At Anicia, we feel good. The universe of Chef Gagnaire is like his own, delicate and benevolent. I went to meet this ‘nature’ Chef for whom the mankind is important.
Humans at the heart of nature
The Chef admits that the overconsumption of meat and fish is indeed problematic and that even organic food is not necessarily better for the planet. But for him, the human being must be the main driver of any change, they must be able to reason with themselves and find the right balance.
When I ask him about 100% plant-based gastronomy, the Chef is still doubtful and prefers to offer dishes that suit the majority. This is why at Anicia, there are two menus for two atmospheres: bistro at lunchtime and gastronomic restaurant in the evening.
However, if there is one dish that works well at Anicia, it is the plant-based pastoral. The Chef tells me that 70% of the clientele opt for plant-based pastoral… for the pleasure of it. But it is interesting to note that it is not the vegetarians who frequent the restaurant and that the pastoral is a great success with the more ‘flexitarian’ customers.
The Chef wants to please everyone and find the right balance in what he knows how to do. The pastoral, which changes every week with seasonal vegetables, sets the tone for his natural cuisine and suits him well.
Anicia is the Latin name for the ancient Roman city of Le Puy-en-Velay and the name of the first PDO legume.
A lentil like no other
The Chef did not choose this name by chance. Born in Haute-Loire, he opened his first gastronomic restaurant in the Puy-en-Velay region. Once in Paris, he made Anicia a place where he transmits the soul of his land and history.
Still… I can’t help but talk to the Chef about this lentil like no other. It seems so precious to me, with such potential for plant-based cuisine. Why then stop there?
The Chef humbly tells me about the lentil pie that he sometimes offers in restaurants. I think to myself that I would have liked to taste it, if only the Chef could make its plant-based version.
Anicia has it all and the ingredients the Chef has in his hands could use a little help to make everything more plant-based.
The right balance
Our discussion is highly interesting and what the Chef is telling me speaks to me.
Francois Gagnaire is attentive to what is happening around him. He admits that it is not always easy to please everyone and to go into unknown areas. He observes the restaurants which close their doors after having attempted a somewhat hazardous adventure. So he doubts these ‘new trends’. And while he agrees that veganism is not just a temporary trend, he wants to see how far it will go, before taking the plunge.
It is also true that not all Chefs know how to cook plant-based, just as they do not always know how to answer the question of food allergies. To be able to adapt, they should take the time to learn new ways of doing things, and this is not always easy.
François Gagnaire is a man of moderation, of a healthy and serene balance, who wishes to go in the direction of a respect for nature. He is both realistic and curious. He tries to be at the heart of several movements, without becoming a specialist in one rather than another. His preference to stay in a broader funnel seems to him more beneficial to the vegan cause. For the Chef, the key is to find a balance and staying moderate.
Rethinking natural cuisine
In his ‘natural’ cuisine, François Gagnaire especially emphasizes fair trade approaches. He works with local associations and favours artisanal products. Defending small producers, those who do not necessarily have an organic label but who are not in a marketing process seems important to him.
He has also helped the brand Le Boucher Vert to develop, with the desire to democratise plant-based cuisine in canteens.
But I challenge the Chef a little by asking him how far our understanding of nature goes and why we do not go a step further. Are not animals also part of this nature that is defended in some restaurants?
Openness to new techniques
The Chef is curious about the new techniques used by Vegan Chefs.
How to make milk foam, an emulsion, whip up a chickpea juice…? What are the techniques used to rework basic products such as eggs? … The new ingredients used in plant-based cuisine require an adaptation of techniques, and in this respect, learning these new methods can be interesting for a traditional Chef.
Chefs are generalists and simply do what they have learned to do. There is therefore a need to give them new, more specific and more comprehensive knowledge. But at the same time, can these generalist Chefs become specialists in all the products they work with? The question remains.
Our discussion is one of those moments of life where something happens beyond consciousness. And even if we do not have quite the same vision of things, from this moment emerges a beautiful listening and great respect for each other.
The Chef admits that getting people to eat healthily is still quite a mission. I believe in his potential to go even further in the naturalness that he embodies through Anicia. And carried by his beautiful star, I am convinced that François Gagnaire could make his Anicia a real seed for the taste buds.
Translated by Malvika Kathpal