You’re already thinking—“Sure, I can cook at home like Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire. He probably doesn’t even know what a microwave is.” I was prepared to use every pot and pan I own and to recruit my family as sous-chefs and dishwashers, but none of that is necessary.
Gagnaire, in quiet and deliberate recipes, combines ingredients in surprising ways to create haunting flavors. The recipes are like Zen koans—focused and meaningful. They are insights into the way the chef’s mind works and also eminently cookable.
I love breakfast. It’s a quiet time to be alone—bits of ragged dark evaporating in the daylight. It’s a time for gentle flavors and delicate dishes, made of bits and pieces, sometimes sweet, sometimes savory.
Apple and Beet Compote fits neatly into my attitude and Gaganaire’s formula. A surprising mix of raw grated beet and simmered apples, sparkled with lemon juice and Spiced Syrup (more on that) and made earthy with walnuts. It is perfect over yogurt or even spread on sturdy toast. You’ll feel like a secret and satisfied gourmet when you walk past Starbucks and think of their mediocre yogurt parfaits.
Part of being a good cook is having a ready pantry that you can call on for inspiration and Gagnaire’s Spiced Syrup is part of that. Again, simple ingredients—a knob of ginger, some lemon peel, and a few kaffir lime leaves (I used bay leaves from my amazing bay tree) and after a few days you have a base for soda, a spoonful to add bite to a whisky cocktail, something to spark a chutney or drizzle onto a sponge cake.
More for the pantry—you can make your own nutella from chocolate and hazelnuts, but I wanted to see where Almond, Evaporated Milk, and Orange Spread would go. By the way, no cute names from Gagnaire, his spare recipes are matched by straightforward names and no headnotes. At most you’ll get a “chef’s note.”
The spread, like the syrup, sparked creativity. Soft and gently flavored, it started on toast, then baked onto a Dutch Baby pancake, then spread on sweet roll dough and rolled into spirals.
But simple doesn’t always mean easy. You’ll need to have a full pantry—nuoc mam, verbena leaves, and piment d’espelette—and perhaps even do some googling to find ingredients like achards de citron or pain d’epice. As you would expect, Gagnaire is very particular about his ingredients; he recommends Bintje potatoes, Brillat-Savarin cheese, and Canadou sugar syrup. But don’t despair, he also asks for Philadelphia cream cheese and Golden Delicious apples.
Regardless, take his recipes as concepts, make substitutions where you must, and dive into a simplicity that will pop your taste buds.