A Tribute to Chef Alain Senderens

Exterior of the former restaurant of Alain Senderens in Paris

Alain Senderens lived his passion to the fullest. In the ‘70s, when he was one of the main zealots of the Nouvelle Cuisine, this passion led him to exploring the age-old cuisine, taking as a model Archestrate. This was the name of his restaurant, on rue de Varenne in Paris, where Alain Passard has since established himself. Archestrate, a poet and cook from around the time of Périclès (4th century BC), had the habit of eating well and little. Born in Gela, Sicily, he was a great traveler who noted, tried and transformed the food of the time, always seeking to improve their performance and quality. In 1985, Alain Senderens joined Lucas Carton, but the spirit of Archestrate remained.

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Since 1992, Alain Senderens had been refining his masterpiece: applying to wine the principles that guided his first research, namely that a meal is in itself a story that sums up our table antecedents and constitutes a veritable archaeology of taste. This interest in wine led him to become a winemaker in the Cahors region (center of France), and then to systematically conduct experiments of coupling dishes with wines. He wanted to end the terrorism of a single wine being imposed on the guests by the host or by the sommelier, regardless of the dish the guest may be having. Unsuitable matches offended his ideal of building a dish that he intended to reserve for a wine, or a family of wines. For more and more, the wine projected itself in his culinary vision. As the painter visualizes the landscape he is preparing to fix on the canvas, Senderens began to imagine what wine, or even what vintage, would be best suited to such a dish; what nuance should be added --- here a little roasted almond, some pieces of pistachio --- to achieve perfectly the juxtaposed values ​​of the solid and the liquid.

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But he was not the first one. In 1922, Edouard de Pomiane noted that in Bordeaux, "An owner never composes the wine list according to the menu he offers. On the contrary, he composes his menu according to the wines he has at his disposal. Its only concern is to find a particular culinary preparation that will bring out the qualities of this or that wine."

This principle should be that of wine bars. The unexpected here is the generalization of the approach to the whole menu. Here first, as an apéritif, a Champagne with notes of almonds, green apples and citrus on the Côte des Blancs, a very iodized Manzanilla or a round Chardonnay with woody notes of the Côte de Beaune. They will be accompanied by two sets of totally different appetizers. The Dom Pérignon 1993, which the menu boasts as being exceptionally balanced, corresponds to a few spoons of Ossetra caviar seasoned with white Cèvennes onion, cooked in clay, and a few grains of pistachio.

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Let those who are attached to tradition reassure themselves, they can still, at Lucas Carton, ask for the menu of old-fashioned dishes and choose their bottle --- even if it’s mineral water!

by Jean-Claude Ribaut (translated from French)