Pierre Gagnaire, the celebrated three-star Michelin chef known for his innovative French cuisine, invites us into his culinary realm. In this exclusive interview, Gagnaire and his team share insights into his enduring success, personal philosophy, his culinary haven at La Maison, InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort and his experiences in Da Nang, Vietnam.
WHAT’S YOUR SECRET TO SUCCESS?
Pierre Gagnaire: It’s the work. The work has sustained me for 40 years, reflecting a true culinary passion. Though there are challenges, they don’t overshadow the joy.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS.
Pierre Gagnaire: Enthusiasm. Sincerity. Respect.
DO YOU HAVE A WELLNESS ROUTINE?
Pierre Gagnaire: No routine, but I enjoy sports and reading. Solitude in my work allows for reflection and relaxation.
WHY DA NANG AND VIETNAM?
Pierre Gagnaire: Da Nang presented an opportunity. We have a history of collaborations with hotels, and it felt like a promising venture. Also, the familial approach to cooking in Vietnam aligns with our values.
THOUGHTS ON VIETNAMESE INGREDIENTS? HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO INCORPORATE THESE INGREDIENTS IN YOUR COOKING?
Pierre Gagnaire: I adore herbs. Simplicity and lightness are defining features. It’s also important for cultural reasons. Trying to work with locals, it’s a way of showing respect to the people who welcomed us.
SOMEONE SAID THAT FOOD AND EMOTIONS GO HAND IN HAND, HOW DO YOU EVOKE EMOTIONS IN YOUR FOOD?
Pierre Gagnaire: Emotions in food are subtle. An authentic experience once in Vietnam touched me deeply, reminding me that food carries love and memories. About 20 years ago on a family holiday, We were out having a meal and an old lady showed us how to make the meal. It was a fantastic experience. Truly reflective of an immersive experience when you put your heart into your work. You can make mistakes, but if you put your heart in it, the guests feel it too. Our goal is to share such moments with our guests.
PIERRE GAGNAIRE IN PARIS HAS HAD 3 MICHELIN STARS SINCE 1996, DOES THAT PUT PRESSURE ON YOU TO MAINTAIN A SIMILAR LEVEL OF SUCCESS HERE IN VIETNAM?
Pierre Gagnaire: Many chefs prioritize stars over craft. I don’t. It’s about the artistry and connection with people, not accolades.
AFTER ALL THAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED IN THE CULINARY WORLD, AFTER ALL YOUR MULTIPLE AWARDS, MULTIPLE OPENINGS OUTSIDE OF FRANCE, WHAT ABOUT FOOD STILL INTERESTS YOU ON A PERSONAL LEVEL?
Pierre Gagnaire: Meeting people and nurturing relationships. It’s about enriching lives through cuisine. For example, Florian, our new chef here, has been here for five weeks. Right now, I am working with Florian as he settles into his role effectively giving Florian a new adventure, a new life.
CAN FLORIAN EXPLAIN A LITTLE MORE?
Florian Stein: We collaborated on creating a menu together. Last year, I worked closely with all of his chefs across his various restaurants. During this process, I provided suggestions, and we engaged in discussions and compromises. Our approach to menu creation prioritizes the quality of the ingredients. We use with the products we love and believe in. This forms the foundation of our menu. The ingredients themselves play a crucial role in shaping the future of our offerings. We make every effort to source the best local products to reflect the season, which is a significant factor in our menu design. Additionally, we consider the preferences of both local and international customers, as well as the restaurant’s ambiance and temperature, which greatly influence the ingredients featured in our dishes.
THAT STATEMENT ABOUT LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL CUSTOMERS, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Pierre Gagnaire: We primarily focus on using local products, striving to find the highest-quality options available. Additionally, we engage in friendly competition with neighboring establishments that also utilize the same local ingredients. It’s not about surpassing others for us; instead, our goal is to continually improve and do our absolute best. If someone else happens to do better, we view it as an opportunity to inspire ourselves to reach higher standards.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE BEST LOCAL PRODUCE? IS THAT FOUND IN THE MARKETS?
Pierre Gagnaire: To discover exquisite vegetables for our menu, we make trips to Dalat in the country. In Dalat, we source ingredients like lobster and crayfish. Additionally, we incorporate items such as tuna, avocado, and various fish products from Japan and Australia. Surprisingly, nothing in our menu originates from France except for the batter we use.
AND WHAT’S THE PROCESS LIKE AFTER YOU FIND THE PRODUCT?
Pierre Gagnaire: I suggested a menu concept that captures the essence of Paris. The chef and I have been refining and tweaking this menu for several weeks, working closely together whenever possible. Collaboration is our preferred approach because it allows us to make adjustments as needed. Our partnership is flexible, and nothing is set in stone. The journey began with Florian, and he remains attentive to my input and ideas.
NOTHING IS SET IN STONE, THAT SOUNDS INTERESTING. CAN YOU EXPLAIN FURTHER?
Pierre Gagnaire: Consider an exquisite product, such as Japanese fish. This product’s quality is at its peak for approximately one month. However, in the following month, it may not maintain the same level of excellence. It might be the same type of fish or a different variety, and this rotation occurs every two months. Occasionally, we need to adapt and change certain elements of our menu to ensure that everything harmonizes well with the rest of our offerings.
ONCE THE DISH IS FINALIZED, WHAT’S THE PROCESS LIKE IN DECIDING PLATING AND PRESENTATION?
Pierre Gagnaire: Creating culinary art is a subjective endeavor. What one person finds beautiful, another might not. Our primary focus is on taste, and we consider ease of consumption and presentation as complementary elements. We aim for our menu to be dynamic and not limited to just four ingredients paired together. Taste remains our central goal.
Back in 1984, during my visit to Japan, I was intrigued by something I hadn’t experienced in Europe before. While I wasn’t particularly a fan of Japan, I admired the elegance of their approach, their table settings, and the simplicity and sophistication of Japanese-influenced cuisine. At that time, this influence was relatively new, and it left a lasting impression on me.
When I began my culinary journey, I was initially more interested in the visual aspect of food presentation, placing it ahead of taste. However, over time, my perspective has shifted, and now, taste takes precedence. While presentation can be important, it’s no longer enough to impress people. Things that might have been novel 40 years ago, like ginger and coriander, have become commonplace today.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LUXURY DINING AND REGULAR DINING?
Pierre Gagnaire: Luxury dining is about providing guests with a unique dining experience, every element transformed into an extraordinary object, creating special moments for diners. This encompassed not only the food but also the wine, the plates, and even the presence of flowers. It celebrated simplicity as much as complexity, whether it was a perfectly roasted chicken or a piece of cheese paired with a glass of wine. The focus was on elevating even the simplest of things and presenting them as perfect culinary experiences.
THE MICHELIN GUIDE ALREADY ARRIVED TO VIETNAM THIS JUNE. AND HANOI HO CHI MINH HAS BEEN INCLUDED, AND MAYBE DA NANG IN THE FUTURE. DO YOU WANT LA MAISON TO BE IN THE LIST OF MICHELIN?
Pierre Gagnaire: Yes, we aim for the stars. It’s challenging but important for our mission.
WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY?
Pierre Gagnaire: The process of culinary excellence is somewhat elusive, and we don’t possess all the answers for creating those magical moments. Honesty is paramount in our approach. While people often seek recognition through awards and stars, it’s important to acknowledge the financial aspect of running a restaurant.