The French Connection: Chef Alain Passard On How Fruits And Vegetables Are His True Heroes

At 9 am on a foggy November morning in the capital’s Aerocity, Alain Passard sips his coffee with evident relish. It’s hard to believe that the sixty-three-year-old Michelin starred-chef just stepped off a flight from Paris mere hours ago and, even as we chat over uttapam and parathas, is readying for an onwards flight to Jaipur.

Arguably the world’s best-known vegetarian chef, Passard is helming a super-select cocktail dinner at Jaipur’s historic Amer Fort that will kick off Bonjour India, an Indo-French collaborative festival that will run until February next year.

Though the prospect of cooking in an alien environment may be daunting, Passard, chef-owner of L’Arpege, Paris, is confident that what works in France will work in a fort thousands of miles away!

This confidence isn’t misplaced as Passard is no stranger to taking risks. Back in 2001, he stunned his patrons when he decided to take meat off his menu at L’Arpege — unheard of in a country with a strong tradition of meat and charcuterie. And Passard was at its vanguard, having spent over three decades perfecting the art of slow roasting meats. “I felt I had learned everything I could from meat, and, as a chef, I felt I needed to take a risk and do something different,” he says.

Poultry and fish appear occasionally on the menu, but red meat is still a strict no-no. L’Arpege — French for harp, in tribute to his musician father — has now become synonymous with its innovative pairings and all things vegetarian. However, Passard admits that his palate is guided by cyclical moods — three months ago he turned vegan, just to challenge his cooking further.

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