The Daily Meal: What did you take away from your time at L'Arpege with Alain Passard?
Chef David Toutain: My time at L'Arpege was very important for me. I was 21 when I was a chef in that kitchen and what was amazing was he gave me the opportunity, like he did to many other chefs, to experience his genius. What he instilled in me was when you work with a product don't think like a person but think as if you were the product. Think about what is inside it, the flavor, the texture, the fiber. So now when I see a carrot I don't see it as such anymore, I am thinking about its flavor, its texture, what is a good pairing for it, and how I can use all these elements. Actually now this process comes naturally to me.
If we cook beef and I see a gelatin and the fibers after cooking, I immediately think about what we can do with these. You need to open your eyes to these things and think along those lines. That is how we work in this kitchen. Then there are other things I learned, for example the light in the restaurant, how the kitchen and the restaurant is organized, and all these things affect our work.
Does the atmosphere, the ambiance, or the decor set a tone for the ensuing meal for a guest as they walk in the door?
It is very important that a guest feels relaxed and it's very important to me that people are happy and feel comfortable once seated at the table to enjoy their experience. When you are at the table for two or three hours you need to feel that way.
Is creativity inherent or can it be learned, developed, or taught?
People ask me sometimes "How did you think of that? How did you think of pairing cauliflower and white chocolate together?” I think each chef has that dictionary in their brain about texture and flavor. Sometimes when I think of a dish I am first thinking of a season, its products, and the association between them. When I made the white chocolate, cauliflower, and coconut I had eaten something with white chocolate and coconut, I think it was a cake at Christmastime. So I thought wow this is so comforting and what can I do with it in the restaurant that is not too complicated and feels just as comforting. What is one more product I can use besides these two. I thought the link between the two is that they are both white. I needed something white and special in a vegetable. I made a list of all the white vegetables and it came to me that it was the right season for cauliflower in the markets. I thought what is the link between all three besides color and I thought of the sweetness in these.
I drew a cup and starting thinking of putting elements like texture, sweetness in it to get a balanced dish. It is a very tactile process and begins this way with everything I do. The amazing thing was it worked perfectly the first time we tried out this recipe.
Any experiments that haven’t worked out?
I tried cockles with red pepper and pistachio and I kept working on this recipe for two weeks and in the end I stopped because I realized that it wasn't going to work. I thought there was something I was missing in the flavor and it was not coming together.