Lifestyle Curators for Thailand + Southeast Asia

When Food Becomes Art

Michelin-starred French chef, Alain Pégouret, in an exclusive interview with Lookeast.

by Anita Zaror

Throughout the ages, food has brought together friends and family to celebrate and enjoy. Nowadays, epicureans around the world gather at certain tables where, besides having the opportunity of socializing, they experience food in a way that is closer to sensory experiential art.

That is the case for two wine dinners that Vitisasia recently gave at Sofitel So Bangkok’s fine-dining restaurant, Park Society. Founded in 2011 by food and wine lovers, Ludovic Tendron and Kevin Cheng, and with the mission of bringing European cuisine to Asia, the Singapore-based company invited Michelin-starred French chef, Alain Pégouret, to cook for the first time in Thailand.

A native of Cannes, Pégouret has been trained by iconic chefs such as Christian Constant and Joël Robuchon. For this dinner, he brought some of his acclaimed dishes from Laurent, the one-star Michelin restaurant in Paris where he has been the executive chef since 2001. These included the popular brown crab with its juice in jelly, and fennel cream. Over two evenings, 100 foodies in Bangkok could experience two 5-course gala set dinners paired with five vintages of Alter Ego and Château Palmer wines, from the prestigious Château Palmer winery in Bordeaux.

Chef Pégouret assures us that a happy customer from Laurent would have been an equally happy attendee of the dinners at Park Society. “The dishes were presented almost exactly the same as at Laurent, and using the same techniques, except for the use of some ingredients,” he explains. Basically, what he did was to adapt the flavors to local tastes, as in the roasted smoked pigeon with small artichoke in its spicy cream, which wouldn’t be smoked or have a spicy sauce in his kitchen in Paris. He wouldn’t cook the artichokes in curry, either, because that’s not how his diners would appreciate artichoke there.

Why Bangkok? Because in his opinion, it’s becoming a city with potential in terms of people knowing and appreciating what he does, and because he wanted to export Laurent’s cuisine and knowledge to Thailand’s “evolving cuisine market.”

At 47 years old, Chef Pégouret stays fit. He exercises six to eight hours a week, and he likes to cook the way he eats: healthfully. He dresses in dark blue jeans, a black shirt and jacket, and polished shoes. His hair always looks neat, just as the tidy composition of his dishes, where every single ingredient seems to have been chosen, cooked, or placed in a certain way for a reason.

Like an artist in a constant search for his masterpiece, when Chef Pégouret finds a product that he’d like to work with, he withdraws from the outside world for five to ten days until he has created one of the 30 new dishes he includes on Laurent’s menu each year. Likewise, he renews 70 percent of each dish every three months because his obsession is not only the dish, but the harmony of the menu as a whole.

He describes his cuisine as elegant and subtle, and believes nothing can be perfect. Hence, he will work continuously on a product or a dish to improve it as much as he can, in the belief that he will make it look and taste as good as possible for him and for his customers.

Is Chef Pégouret ever satisfied with the outcome of his creative process? No. But for the lucky commensal who sits before one of his creations, his dishes may look as fancy as fine jewelry—which is where he frequently finds inspiration. They smell of the goodness of the fertile land and taste of layers of unpretentious yet refined flavors and textures, where each ingredient can be savored at its precise cooking point—tender or firm, crunchy or smooth, solid or foamed—to conform a ludic amalgam on the palate whose artistry speaks for itself.

You’ve been working in Michelin-starred restaurants since the 1980s. In your opinion, what are the principles that a chef must adhere to in order to build and maintain excellence in his profession?
– The only key is perseverance, and constantly re-questioning yourself. It’s the only thing you can do to not fall into a routine, because as soon as you start falling into a routine, you start sinking.

And he quotes Chef Robuchon, who once said, “It’s the love of work well done.”

Awaiting the publication of the new Michelin guide in April 2014, Chef Pégouret won’t settle for whatever the results are. If the Laurent loses its star, he’ll strive to get it back next year; if the restaurant gets a second star, he’ll work even harder to get the third. Perseverance is his motto. That is what brought him where he is now, and it will certainly keep taking him places.