The first time I met chef Pierre Gagnaire was on a cruise ship crossing from Dakar, Senegal to San Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. A “Croisière Gourmande” had been organized with chefs including Jacques Chibois. Alain Dutournier, Michel Bras, and many more. It must have been some time ago, as I think I was still under the legal drinking age!
At the time, I gave Pierre Gagnaire the nickname “The Salvador Dali of Gastronomy,” and it still holds true today. His renderings are creative, dramatic, somewhat crazy, unexpected, phantasmagoric, with a genius touch. But the catch is you either love it or hate it; and always at a high price, just like Dali. A 2005 menu from his eponymous restaurant in Paris I keep in my office offers a perfect illustration: a casserole of chestnuts and topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke), with a crème chocolatée de panais (carrots’ cousin) served with a gâteau de foie blond and truffle, at a staggering € 143!
Like chef Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire was unknown to the American public except for the few who had dined at his restaurant in Paris, but gambled by opening his first American outpost in Las Vegas. At Twist at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which opened last December at CityCenter, the modern chef took a more classical approach to what he usually masters, and at much more affordable prices. I suspect, and hope, he will gradually let loose and bring more of his innovative panache to The Strip.