I was recently asked “what inspires a great recipe?”. There is no straightforward answer to that question. Inspiration comes at every level of the cooking process, my ultimate goal always being to serve food that is delicate, refined, zen, in other words thoughtful.
Sometimes, the idea is born of a rather universal food memory like the interplay of cream, lemon and cucumber that finds its roots in the basic Mediterranean traditions. From that starting point, I work on a choice of raw and simple, carefully selected ingredients; on a possible combination; and on cooking tools and techniques. The questions that I always ask myself are : what tool will reveal each flavor at its best? What technique will yield the most satisfying results? I am certainly not working to impress my guests with an edgy, impressively looking plate, but rather with an incredibly flavorful, delicious food.
To continue with the lemon-cream-cucumber example, a simple illustration of my recipe-creating process is the cucumber soup that we serve at Baumé this month. One technique to bring out the crunchy, fresh flavor of the cucumber is to remove the seeds and leave it in salt for 2 to 3 hours before using it for the soup. Another very simple addition is lemon oil instead of the traditional olive oil and lemon (juice). We also add hints of verbena and truffle, for they both subtly complement the crisp cucumber taste by adding tangy, bright notes and earthy flavors. Finally, instead of mixing in sour cream or yogurt, I keep the cucumber base of the soup very simple – cucumber, spring water, salt – to preserve its taste. I then add a small dash of crème fraîche at the end. The result is much softer.
A great recipe is one that allows me to build on the classic cooking techniques to invent new ones that I can then reuse for future creations. But again, whether it is in the cooking process, in the textures, in the condiments, or in all of the different layers of a recipe, taste remains my main focus.