Baptiste Fournier, 30, likes to joke that he was born in a restaurant kitchen, but it’s not far from the truth. Fournier was born a year after his parents opened a small restaurant called La Tour in Sancerre, a village 2 hours from Paris, famous for its eponymous white wine. Last year, after spending more than a decade in professional kitchens, Fournier took over from his father at La Tour. Soon after that, the restaurant got its first Michelin star.
Fournier is in India for a week-long, five-city culinary tour starting today hosted by ITC Hotels and Four Seasons wines. Each of Fournier’s dishes will be paired with a Four Seasons wine. Fournier spoke to Mint about his cooking, and why he could live on vegetables. Edited excerpts:
How old were you when you started cooking?
I was 15 when I started cooking professionally. My parents were already in the restaurant business, and I was realizing more and more that for me cooking was more important than anything else. It was the thing I was most passionate about. So I finished my studies, and at 15, I went to a cooking school—the Bistro Guy Savoy in Paris (Savoy’s restaurant has three Michelin stars, the most decorated a restaurant can get).
You went on to work with some of the best chefs in France—Guy Savoy, and also Alain Passard (who runs the three-Michelin star L’Arpège in Paris). How were you influenced by them?
They shaped the way I look at cuisine. With Guy Savoy, it was all about the classical French techniques and flavours, which is your most important foundation. With Alain Passard, he really opened my eyes to vegetables, and how much flavour and variety they can have. There was lots of slow cooking, lots of time spent bringing out the flavours of everything that went into a dish. Passard is an artiste. I also started learning modern French cooking when working with him—funnily, all vegetarian! (Passard made the radical move of removing red meat from his menu at L’Arpège in 2001, and began cooking exclusively with vegetables and fruits grown on his organic farm.) In my cooking, the vegetables are as important as, if not more than, the meat or fish. My kitchen staff back in France don’t understand my passion for vegetables. I can live on vegetarian food for days, but if I don’t give them meat with each staff meal, they will look at me puzzled, like, “What is this? Where is the meat?”
Apart from French cuisine, what other food do you like?
I love food in Asia. I’ve travelled a lot in Vietnam, Thailand…and I love the big, bold flavours and taste, and how different it is from French cuisine. Asian cooking techniques are equally important—without that, you cannot bring out the proper flavour of the spices or vegetables you are using.
Will we see some of those influences in your menu here?
Yes, definitely. One of my signature dishes is a slow-cooked sea bass that I serve with lime-infused spinach. The fish is cooked in a chicken broth that is very French, but for the sauce, I will reduce the broth and then add lemon grass, dried coconut, and ginger and let them infuse gently. In the end, the sauce will not be like a milky coconut broth—it will have the texture of a velouté, which is very silky, and is one of the classics of French cuisine, but it will have these lovely Asian flavours.
You come from one of France’s most famous wine-growing regions—what is more important to you, the wine or the food?
Cuisine is more important for me, but food is incomplete without wine. I’m getting more involved with wine, and I’m learning to appreciate them more.
What is the most important thing in a kitchen for you?
The most important thing is to have the best possible produce. Without good produce, you cannot do anything, no matter how good you are as a cook.
The dinners are by invitation only. Fournier is in Delhi today, and will be in Mumbai on 22 November, in Hyderabad on 24 November, in Kolkata on 26 November and in Bangalore on 27 November.