Crazy new, crazy French or just plain crazy?
Yannick Alleno is hard to miss amid the partygoers at Sofitel Le Faubourg in Paris. He is, after all, the only man dressed in chef whites. As the person behind the hotel’s feted culinary reinvention, he is all smiles, but his reason for being there is all business. “Hotels need chefs now to help create their brands. It’s good business for a hotel to be a culinary destination," he says of his latest venue, Stay.
His third star, won earlier this year for his Parisian restaurant Pavillon Ledoyen, is, he says, “a symbol. It says ‘I’m back’. Michelin seems to look on my work as being crazy new but also crazy French. I want to be recognised for trying new things, but also for doing those things for my country, as Escoffier did, to give a good image of French cuisine. Besides, I love that element of competition. And as a chef, getting three stars is, as you can imagine, just crazy too."
In 2008, Alleno put two feathers in his cap – winning Chef of the Year and launching Groupe Yannick Alleno. He has built his reputation by challenging many of the conventions which have threatened to render obsolete what was once the grand-daddy of cuisine. He does this by updating old local, Parisian or Ile-de- France recipes, both in terms of simplifying their ingredients and rethinking their presentation.
Much of this process involves reimagining the role of sauces. Alleno’s four key ones are tomato (“far from being a simple sauce"), hollandaise/Bearnaise, jus de veau (“the symbol of nouvelle cuisine") and chicken extraction (“incredibly precise, the apex of taste"). “Sauces haven’t seen any evolution for decades," he laments, adding that he sees in this “a fantastic opportunity to do new things".
For Alleno, this has meant divesting sauces of their customary butter and flour, and introducing an aromatic element – creating them in the pan through heat reduction, which he says “allows for greater control over the flavours".
He has also experimented with cryoconcentration. This involves taking extracted liquid – a sauce in the making – and adding it to a sorbet-style ice before spinning it at high speed in a centrifuge.
The liquid is then drained and the remaining ice acts as a kind of cold evaporation. “Then you can blend your sauce as you might with a champagne," he explains. The result is sauces that are light, pure and intense. “Finally, you just need a new way of putting it on the plate, a concern which is very French of course," he quips.
Indeed, Alleno is all about pushing the modern envelope. He describes the 1,200-page, 17kg Ma Cuisine Francaise cookery book he launched last year as a way of putting a certain period of his professional life behind him. All those outsized pages have given him a clean slate. “I needed to close the book on my past, so to speak," he says, “specifically on nouvelle cuisine. Doing the book has given me more freedom to look forward. In fact, it’s amazing how I feel about cooking now because of that book. It feels like a new period to me and I think you can see it on the plates. There’s a certain maturity to them."
Three-star Michelin chef, Stay
French-born Yannick Alléno is an acclaimed restauranteur with numerous accolades under his belt. The three-star Michelin chef has is known for his ability to innovate and manipulate ingredients. In 2008, he launched the Group Yannick Alléno, aiming to offer his expertise to hotliers and professionals in the food and beverage industry.