That he bears resemblance to footballer Zinedine Zidane might lead you to believe that this is how all French heroes look. After all, the magic that Zidane performs on the field is not different from what master chef and restaurateur Jacques Pourcel whips up in the kitchen. The three Michelin star chef is the CEO and chef de cuisine of Le Jardin des Sens, in Montpellier in France, which he runs with his twin brother, Laurent. Pourcel was in the country earlier this month to usher in the 25th anniversary of the restaurant Orient Express, Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. We got a taste of a creamy pan-fried sea bass with a crunchy crust; and roasted rack of lamb with a sweet aftertaste: both marked, as Pourcel puts it, with the “contradiction”, characteristic to their kitchen. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Your brother and you have been awarded three Michelin stars for creativity in French cuisine. What would you say has been your biggest contribution to French food?
When we began cooking, French cuisine was a little straightjacketed. We’ve added more fun to it: more fun in the kitchen and in the process of cooking it, and more fun on the plate. You can see it’s crazy, it’s eccentric. We’ve brought our personalities into cooking.
Kitchen confidential: Pourcel adds the fun factor to ‘straightjacketed’ French cuisine at his restaurant. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
To be awarded the greatest culinary honour at 23, did you both have to look for bigger culinary goals?
My father was a winemaker, and my mother taught us a great deal about cooking: from fish soup, stuffed squid and so on. We were already born into this ethos and started cooking when we were 15; exchanging ideas and swapping recipes. There were so many possibilities from there and there was so much desire to go out and begin something new and develop fresh concepts. We wanted to constantly reset our goals, to test ourselves and create newer things.
You were born in the south of France by the Mediterranean. How have these two geographical aspects of land and sea influenced your cooking?
We like to use contradiction in our cooking. We use ingredients from both land and sea: hot and cold, melting and crunchy, sweet and savoury, bitter and sweet.
How important is presentation to French cuisine?
The presentation is like your moment as a good chef. When you are good at your job, and you already have mastered how to make delicious food, you start playing with ingredients, colour, structure, flowers and you can do so much with it. The entire process of cooking is difficult and the presentation part is your moment, and your moment to enjoy.
What wins: creativity of a dish or its taste?
They have to go together, work in coordination. A chef can’t be only creative; he has to match the taste, the taste is all we have. You pay for delicious food in a restaurant. But then again, a chef needs his identity: something that specifically marks him out. The best chefs will have to focus on both.
What’s been the most surprising or startling reaction to your food in, say, Asia?
Watching the Chinese react to chicken feet. They didn’t like it at all.
What would you advise someone who wants to be a chef?
Learn and respect that you are making a beautiful product. We have a saying—if you’re cooking a chicken, do it well because he’s dying for you.
Since you’re already next door in China, should we expect you to open a brasserie sometime soon in India?
If people are up for it, why not?
Have you ever tried your hand at Indian cooking? Any favourite flavours?
I’ve only tried Indian food at restaurants in Paris and London and they often temper down the tastes there to match the European palate. But the spicy curries stand out, yes. Also, my mission this time is to try some authentic Indian food.