Learning tips and tricks from renowned chef Alain Passard
The aroma of butter and roasting vegetables washes over me the moment I step into the Issaya Cooking Studio. Behind the vast kitchen countertop, renowned French chef Alain Passard stands with one hand in an apron pocket while the other twirls in the air to emphasize what may be the most important lesson of the day. Meanwhile, sous-chef Marine Hervouet is neatly slicing herbs on Passard’s right, while another assistant is checking on tarts in the two-tiered oven. There are no recipes in sight, no timers, and no measuring cups.
“You have to feel the food,” says Passard. “It’s never the same twice.”
Despite the multi-tasking crew around him, the celebrated chef shows no agitation. He calmly looks around the kitchen, looks up and meets our eyes, makes a passing comment to Marine, and then resumes peeling rhubarb and apples. At one point I hear him faintly humming a small tune to himself.
Other students stare diligently at his hands and movements to discern technique, but I watch his expressions. How can someone so great be so humble?
For those unaware of Alain Passard’s pedigree, he’s the head chef and owner of L’Arpège restaurant in Paris, which has maintained three Michelin stars for over two decades. He’s also the latest international muse to make himself available for Issaya Cooking Studio’s popular cooking master classes.
Marine Hervouet is the chef’s right-hand-(wo)man. She is both sous-chef and acting French-English interpreter, and is an integral part of the class. I find her husky French-accented narrative endearing as she fluidly chops and browns onions, looking up once in a while to enlighten with cooking tips and anecdotes.
At once, the kitchen shifts towards the other side, and Passard and Marine are standing next to a carton of eggs. The whole class follows. She lifts one egg, beckons us forward as if she’s about to reveal a great secret, and cracks a perfect circle in the top. Passard carefully takes the egg from her and dips the contents into his hand, separating the white into a small bowl, and replacing the yellow in its shell.
The noisy whirl of a blender takes our attention back to Marine, who’s blending a cream mixture as scents of nutmeg and vinegar waft through the air.
Passard stands before a simmering pot of water and pauses, meets our gaze, and waits for Marine to bring the eggs—all with perfectly cracked tops and yellow insides. Marine carefully drops one shell into the water and we stare in awe as the shell bobs on the water like a paper boat.
When they’re done, he takes a tiny spoon, digs into the eggshell and says, “You have to eat this while the bottom is hot and the top is cold,” and places a dollop of yellow yolk and white cream onto the plate in front of him. He takes another spoonful and does the same, and with the third, he shoves it into his mouth and everyone in the kitchen stands perfectly still as he slowly nods his head and utters “mmm” with an approving smile. We all laugh a little in relief, as if we’re the ones who made the dish and we hope he enjoys it.
He follows this with a subtle steamed vegetable dish—with tasty veggies freshly picked from Passard’s own garden in Paris. He drizzles honey lemon dressing onto the colourful harvest and mumbles something in French. Marine looks up and translates, “Everything is salted last,” and resumes plating. We all write it down; it is now a golden rule.
Lobsters are then pulled out fresh and alive. After they’ve been boiled—on their sides, Passard’s secret method—he places them horizontally across the cutting board, and slices them into halves then quarters in perfect symmetry. Using the tip of his knife to remove the creature’s innards, he says, “Save it for later, we will make it into sauce.” And I don’t think he’s kidding; if there is one thing to take away from this Michelin maestro, it’s that he uses every scrap of ingredient in his sauces.
Wearing rectangular glasses and gloves that make him look like a surgeon, Passard then sews half a duck together with half a chicken. He says he was inspired by watching ballet, in his own rendition which he calls “Corps-A-Corps”. We’re all busy taking photos and jotting down his movements, but his focus is entirely on creating this delicious baby Frankenstein.
I watch as he tenderly cuts into the chicken-duck, and after cutting just three slices, he points out the juice left on the board, and waits for Marine to scoop it up with her knife and drop it into the pan of simmering herbs and vegetables. Underline and bold: The sauce is everything.
As the hour nears 2pm I’m (unfortunately) in a rush to get to work, so I steal my selfie and autograph from Passard, grab my backpack, and then, just as I turn to dash, Marine pulls the finished apple-rhubarb tart out of the oven. While the top still sizzles a golden brown, she dangles a strainer of confectioner’s sugar over the tart and lightly taps her hand on the side to create snow over the apple rose garden. I make a full 180-degree turn and walk right back to the counter. Marine is heating caramel sauce, and as she’s describing the ingredients she stumbles on her English, and instead kisses the tips of her bunched fingers and throws her hand into the air.
The gesture is emblematic of my reaction to every single dish Passard and his team has prepared for us today. And while the price tag of B5,900++ for a masterclass may seem steep to some, visiting Michelin level chefs of this calibre are, quite simply, a rare and exquisite treat.
By Laurie Cohen
Issaya Cooking Studio
The Issaya Cooking Studio, led by the same team behind the well-known Thai restaurant Issaya Siamese Club, is located on the ground floor of the Central Embassy mall. The studio offers semi-regular courses from Issaya’s Chef Ian Kittichai, alongside classes featuring visiting guest chefs. To find out more about the guest chef classes and other special events, including Chef’s Table dinners, check their online calendar or contact them directly.
1453 Phloen Chit Rd.
Tel: 02 160 5636