Tasting superchef Alain Passard’s exquisite seasonal dishes is always a joy. Made with dawn-gathered vegetables from his three organic vegetable gardens – each chosen for its specific type of soil and using no tractors, just horse-drawn ploughs – the food at his three-Michelin-star restaurant at Arpège always impresses me. At one time Passard famously banned meat from his menus, but lamb, poultry and game in season are once again in favour.
I try to visit Arpège and the nearby Rodin Museum at least twice a year. Sometimes, I see Passard sketching in the museum’s magnificent sculpture garden, for while many know of his culinary talents, he also has many artistic ones. As a child in Brittany he would spend hours colouring and making collages. “This passion for collage and painting has never left me –there’s a continuous link between my recipes and my illustrations,” he explains, and his restaurant is punctuated with sculptures and drawings – an iconic portrait of his grandmother, who taught him to cook, takes place of honour outside the kitchen.
His plates, too, display his artworks, with a little help from Brittany-based manufacturers Henriot-Quimper. Four dinner plates (€250 for the set, or €70 each, first picture) feature his collages of fruit and vegetables, designed to complement his 2012 recipe book The Art of Cooking with Vegetables (published by Frances Lincoln, €29), which has 48 recipes all beautifully illustrated by Passard. I acquired a set of plates for my birthday (“Do not put them in the dishwasher,” he warned) and they are perfect for when I want to make, say, his “summer mosaic of green vegetables” (July-September), “tale of pumpkin and beetroot” (September-November) or avocado soufflés with dark chocolate (October-January).
But Passard’s creative journey doesn’t end there. “My office was becoming too crowded with my pieces, so I decided to take on an empty boutique just around the corner from the restaurant and create my own art space,” he explains. Called L’Arrière Cuisine (“butler’s pantry”), it is a showcase for vibrant creations. In the window, looming large and luscious, is a giant lobster cast in bronze (second picture). For Passard, technique, like taste, constitutes a lifelong learning curve. “With the help of blacksmiths from the Art de la Plaine foundry in St Denis, I was able to cast my giant lobster in bronze, taking my work to new heights – and here it is in my gallery, 2.5m high!” His other sculptures include bronze frogs and sea spiders, and chunky truffles in dark silver (third picture), and there are also a few works by friends. Everything, apart from the plates and cookery books, is price on request, because Passard likes to know where the pieces are going and discuss accordingly.