Q & A with chef Aurélien from Burgundy

Chef Caro chats to the chef from a 3 star Michelin kitchen in France.

12 Mar 2010

Chef Aurélien Grasagne works his magic at the famous L’Esperénce in Burgundy, a restaurant that holds 3 Michelin stars, the highest accolade in the food industry.

He recently spent a couple of weeks at the 5-star Majeka House in Stellenbosch, working closely with their chef Anri Diener who is set to have a stint in his kitchen in the up-coming year.

His food is an experience and I felt quite dreamy afterwards. I sailed home on a high of food-happiness and I can still taste the dessert - it was a whipped berry cloud of lightness and delicate flavour.

He is French and spoke only a little English, so our lovely French-born hostess Karine Dequeker-Van der Merwe translated for me. We had a 'chat' about life and food.

Q: Where did your love of cooking begin – can you pinpoint an incident or moment when you knew this would be your future?

A: At my parents' house during Sunday lunches with the family where I was often finishing cooking the desserts. My parents have lived a lot in Italy and we often ate olive oil based cooking, parmesan, tomatoes... very Mediterranean cuisine.

Q: What is the highlight of your career so far and why?

A: Tomorrow will be!

Q: What is it that makes a dish worthy of a Michelin star? Why?

A: When all the elements of the dish are in symbiosis/harmony and when this dish you can say there is nothing to add, it is perfect.
There isn’t really any explanation for it. A chef only invents a rare few in his life.

Q: What do the Michelin judges expect from the moment they walk into the restaurant?

A: If he is a Michelin judge, then we don’t know it - it is a well kept secret. The only thing to do is to have the best welcome, meal, service and overall experience for the clients – the clients are actually more important than the judges.

Q: How difficult is it to obtain 3 stars? How is this possible?

A: Difficulty is to manage to get out our dishes the way we want them to be twice a day.

Q: What is your style of cooking? How has it evolved and changed?

A: Style is towards a “produce cuisine” where it is more important to choose the best produce and to add to it other ingredients to make it better and not just for the sake of accompanying it.
The evolution is towards simplicity as I grow. When you are young you want to complicate things to prove you have technique and know how.

Q: What is the most exotic thing you have ever cooked with or tasted? Describe the dish.

A: It is more what I like to eat/cook – algae’s that are a big part in the Japanese cuisine and need no salt or seasoning.
The weirdest was a recipe given to us by a  Japanese chef Ground/Earth ball and we made an ice cream out of that recipe.

Q: What inspires you?

A: to go to a market and see the fresh produce.

Q: What is the worst meal you’ve ever cooked? What happened?

A: There are a few…
When you try to create new recipes you think you have the right taste, you imagine what it will be and often when it is complete and you taste, it is far from what you expected and the deception is high.
Sometimes you start again and do the dish again or leave it for a few years before revisiting it again.

Q: What in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient? Why?

A: Spices, and pepper more specifically because they are often wrongly used.

Q: What do you cook at home?

A: Côte de Boeuf, with a Béarnaise sauce and potatoes.

Q: What is the best meal you’ve had in 2009/10?

A: Sweetbread cooked with crusty butter with a truffled mash (Loiseau – Saulieu).

Q: What is your most successful seduction meal?

A: Bar de ligne (wild sea bass) cooked in a Xéres (sherry) vinegar broth.

Q: What, in your opinion is sexy food?

A: Oysters.

Q: What is your favourite food and wine combination?

A: Blue cheese with a Vintage Port.

Q: If you could have anyone cook for you – who would it be?

A: Auguste Escoffier.

Q: Who would you like to sit down for dinner with – anyone in the world? 6 people.

A: John Wayne, Charles de Gaule, Roosevelt, Angelina  Jolie, Picasso and Jules Vernes.

Q: What would be your top foodie destination?

A: Switzerland, because you can find an interesting mix of cuisine such as French, Italian, German, Austrian, etc.

Q: Your top recipe book of the moment?

A: Dictionnaire Favre – most inspiring.

Q: Food hero?

A: Vattel – capable to commit suicide because the fish was not being delivered.

Q: Food villain?

A: Those who do their job without loving it.


- Caro de Waal

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