Chef Michel Troisgros: Simplicity and Refinement, Part 2

The acclaimed chef expounds on the relationship between French and Japanese cuisines

“It goes way back in the past and there is a culinary bridge with exchange of knowledge between the French and Japanese chefs.”

This is the second in a three-part interview with chef Michel Troisgros. You can find the first here, and the third here.

The Daily Meal: You have boutiques and a restaurant in Tokyo, but have the recent Fukushima nuclear accident and aftermath of the Tsunami affected your business there?
Chef Michel Troisgros: It is a concern but we have to live with it, though of course it is at the back of my mind for a few split seconds every day. All we can do is continue doing what we do, working with suppliers who can guarantee the ingredients are coming from a safe environment and place in Japan. My chefs, manager, and patissier are mostly French, and living there because they love it and are very involved with Japan. In fact it is not just a project for them but their life since some have Japanese spouses and are raising families there. 

I do travel quite often to Tokyo and wonder if one of my sons will want to live there in the future how I will deal with it. I am not sure if I would like to see them there for a long stretch of time. Hopefully the government is doing its best to deal with safety issues. Nature is unpredictable anywhere but regardless Japan is an incredible place with a very sophisticated culture. They have strong traditions on one side and the most sophisticated technology on the other; it is a paradox in a way.

Why is there such a strong culinary connection between the French and the Japanese?
It goes way back in the past and there is a culinary bridge with exchange of knowledge between the French and Japanese chefs. Just after World War II ,French chefs traveled there doing promotions and discovering new ingredients and at that same time many young Japanese chefs came here to learn. There was sharing of passion for the table on both sides along with a mutual pleasure of creating great cuisine.

You spoke in San Sebastián a few years ago about how the plating style changed in France after the grand chefs traveled to Japan. Can you elaborate on that?
It happened over a long period between the sixties and continuing until today. It has been the influence of the aesthetic the French chefs imbibed from Japanese cuisine. Not Kaiseki cuisine but everyday Japanese cuisine and sushi. A caricature of this could be "Less is More.” The simplicity of composing a plate with fewer ingredients, but these ingredients are chosen with a clever vision to create a perfect balance. French cuisine was all about techniques and memories and was too elaborate and hard to perfect. The Japanese influence resulted in simplicity and some Japanese techniques like marinating with soy, ginger, yuzu, sake, wasabi, etc. which came into use making the French cuisine what it is today.

Over the years you have embraced a simpler style in cuisine and is that that simplicity hard to achieve?
Yes, simplicity is the hardest point to reach. Simplicity along with refinement, especially when no one has done it before, is difficult. Simplicity is also the representation of your true opinion in an institution like ours here at Troisgros. It looks simple to the guest but it is complex and hard to achieve, since you need to have the capacity to communicate your concept, be proud of it and stand by it. You have to consider not only the time to create, but the time to compose, to elaborate and express. Picasso or other abstract artists after painting landscapes, figures went gradually towards monochromes and abstractions. Refinements and paring down continued in their concepts and work and I think that is what is happening in cuisine.


Does this process get easier with age and maturity?
I do believe that it does and experience and maturity have enabled me to move and express myself better. The other aspect of my life that has changed me is my children. The transmission of ideas between us has had an influence on me.