Yannick Alleno, the superchef with rock-star looks and 3 Michelin stars, is creating a new Paris cuisine in the glass and steel kitchens of the Hotel Meurice, Paris. “French cuisine was born on the Ile de France and surrounding villages, using local products”, he explains. When the first restaurants opened after the French Revolution, chefs used what came from the countryside near Paris, it’s time to get back to the future!”
Recently Alleno decided to show some friends that the Paris region still produces wonderful ingredients. It’s 8am, we pile into a bus outside Le Meurice, where Salvador Dali once dangled live lobsters from his balcony. Alleno was taking us on a short culinary voyage of discovery, the morning would finish in his dining room where we would discover his menu Terroir Parisien®, trademarked because it’s his baby.
“I used to buy my products from Rungis, until I met two young mavericks, Alexandre Drouard and Samuel Nahon who created “Terroirs d’Avenir”, part of the Slowfood International Movement, they source independent producers who grow and breed in eco-friendly conditions throughout France”. Alleno, who buys two and a half million euros worth of French products a year, admits that finding, say, the perfect mushroom brings tears to his eyes. So this is why we’re heading for the quarries at St Ouen l’Aumône where Champignons de Paris have been raised by Monsieur Spinelli’s family for three generations. “Not difficult to produce” grins Spinelli, all you need is good earth, plenty of horse manure and a temperature of 14 degrees”. Alleno leads us deep into the caves, covering 2,000 square meters, explains that for a chef a day without mushrooms is not possible. “Such a versatile vegetable I get through about three or four kilos a day”, he nibbles one and reflects on it’s minty, dry flavour. “Taste the stalk, good enough to serve “en aperitif” with a glass of white”, says Jean-Claude Ribaud, Le Monde newspaper’s food critic.
Then we’re off to Argenteuil, asparagus central of Ile de France, Drouard and Nahon explain that “champignonnistes” (mushroom growers) need as much nurturing as their champignons. “Everything is done by hand, and we’re worried about the future when these guys retire, who wants to spend twelve hours underground these days?”
“The answer’s in the sandy soil”, says Jean Berrurier, who cultivates asparagus d’Argenteuil with his son Laurent and whose great-great grandfather grew the plump white variety, with violet tips, for Napoleon 111. “You need a lot of patience”, explains Raymond Lecoin, Jean Berrurier’s father-in-law, proudly showing us a jar of asparagus seeds, the weeding is back-breaking work, we water by hand, I’m only 62, my hips have gone, but I love the land and eat asparagus every day, it’s an excellent source of vitamins. “Be careful where you walk”, he warns as he deftly demonstrates how to lift the sticks without breaking them. Monsieur Lecoin worries about the future, “I’m not eternal, who’ll take over not only the asparagus but the Pontoise cabbage patch and the dandelions de Montmagny when I’m gone? Laurent isn’t even married”, he sighs. It’s The Archers – live.
So that’s not a bad mornings’ work, on other days there could be visits to Houdan, located in the Yvelines department, west of Paris. “Black hens of Houdan, with five toes on each foot, were once more famous in Europe than Bresse Chickens”, says Alleno. Or Charcuterie Duval making Boudin de Paris (Black Pudding) to a 14th century recipe. Alleno’s now using Bovins Salers Ile-de-France beef, fattened on locally grown beetroot pulp and cereals by Claire Hamon, “their diet results in a tender very red tasty meat, only problem is it’s very expensive, but wonderful in my interpretation of pot-au-feu”, says Alleno. Born in Puteaux, just outside Paris, Alleno says: “I’ve always been fascinated with the city’s history, from dishes for royal and presidential tables to cuisine bourgeoise (good, plain food).
Le Terroir Parisien® lunch is served in the mini-Versailles style gastronomic restaurant, recently revised by Starck. It may begin with salmon, Parisian style, topped with bright green watercress sauce, duxelles of spring vegetables gleam beneath transluscent jelly. “My cooking tells the story of a new era, it’s precious to me,” says Alleno popping out of the kitchen, his chefs’ whites clinging to his super-toned body. For a middle course he pairs Spinelli’s mushrooms with puffed sole fillets, Berruriers’ Argenteuil asparagus is steamed to nutty perfection. The main (SEE PHOTO) is de-boned pink lamb, raised by the Morisseau family and cooked “Champvallon” style, the watercress de Mereville salad sparkles with olive oil and Lagny-sur-Marne cider vinegar. Or it could be aTerroir Parisien® version of Gatinais chicken with artichokes and potatoes, a dish served at Au Cabaret de Père Lathuile in 1790”.
Chef patissier Camille Lesecq presents sugar crusted roasted rhubarb, from Napoleons111’s favourite patch, with chiboust cream and warm vanilla flavoured Nanterre brioche. “This is an intelligent brioche, probably just passed its’ Science Po”, grins Alleno, in reference to the local university.
Le Terroir Parisien® menu is served Mon-Fri 90€ at lunch