There’s cooking with vegetables, and then there’s world-renowned chef Alain Passard’s way of cooking with vegetables. In 2001, Passard made a bold move at his three-Michelin-star restaurant in Paris that inspired chefs around the world: he turned the menu almost entirely vegetarian. By removing meat from L'Arpège’s menu, he not only created a need for vegetables, but turned cooking them into an art. His vision helped to begin the farm-to-table movement that we see everywhere today, and also motivated chefs around the world to start treating vegetables not just as an afterthought, but as beautiful piece of art — the way they deserve to be treated.
This past year, we learned that Passard is not only an artist with food and vegetables, but with colors, too. In his recently published book The Art of Cooking with Vegetables, Passard shares 48 seasonally driven recipes highlighting nature’s most cherished possessions. Passard not only shared his artfully crafted recipes with us, but with each one he included a collage that he designed as a representation of his passion for art and color.
We had the chance to speak with Passard about his book and the inspiration behind it, and we were excited to learn that his philosophies aren't far off from the way we live our daily lives, especially when it comes to incorporating seasonal ingredients.
The Daily Meal: How did you go about choosing the recipes for the book?
Alain Passard: I chose nothing! It’s nature [that] chose for me. I just followed the seasons and picked what each one offered. I realized that this was working well inside the pan [at the restaurant], so I entrusted my creativity in nature [while writing the book].
TDM: The concept at L’Arpège is that you cook vegetables that are exclusively from your organic farm. What are some tips or suggestions you can give to our readers if they don’t have access organic vegetables from a farm nearby?
AP: The main thing to remember is to follow the seasons. Vegetables are always better when you eat them at the right season. A quick way to remember what you can eat is: what is on the branch (tomatoes, zucchinis, peas, etc.) is for summer, what is in the soil (carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.) is for winter. Of course, it is just a mnemonic way and there are a lot of exceptions, but this is a good start.
TDM: You’re known as one of the most visionary chefs in the world. What do you think it takes to be visionary when cooking with vegetables? What are the fundamental things to keep in mind?
AP: In fact it’s a really pragmatic way to cook, more than visionary. Nature does things right: in summer, your need to quench your body’s thirst and you’ve got tomatoes to make a salad; in winter you need to warm yourself, and there are plenty of root vegetables to make soup with. Nature has written everything, you just have to follow! For me, the best cooking has been created by nature.
TDM: You talk about color as an inspiration to you in your book, so what are some fun ways you think home cooks can experiment with color at home, besides the obvious of including a few different ones on a plate?
AP: First thing is always to respect the season. Then, you need to choose a creation anchor: one color. When you have it, pick the products (vegetables, herbs, but also look in your groceries!) that have some of the same color. You have to create a real bouquet on your [plate]. If you respect those two conditions and with a little common sense, you will create fantastic recipes! Just stick to your creation anchor. It can be one color, but you can also choose to do a rainbow.