Hundreds of chefs from around the world gathered at this year’s Chefs World Summit in Monaco, where not only the best chef in the world was named as Michel Troisgros, but there were also a number of forward thinking conferences on gastronomy.
One of the themes up for discussion at this year’s three day event was the concept of cooking carte blanche in restaurants, where chefs have free reign to cook off menu, serving the customer’s dishes of the kitchen team’s careful selection.
So, is cooking carte blanche a lasting or passing trend?
Chefs Alexandre Mazzia (AM, Marseille), Paul Pairet (Ultraviolet, Shanghai), Pascal Barbot (L’Astrance, Paris) and Shinobu Namae (Effervescence, Tokyo), four experts of cooking carte blanche took up the debate from both the chef and the customer perspective.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Carte Blanche: The Benefits for Chefs
1. Time Management
According to the four chefs, one of the main advantages of cooking carte blanche is time management. “It’s absolutely essential to cooking at the best level,” said Paul Pairet. “When, like me, you have a menu in 20 services, imposed dishes are a necessity. If everyone ordered different starters or dishes, we just couldn’t get it out.” “When we opened L’Astrance 18 years ago, we offered 2 starters, 2 main courses and 2 desserts,” recalled Pascal Barbot. “It’s not enough, but already too much to go to the enth degree and really have fun in what we were doing because it took us too much time. Little by little, we arrived at the unique menu, at the blind menu, and it’s a huge time saver.”
2. Concentrating on the Essential
Shinobu Namae opened his L’Effervescence restaurant seven years ago, just after the tsunami hit in Japan. For him, the carte blanche concept was vital. “Because of what happened, I didn’t have access to many products, everything had been destroyed, so I had to do with what I had and didn’t have the opportunity to offer a lot of dishes, I had to focus on the essentials” said the chef. An idea shared by Alexandre Mazzia, who added that the carte blanche was also a way of having access to the best products. “It’s not me who controls my fruits or vegetables, it’s the producers who bring their best to me at a particular time. The carte blanche allows us greater flexibility and we adapt to whatever happens.”
3. The Balanced Menu
According to the four chefs, the carte blanche also makes it possible to offer the customer a coherent, balanced menu. “Thanks to this, we are not obliged to create a balanced dish since it is the rest of the menu that will harmonize the whole,” says Paul Pairet. “In a 20-course menu, you have to have consistency from start to finish, you have to have a common thread, I need about a year to design my ‘carte blanche menu’ and everything is well thought out.”
4. Greater Creativity
Practicing the concept of carte blanche also allows the chefs to express their creativity more. “I feel less locked up, freer and also calmer,” said Alexandre Mazzia.
2. Carte Blanche: How to Convince the Customer
1. Be a teacher
“At the very beginning of cooking carte blanche, our customers were rather reluctant,” recalled Pascal Barbot. “It’s all about explaining it to people and getting them to put their trust in you. Of course they are asked if there are any ingredients they don’t like or if they have any allergies. And afterwards, they must be guided.”
It was the same story for Alexandre Mazzia, who explained that at the beginning, the reception to his blind menu was rather mixed. “The customers were skeptical, we had to reassure them. At the time I had a very closed client who was reluctant to know what he was going to eat, now he’s ‘one of my biggest regulars,’ said the chef.
2. Is the concept of carte blanche cooking possible in restaurants outside major cities?
According to Pascal Barbot, the principle of the blind menu can apply elsewhere, other than in large cities, provided that certain rules are followed. “We must soak up the atmosphere,” said the chef from Astrance. “Depending on where you are, adapt the portions, the price, the time that the customer must spend at the table … But it is possible!”
A point of view shared by Alexandre Mazzia, who argued that, “if we don’t make suggestions, we will never change anything. As long as you create a bond with your customers, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t work,” added the AM chief.
However, “we mustn’t stop the classic menu,” concluded Pascal Barbot. “We don’t always have the time or the desire to spend hours at the table, so we need something to satisfy everyone.”