Chef Michel Troisgros: Simplicity and Refinement, Part 3

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The French chef shares what it’s like to keep the business in the family

“It's wonderful to think that now our family legacy will continue.”

You are sharing your knowledge with your sons as your father and uncle did with you, but how important is this generosity in transmission or sharing of knowledge for all grand chefs?
It is a priority to share your knowledge, not just with your children but with the younger generation of chefs. It is not about only sharing your know how with people around you but with other peers as well. Communication is very important since you cannot transmit knowledge without it. I always think about transmission in life and about teaching.

Now that your two sons are in the kitchen, will they also focus on research and scientific investigations as other young chefs are doing these days?
Scientific processes can be creative too though for me my sensitivity is not on that side. It's a question of interest, of talent of preference and knowledge. I am myself not involved in such scientific processes. I love creating but my creation is in my kitchen with my son or another collaborator. We still continue to work like my father and uncle did, by thinking about it, making notes and I don't design but make the dish over and over again, maybe fifty times till it I am happy with the result.

Once you reach that stage, do you still make changes over time to the dish?
Of course, though not every day because something else is in progress but a dish is always moving. It is not like a painting that is done and sold to someone else. A dish is your own creation and it is bound to change and progress. Some of us though don't move forward and continue every day or every season to make the same dish. It also depends on the dish, for example the salmon with sorrel sauce that is the most emblematic dish of Jean and Pierre created in 1962 in which nothing changed. I tried when I was younger but looking back I feel it was a mistake and some ideas are good without evolution. I do however have a few variations of this dish though I did stop the fantasy of changing it. It is just like the No. 5 of Chanel: a classic. 

Was it a different time when this classic was created?
These days things move faster and we are obsessed with the idea of moving and changing. I am not sure that today I could create an emblematic dish as my father and uncle. The world is different and when they created this dish they were hailed as heroes in the profession because it was a politic position to move the boundaries of French cuisine. It was the beginning of a new movement and a new way of cooking. The escalope de saumon is part of my roots and always gives me inspiration. 

You are partial to the use acidity in your dishes. Why is that important?
It just like the salmon dish is my compass that points me to the correct node. It is my way of seasoning, and all of my dishes and food are colored with acidity of many different types. With variations acidity is always the base of my cuisine. It is my style and as I realized later in life that it was a heritage from my grandfather and grandmother. Acidity is not a concept, it is not because I wrote a book about it or guests expect it but is part of me. The lemon, vinegar, fruits, and tomatoes are my preference in everything I cook. I didn't realize it until others like my friend, a journalist, made me aware that this use of acidity differentiated me from other chefs.

Does nostalgia play a role in your creative process in the kitchen?
I am sometimes inspired by memories but it's not nostalgia since I haven't forgotten those things. My son and other chefs in our kitchen have not experienced that period of cuisine as I did so sometimes I cook a dish or let them cook a dish to know what and how it was in those days. 

It is similar to music or architecture where your knowledge about the past can help you create in the future. I am not nostalgic as I feel my life has been very happy in my family and my profession. I look for the future but I know the past and look back fondly with no regrets.

Related

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