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cabrales

Pierre Gagnaire: the good and the bad

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I believe the tasting menu was listed as the "October" menu. It started with some raw or marinated scallops and salmon. There was an oyster and tete de veau dish and a squid, crayfish and kidney dish among others. The meat, or last savory course (not counting the non sweet desserts) was duck and venison. The desserts varied in sweetness although nothing was cloying or even really very sweet. They were however closer to traditional desserts this time around.

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Nothing in life is really perfect, but I understand the need many diners have for a perfect dinner at these prices. Nevertheless, perfection doesn't exist at the cutting edge and if you want to understand contemporary haute cuisine at its very "hautest," you need to experience Gagnaire and to do so, you need to dine without preconceptions.

Bux,

I hope I didn't give the impression that I expected our meals at Gagnaire to be perfect. I don't expect that at all. I have such respect for Gagnaire that it is a matter of dissappointment when there is a "miss."

I agree that when dining at Gagnaire, all preconceptions about food, ingredient mixing etc. must be put aside. What I find extraordinary about Gagnaire, is that his blending of flavors work ---- they taste good. Other than the guinea hen dish where the argon oil (thanks Cabrales for supplying the name) was overwhelming and the truffle dish where the truffles were the tasteless end of the summer ones, it was a wonderful meal with the highlight being the 5th course - the rouget. I also wonder if the fault on the Hen dish was a service, front of the house mistake. It was the server who added the argon oil table side. Who knows?

As I said in my initial post, I find Gagnaire a must "eat" for serious diners who are serious about food.

Bux, I am looking forward to your complete report and am so glad that it lived up to your expectations.

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Other than the guinea hen dish where the argon oil (thanks Cabrales for supplying the name) was overwhelming and the truffle dish where the truffles were the tasteless end of the summer ones, it was a wonderful meal with the highlight being the 5th course - the rouget. I also wonder if the fault on the Hen dish was a service, front of the house mistake. It was the server who added the argon oil table side. Who knows?

As I said in my initial post, I find Gagnaire a must "eat" for serious diners who are serious about food.

lizziee -- Gagnaire has destroyed a dish using argan oil before, on a prior visit I made to the restaurant. To my recollection, the argon oil was already on the plate when the guinea hen reappeared at our table. I doubt it was a dining room team member who callibrated the amount of argan oil, and, if it were, that would have been the chef's mistake to allow such person to do so.

With all respect, I'd have to say that the entire Gagnaire meal was not particularly appealing, although I very much enjoyed lizziee's company. For me, it was not just the truffle dish and the guinea hen that were "off".

For me, Gagnaire is a must in the same way that any three-star is a must at some point or other. I don't value "invention" at the expense of taste; I have always disilked Gagnaire's food, but I always approach it with an open mind. And, Bux, believe me when I say that my expectations with respect to Gagnaire were far from a level of perfection. :blink:

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Since argon oil is something that gets added to food that has already been cooked, I'm trying to understand what gastronomic purpose it serves in the meal?

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I don't value "invention" at the expense of taste

Cabrales,

This is what makes horse races. You found Astrance wonderful; I found it the worst possible example of invention and innovation at the expense of taste. You don't like Gagnaire's food where I will return willingly, even though as I have said, it wasn't the best meal we had over the course of our month in France. But given 2 dinners in the space of a month, there was more right than wrong.

Steve,

I don't know much about argon oil so I can't add any knowledge to its use. I do know that when the hen dish was at first presented in cocotte, the aroma was unbelievable and I couldn't wait to taste it. Why the addition of the oil? I don't have a clue.

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In a very funny novel by the late Cornell professor Morris Bishop that I read in college (sorry I don't remember the title) there is a reference to "tomato juice with a scoop of peach ice cream". Whenever a discussion of Gagnaire's cuisine appears that's what comes to mind. Morris Bishop was a professor of romance languages and wrote an excellent book, among many, on Ronsard.

I will be in Paris for a few days next month on business and, although I don't pay the bill, I think

Gagnaire is a waste of the company's money. I will try to get to Hiramatsu. From Paris I fly to gastronomic heaven, Tokyo.

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I don't value "invention" at the expense of taste

Cabrales,

This is what makes horse races. You found Astrance wonderful; I found it the worst possible example of invention and innovation at the expense of taste. You don't like Gagnaire's food where I will return willingly, even though as I have said, it wasn't the best meal we had over the course of our month in France. But given 2 dinners in the space of a month, there was more right than wrong.

lizziee -- I'd like to clarify that my statement regarding not valuing invention at the expense of taste was intended to refer to taste in the sense of flavor of a dish, and not taste with respect to judgment with respect to cuisine. I have the utmost respect for different, subjective tastes in the latter sense, and for your viewpoints. :raz:

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Cabrales,

I take absolutely no offense and understood you meant taste as to flavor. I value your opinions and even though we disagree, please don't take it personally.

pirate,

I wish you would give Gagnaire a chance. His cuisine is anything but tomato juice with a scoop of peach ice cream. I would give that analogy to Astrance and Veyrat. Again, this is a highly personal, subjective opinion

To quote myself:

"salpicon de rouget de roche and capres la wicchia, lard blanc colonnata, feuille de bar de linge mi-fume, deux variete de carottes.

This was one of the best dishes of the night--smoked bar underneath the rouget (a layered sandwich effect) with the smokiness of the bacon, the slightly sweet drippled carrot sauce--just amazing in conception and taste--Gagnaire at his very best."

This is not innovative food at the expense of taste. It was perfect in taste as well as conception.

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Argan oil is an example of trendy marketing in the food business;Ask people who have lived and cooked in Morocco ,and they will roll their eyes,and tell you that the fruit of the argan tree is usually treasured by goats.It's ok to use as a skin moisturizer,and has been trotted out as a new obscure ingredient,but remember the words of P.T.Barnum-"there's a sucker born every minute".

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I'm on lizziee's side with regard to Gagnaire, but I've been quiet due to my tendency to embarass myself when the topic comes up! :sad:

I agree with wingding on the argan oil issue. While I've never experienced the abuses on the same level to which truffle oil has been used, I've never understood the big deal. I bought some in Paris a few years ago when the novelty was new, but frankly never put it to much use.

My last meal at PG did include the stuff, in a composed cheese course consisting of a tomme and arugula dressed in argan... the effect was by no means egregious; the spice of the greens overshadowed whatever subtle characteristic the oil offered. On the whole, however, I enjoyed the cheese course, though apparently lizziee did not. The other two plates were a chevre frais perched atop a honeyed craquante and a creamed bleu de Trizac with a cold cauliflower preparation and a thin leaf of an agar based gelée. I didn't notice, have they totally abandoned the cheese cart?

This meal also included a guinea hen course, however completely different than the one described, and no "special oil"! . Mine was...

Suprême de pintade chaponnée cuite en cocotte aux herbes fraiches; papaye verte aux noisettes, oignon cebette et charlotte de Noirmoutier confite à l'origan.

I thought it was a fairly straightforward dish, the green papaya not making enough of an appearance to really make much of an impression. The hazelnuts were nice, and capers were also incorporated. The charlotte was simply a wonderfully rich and melting Noirmoutier potato, I'm guessing here, slowly cooked in an oregano infused butter.

lizziee, or anyone having extended experience with Gagnaire's cooking, I've been wondering if "sweetness" has always played a prominent role in his savory dishes? It is something I've noticed distinctly (in a good way), through the use of maple, honey, and dried fruits, among other items... though I've only eaten at the Paris restaurant, and only since '98. I've noticed this as an interesting, general trend over the last few years; where might it fit into Gagnaire's own evolution?

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mplc -- Isn't green papaya sometimes rubbed (frotte?) onto duck at PG? I believe I may have had the dish a long time ago. I can't say I remember it being delicious.

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mlpc -- I took it the duck rubbed with green papaya some time ago. However, here is a description of a similar dish:

http://worldserver2.oleane.com/fatrazie/me...et_cuisine_.htm

("Coffre de canard Pékin macéré 'cumin-cannelle' marmelade de papaye et mangue verte, crumble d'amande" -- it is unclear from this description whether it is the mango only that is green, or whether green papaya was also utilized)

I vaguely recall having had another Gagnaire dish with green papaya recently. I will investigate with respect to my notes.

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mlpc,

If anything, I have noticed a Mid Eastern/Moroccan/Far Eastern bent that might account for the sweet/savory taste.

From the 2000 menu, he describes his pigeon dish as

"Pigeon gauthier et supreme de volaille elevee a l'Egyptienne." I seem to recall a sweet/savory combination, but as my husband was doing the food notes at that time and he took very brief food tasting notes, I honestly do not have a clear recollection.

This year:

rouget was tinged with a hint of sweetness from the carrot sauce

deep fried oyster with eel - the sweet coming from the eel

The "Pekin Duck"

I am not a great lover of the very sweet with the very savory i.e. Veyrat's fish with saccharine was horrible, but normally Gagnaire is in balance, with these two tastes.

I always have such a hard time describing Gagnaire's cuisine as it is so improvisational in nature. He loves jazz and I think he uses jazz technique for his own artistry.

It just seems very hard to pigeon hole Gagnaire. One of the finest dishes I have ever had was Gagnaire's sea urchin soup which I had 2 years ago and still can taste to this day. Last year, it was something as simple as a vegetable tart that my husband described as Gagnaire's gift to the Gods." (That is it for my husband's tasting notes!)

As a personal preference, I love the cheese cart and look forward to it at the end of the meal, especially with the last of the red wine. This is totally subjective and I do not have notes on the cheese course this year.

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Last year, the cheese course was the highlight of our meal. They didn't present any cheese cart but offered us a composed cheeses course.

-Époisse foccacia<

-Fourme ambert ice cream with pear ''salad''

-the last cheese was incredible, it was served in a type of glass. Standing in the glass were thin stips of mimolette. Served with the mimolette, also in the glass, were carrot tuile. The tuile were made in the same color and the same size of the mimolette stips. Each time you took a piece you weren't sure until you ate it if it was cheese or carrot tuile.

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I vaguely recall having had another Gagnaire dish with green papaya recently. I will investigate with respect to my notes.

The other Gagnaire dish I have sampled that included green papaya was: Dorade royale au Sel de Maldon; figue seche; noissette; citron confit et papaye rapee (Sea bream with Maldon salt, dried figs, hazelnut, confit lemons and grated papaya).

This dish was complex in appearance, with a dried leng th of leek extending past the boundaries of the plate. Why was it there? For no reason other than visual effect, which, in my mind, is a misguided reason for including an item in a dish. The sea bream filet was rectangular, with the figs layered in like a cake. On top was a single green bean -- again, why? For no reason except to include the bean. Further on top were shreds of green papaya that tasted very much like green apple. An average dish that was made sillier by the last touch being the addition of salt from a geren salt squeezer utilized by a dining room team member at the table. :wacko:

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Bux,

I hope I didn't give the impression that I expected our meals at Gagnaire to be perfect. I don't expect that at all. I have such respect for Gagnaire that it is a matter of dissappointment when there is a "miss."

I agree that when dining at Gagnaire, all preconceptions about food, ingredient mixing etc. must be put aside. What I find extraordinary about Gagnaire, is that his blending of flavors work ---- they taste good. Other than the guinea hen dish where the argon oil (thanks Cabrales for supplying the name) was overwhelming and the truffle dish where the truffles were the tasteless end of the summer ones, it was a wonderful meal with the highlight being the 5th course - the rouget. I also wonder if the fault on the Hen dish was a service, front of the house mistake. It was the server who added the argon oil table side. Who knows?

As I said in my initial post, I find Gagnaire a must "eat" for serious diners who are serious about food.

Bux, I am looking forward to your complete report and am so glad that it lived up to your expectations.

My expectations were that I might be astounded or disgusted. The only way the meal could have not lived up to my expectations was if I was just bored. :biggrin:

I don't think I misread your post. I think our impression of Gagnaire is similar. At anyrate this meal, although far less impressive than our first (life is like that as we get jaded) solidified my respect as well as my understanding that no dinner there would ever be a series of "sure things."

You say "his blending of flavors work ---- they taste good." I think that's a key thing, although I suppose it's also subjective. Gagnaire's was hardly the only creative food we had these past two weeks and I found myself wondering why I defend him, yet question the food of some of the other chefs. I can't discount the stars and the prejudice it brings, nor can I dismiss the service and setting all of which help seduce the diner. In the end however, I am more convinced it is the food that succeeds and "the blending" of flavors is key. Somehow, in many other creative restaurants in France and in most American "fusion" restaurants, I can taste the separate flavors distinctly and in a way that reminds me they are an unusual combination. It's a distraction and I'm aware of a contradiction in my mouth. Earlier, in fact soon after eating there, I said "One of the hardest preconceptions to give up is what a particular ingredient should taste like." This is another way of looking at that "blending." To an extent Gagnaire successfully destroys the flavor of an ingredient to come up with a new flavor. I think a lot of people find this offensive both intellectually and as a gut reaction. It certainly is an approach that is at odds with a line of other chefs I admire and it's at odds with my own usual preferences. So what? It doesn't keep me from both admiring and enjoying Gagnaire's work. If a chef is going to take me in this direction, he had better be damn good however, and Gagnaire is.

I do not recall argon oil, nor do I see mention of it in the menu. We had the tasting menu and they were kind enough to have a souvenir menu prepared for us to take with us. There was a thread once on asking for menus. I suppose people ask for menus for different reasons and it certainly seems as if restaurants make them available with different thoughts in mind. If I can find that thread, I'll pick it up again as the responses to our requests for a menu were met with vastly different responses and often with a useless piece of expensive paper that bore no relation to what we ate or the carte from which we ordered.

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As a personal preference, I love the cheese cart and look forward to it at the end of the meal, especially with the last of the red wine. This is totally subjective

This is another subject worthy of it's own thread and maybe several separate threads. I also love the cheese cart and am disappointed when the meal leaves me so full that I can't enjoy a selection of cheese. I also don't care for the chef's preparations that include cheese as a substitute for the cheese tray, yet my curiosity is such that I will often order it in lieu of the cheese tray. Invariably, I am sorry I did. This was the subject of a thread somewhere on eGullet. Finally, there is the issue of red wine and cheese--one of the long standing traditions in French dining. I am finding more and more combinations of white wines and cheese that are far superior taken out of the context of a meal and also finding more and more people who share that opinion. Sancerre and chevre is almost an ideal pairing, yet Sancerre is not what I want to drink after a big red wine or even after a little Cote du Rhone or Beaujolais. There is something about the order of wines in a meal that is as important as any pairing with food. I think there are many foods that call for a white wine if eaten as an appetizer and a red if had as a main course, but I digress. Perhaps we'll have separate threads on some of these issues.

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I'm on lizziee's side with regard to Gagnaire, but I've been quiet due to my tendency to embarass myself when the topic comes up!  :sad:
That's what we're here for. :biggrin:
I agree with wingding on the argan oil issue. While I've never experienced the abuses on the same level to which truffle oil has been used, I've never understood the big deal. I bought some in Paris a few years ago when the novelty was new, but frankly never put it to much use.

My last meal at PG did include the stuff, in a composed cheese course consisting of a tomme and arugula dressed in argan... the effect was by no means egregious; the spice of the greens overshadowed whatever subtle characteristic the oil offered. On the whole, however, I enjoyed the cheese course, though apparently lizziee did not. The other two plates were a chevre frais perched atop a honeyed craquante and a creamed bleu de Trizac with a cold cauliflower preparation and a thin leaf of an agar based gelée. I didn't notice, have they totally abandoned the cheese cart?

My impression was that they still offered a cheese tray or cart, but that the tasting menu featured a preparation by the chef or what the menu refers to as un fromage cuisiné.
lizziee, or anyone having extended experience with Gagnaire's cooking, I've been wondering if "sweetness" has always played a prominent role in his savory dishes? It is something I've noticed distinctly (in a good way), through the use of maple, honey, and dried fruits, among other items... though I've only eaten at the Paris restaurant, and only since '98. I've noticed this as an interesting, general trend over the last few years; where might it fit into Gagnaire's own evolution?

This is a far greater issue for me with chefs other than Gagnaire. Adria's caramels come to mind immediately and so does my meal at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck where I felt the sweetness increase perceptibly from course to course throughout the meal. I still shudder when I see fruit in a fish dish, yet I've been eating that combination for years at Daniel in NY in one form or another.

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In the end however, I am more convinced it is the food that succeeds and "the blending" of flavors is key. Somehow, in many other creative restaurants in France and in most American "fusion" restaurants, I can taste the separate flavors distinctly and in a way that reminds me they are an unusual combination. It's a distraction and I'm aware of a contradiction in my mouth. Earlier, in fact soon after eating there, I said "One of the hardest preconceptions to give up is what a particular ingredient should taste like." This is another way of looking at that "blending." To an extent Gagnaire successfully destroys the flavor of an ingredient to come up with a new flavor. I think a lot of people find this offensive both intellectually and as a gut reaction. It certainly is an approach that is at odds with a line of other chefs I admire and it's at odds with my own usual preferences. So what? It doesn't keep me from both admiring and enjoying Gagnaire's work. If a chef is going to take me in this direction, he had better be damn good however, and Gagnaire is.

Good posts, Bux!

I pretty much agree with your assessment, and I, too, admit to a having conflicted thoughts, reconciling my admiration of Gagnaire's food with wanting a carrot to taste like a carrot. What wins me over is his ability to strip a particular foodstuff down to it's primary taste sensations, and then manage to reconstruct it into a coherent dish, no matter how strange the juxtaposition of component parts might appear. I think I know exactly what you are driving at, but I might take issue with Gagnaire's destroying the flavor of an ingredient. I can't necessarily think of a better word, but I do think there is a lot going on in the kitchen on a technical level that doesn't show up on the plate, which might explain how he can get away with what he does. As opposed to Adria, from what I can observe without having eaten at El Bulli, the technique is more in-your-face, where Gagnaire doesn't seem to be flaunting it as much.

I also agree with your thoughts on wine and cheese...

On the trend toward more sweetness in savory cooking, I did subtly address the issue in the Blumenthal Q&A, but as a question within a question, mostly pertaining to pastry. I've tasted examples both good and not so; I just find it an interesting phenomenon... The turbot dish I had at Gagnaire over the summer with fennel, apricot, and a Guiness-Jurançon sauce was, actually, rather amazing!

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The problem with calling something a carrot when it doesn't taste like carrots is a big problem. If chefs were really brave, they would give their dishes names that have nothing to do with ingredients. There is no surprise as to how a carrot tastes. Go to your local green grocer and buy one.That's how it tastes. All you can fo is improve on it from there. But names of dishes are code that you are to expect a certain flavor. To tell you to expect it just to make a carrot taste like tuna fish doesn't help anyone and all it does is sensationalize cooking. If Gagnaire of chefs like him can invent new flavors that make us scream with delight, why call your dish by the name of the food, if indeed it doesn't taste derivitive of that food.

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I pretty much agree with your assessment, and I, too, admit to a having conflicted thoughts, reconciling my admiration of Gagnaire's food with wanting a carrot to taste like a carrot. What wins me over is his ability to strip a particular foodstuff down to it's primary taste sensations, and then manage to reconstruct it into a coherent dish, no matter how strange the juxtaposition of component parts might appear. I think I know exactly what you are driving at, but I might take issue with Gagnaire's  destroying the flavor of an ingredient. I can't necessarily think of a better word, but I do think there is a lot going on in the kitchen on a technical level that doesn't show up on the plate, which might explain how he can get away with what he does. As opposed to Adria,  from what I can observe without having eaten at El Bulli, the technique is more in-your-face, where Gagnaire doesn't seem to be flaunting it as much.

I also agree with your thoughts on wine and cheese...

On the trend toward more sweetness in savory cooking, I did subtly address the issue in the Blumenthal Q&A, but as a question within a question, mostly pertaining to pastry.  I've tasted examples both good and not so; I just find it an interesting phenomenon... The turbot dish I had at Gagnaire over the summer with fennel, apricot, and a Guiness-Jurançon sauce was, actually, rather amazing!

I'm happy to have you agree or take issue with what I said. I don't think there's any argument to be won or lost here. If I've offered any insight into Gagnaire's food or even if I've made anyone rethink his own reaction to the food, my post was valid. I think it's not only legitimate to have conflicted thoughts about the avant garde, but almost obligatory.

I used the sense of destruction quite intentionally, because of the generally negative conotation, but also because there's often a necessary element of destruction in creation. To use a food related phrase, "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." A more positive spin might call this trasformation. I needed to make a distinction between the cook who transforms the raw material into an easily and immediately recognizable dish and what Gagnaire does.

There's no question in my mind that Gaganire is far less in-your-face, in terms of technique regardless of what goes on in the kitchen. All that he sends out appears to be the result of cooking. In Adria's case, some things arrive at the table appearing to be science experiements. Of course I mean this in the good sense, although I can also attest to the fact that I have never enjoyed a simple roast chicken and green salad as much as the one my wife prepared on the day after we returned from France.

I am looking forward to the free time to sit down and read through the Blumenthal Q&A, but it won't be for a while. I am intrigued that you asked about sweetness. Although I never got the opportunity compose a question and get it online in time, that subject was on my mind. With both Adria and Blumenthal, as well as with many others, but not with Gagnaire, I've experienced a blatent over riding sweetness in savory dishes.

Turbot with fennel, apricot, and a Guiness-Jurançon sauce does not necessarily sound inviting, but having had Gagnaire's food, I can begin to imagine it with some understanding. Steve Plotnicki's post about naming dishes is interesting and the points are valid, yet I'm not sure the answer is in inventing new names. This could be the start of a new thread, but I think the trend towards including the ingredients started with Nouvelle Cuisine and the departure from classic garnishes which the enlightened and sophisticated diner might be expected to have memorized somewhere along the way of his culinary education. (I suspect that's hardly true, but at least there was a standard reference point.) As Gagnaire and other chefs are improvising more than they are codifying dishes the way Escoffier did, the dishes are more likely to be transient, I don't see the use of naming them. On the other hand, a list of ingredients is rather pointless too as they don't describe the dish.

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"In the end however, I am more convinced it is the food that succeeds and "the blending" of flavors is key. Somehow, in many other creative restaurants in France and in most American "fusion" restaurants, I can taste the separate flavors distinctly and in a way that reminds me they are an unusual combination. It's a distraction and I'm aware of a contradiction in my mouth." (Bux)

Gagnaire's strength comes from his blending of seemingly dissimilar ingredients and ending up with a unified whole. For example, the rouget and bacon with the carrot sauce was a wonderful dish. You knew you were eating rouget and bacon with a carrot sauce; Gagnaire didn't transform a carrot into something else. He did not in Steve's words call "something a carrot when it doesn't taste like carrots." He put ingredients together in such a way that the whole was better than its parts.

I have found that Gagnaire is one of the few chefs who is able to do this successfully. For example, at Bateau Ivre, there were so many ingredients in one dish, that you ended up with a mish mash.

I also feel that it is vital to treat a Gagnaire dish as a unified whole - to mix the ingredients and not treat it as a composed salad. This was absolutely vital in his foie gras dish. If you ate it as first one ingredient, then another, you would lose the effect of the dish as a whole.

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