Brandview: Meet a Gourmet Lover

French national Pascal Barbot talks about his beginnings, experience and personal journey
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Pascal Barbot, Chef, Three-Star Michelin Restaurant, Astrance

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How did you decide to become a chef?

I grew up in the countryside, near Vichy, France, where my family kept a vegetable garden. I would come back from school, pick vegetables, collect unpasteurized milk from the farm, and go home to boil it. We exclusively ate our own produce, from the garden. I realise that this is now a trend, but it was already my way of life and how my family lived 40 years ago.

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I was only 14 years old when I decided that I wanted to become a chef. A few years later, I studied for a degree at a hotel management school in Vichy, France, for four years. After that, I moved to London to work, and when I reached the age of 21, I was due to start my compulsory military service in the Navy, and I was to be stationed in New Caledonia. This is where I discovered a new way of cooking, using exotic products and different flavours.

I returned home after that and worked for a three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris called L’ Arpège.

Can we then say that your previous experiences were the source of your inspiration?

Yes definitely. My experiences in Paris, London and New Caledonia influenced my cooking style. My inspiration is also based on a number of factors: products, seasons, techniques, meetings with  producers, childhood memories, and travels. When you travel, you end up learning new techniques that are not a part of your culture, and this is when you begin to integrate these learned techniques and elements in what you create. Today, I have no problem in using green mango, papaya, saffron, coconut milk and other exotic ingredients in the creation of my dishes.

Inspiration knows no bounds, and its sources are endless.

Speaking of milk, how important are dairy products to your kitchen?

Dairy products play an important role in cooking. I grew up in Vichy, France, a region where you can find a wide variety of dairy products. It’s an integral part of my culture. In my daily kitchen, I use a lot of cheeses, such as Saint-Nectaire, Cantal, Bleu d’Auvergne, and others. I add them and other varieties to the dishes I cook, but not in excessive quantities. We cannot cook without butter and cream, but it’s important to find the right balance between the two. These two ingredients add texture, smoothness and creaminess to dishes. For example, today I cooked a sole meunière in unsalted butter and basted it, therefore adding a mild nutty taste to it. The butter shouldn’t be cooked for too long, and must be at the right temperature in order for you to end up with a superbly delicious dish.

To you, what is a high-quality product?

A high-quality product could be cream, an egg, a grey shallot, an orange or a lemon. The key idea here is to respect the natural process, the seasons and the seeds planted by farmers and producers. It is not only about the freshness of the produce, but also the taste it adds. All my menus are strictly based on the quality of the product, not just the recipe.

As a chef, how can you describe your signature?

My signature is French cuisine, with French products and refined recipes. I work with local producers from different regions in France. My main objective is to put their work at the forefront. I mainly use French products to highlight the French know-how, with technical style and ingredients that come from countries I have visited. This is the cuisine you can find at Astrance.

What is your favorite creation?

Currently, my favorite creation is the black truffle croque-monsieur with Saint-Nectaire cheese. This is a popular dish that we serve every year during the winter season.

What advice would you give to young chefs who are starting their careers?

It is important to find your own style and identity, and to develop your networks with good producers, farmers. It is equally important to visit the markets in person, and to travel. This will provide you with the necessary skills to create your own dishes with a pool of different products. Do not follow trends or go out of your way; just find the inspiration inside you.

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