senderens does, has been doing for some time, flying in the face of tradition.
“For many years I have been passionate about the harmonies between food and wine, inspired after a dinner with Jacques Puisay, who founded The Institute of Taste”, he says. Subequently Senderens took courses in oenology at Dijon and Bordeaux. “I look for notes in a wine of fresh or dried fruit, woodland flavours, herbs and then I’m inspired to create a dish, to evolve my classics such as Canard Apicius”. The wine frames the dish, choosing the wrong wine can rob a dish of 40% of it’s flavour, which is sad”, he explains. Not only are wines matched to the mains, but to the starters, dessert and cheese. The Dom Pérignon 1995, which we are sipping, with notes of almonds, pistachios and citrus fruits enhance the amuse bouche of “avocado, crab and Thai spices — cappuccino d’asperges de la Durance au lait d’amande, pistaches au sucre”. “To create a dish for a wine is a “cuisine of courtoisie”, says Senderens. “It’s a crossroads of taste, a gastronomic initiation to the combination of the liquid and the dry. For me it’s the cuisine of tomorrow, to-day”.
Thoughtfully tasting a Chateauneuf du Pape — Chateau de Beaucastel 2000, Senderens says that this wine has been produced by Monsieur Perrin, “a genius who lets his terroir express itself”. Matched with a Rouget Barbet baked in a salt crust, and with the melting Kalamata olive oil ice cubes - see above) making the sauce, it’s a marriage made in heaven. “At first, when I suggested pairing some cheeses with white wine, people thought I was crazy, now it’s accepted”, he recalls cutting a sliver of Briquette de l’Ardeche as Moreau pours a glass of Saint Joseph blanc 2000 from Monsieur Gripa. There’s also warm bread studded with juicy white raisins.
To follow we taste an Italian Muscat with notes of lemon, ginger, pepper and honey, “Moscadello di Montalcino” 1999 – Tenuta Col d’Orcia is paired with a Sechuan pepper meringue, a marmalade of citron confit and ginger ice-cream. Jerome Moreau says that 70-80% of Lucas Carton’s wines are now sold by the glass with the menu. “It encourages diners to be more adventurous, they love it”, he says. But don’t expect obscure world wines, “as a French 3-star chef why should I look beyond Europe?” Senderens shrugs.
Senderens, born in South West France, goes misty eyed when he remembers his grandmother’s cuisine. “Times have changed”, he reflects. “Women no longer 'faire la grande cuisine bourgeois'”. That’s helpful in his evolution then, because, fifteen years ago Senderens was one of the first to see vacuum packs as the new canned food. His contract with Carrefour is highly successful and he is the saviour of more micro-waving happy families than he knows about.
A moment spent at Lucas Carton is exciting, a daring break with tradition, think of Senderens as a culinary revolutionary who will never cease to amaze, question, research. Go soon for the wonderful new Spring dishes, there’s a message in those bottles!
But where do the Senderens go?
“We like to eat out but often find that what the young chefs are doing is banal! On paper the dishes look interesting, but tasting the dish is often disappointing”. A recent discovery is a tiny restaurant serving Sardinian specialities, “Sardegna A Tavola, 1 rue Cotté, 12th.T: 01 44 75 03 28. Pascal Barbot at L’Astrance (T:01 40 50 84 40) gets the thumbs up, “but it’s so hard to get a table!” Tell me about it! Madame rather enjoys Emporio Armani Caffe for the wonderful Italian atmosphere (01 45 48 62 15)
Senderens served part of his apprenticeship at Lucas Carton, “a conservatoire for French chefs” at the time, he says”. Of his service at La Tour d’Argent, he says “They were tough, very tough, but it was a great formation”. He remembers that, arriving for work at 7am, the legendary owner Claude Terrail was going home! No, he does not recall the number of the Challens duck they were roasting at the time, and is not too sure if he wants to celebrate this weeks’ millionth duck with the likes of Woody Allen and Mick Jagger. “The older I get the more simple I want my cooking and my lifestyle to be”. Luckily Madame does not agree. “They don’t come to Lucas Carton for simple, they can do simple at home”, she smiles, that elegant smile.
9 place de la Madeleine, 8th
T: 01 42 65 22 90
Mark you calendars for next year! You should know that May 6th is International No Diet Day.