“In France eating out is like going out on an adventure, where people savor the chance to come together and eat and enjoy a bottle of wine”. -Chef Alain Giraud’s decades of experience in French cuisine, from the Michelin starred institutions of Paris to the bastions of California French are captured in the spirit of Maison Giraud of Pacific Palisades.
I was from a generation in France where you had the choice of either French knives or German knives. My first knife was a French paring knife. My dad was a chef and in his kitchen there was no shortage of knives of all varieties. I have a beautiful sushi knife that was given to me as a gift by Chef Michel Richard. I was his Chef de Cuisine for 8 years at Citrus. I staged for a couple of weeks before I accepted the job and I refused to let him pay me. He wanted to do something special for me and as a gift he bought a traditional Japanese sushi knife that I keep as a keepsake. Japanese knives are very well balanced. I think Japanese knives have such an aesthetic quality. They are excessively sharp and it is a pleasure to touch them.
I was born into the restaurant business. My parents ran an Inn in the center of France, and I passed most of my time with my 2 grandmothers. I had one grandmother from Provence who lived in the city and my other grandmother was from the countryside of central France. I think the food that my grandmothers cooked was the real three star cuisine. Their cooking was about bringing a sense of pleasure and tradition to the table. My grandmother from the country had a farmhouse where they had chickens, rabbits, and pigs. When I was young I had the best time fishing and catching crayfish. It was truly a gift from nature to be able to go back home with all that fresh food and make a meal. I used to pick berries and eat them for dessert. The connection with the ingredients really made you appreciate and love the food you were cooking.
French food in its essence comes from the terroir of France. The size of France and the different regions it encompasses accentuates the diversity of French food. In France eating out is like going out on an adventure, where the people savor the chance to come together and eat and enjoy a bottle of wine. That is what I try to bring to Maison Giraud. In California we have our own terroir and that is why I always bring a bounty of fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market in Santa Monica. I believe that If you serve something comforting like a duck confit, you have do it right. When you make the skin crisp, balance it with a tangy sauce, and garnish it with fresh vegetables it is really a good achievement in its simplicity. When I was working with Michel Richard at Citrus the emphasis was on bringing out the true taste of the ingredient. If you made a parsley sauce than the sauce should really taste like parsley. Oftentimes I come back to focusing on the simplicity of cooking. It is easy to lose the essence of flavor if you are adding too many things. If you want to maximize and really accentuate the flavor of an ingredient, I think 2 or 3 elements are perfect, but when you are mixing together over 20 flavors in a dish it can result in cacophony. When the chefs of Spain came to prominence a lot of French chefs scoffed, but it woke them up and now we are coming back. I believe that because French cooking is so fundamentally based on terroir and tradition that it will survive any trend or cuisine of the moment.
There has to be a balance between the modernist cuisine of today and the fundamental techniques that are based on time tested traditions. The innovations that were introduced by Ferran Adria were a result of the new tools and chemicals that were developed and introduced into the kitchen. The new technology allows us to do things much easier than we used to. Can you imagine cooking without the new generation of high powered blenders? I think it’s good to incorporate new techniques. For instance look at the amazing things that can be done with sous vide. When foam started popping up everywhere as the new trend it was considered so modern. But we were already doing foam at the the Hotel De Crillon in the 80’s. It was considered a really big thing back then. Every station had a hand blender and we would blend the cream sauce to make a light and bubbly foam. If you take a beautiful pistachio sauce and blend it so that it becomes lighter, there is something rather interesting about it. However, if you are just making a foam to make a foam, that is where I think we have to be very careful when the technique starts to overpower the essence of the flavor. The flavor is the key. When a painter or a musician has mastered the basics, they can branch off into more abstract directions. Nevertheless, without a solid foundation the modern techniques can become a shortcut. At the end of the day if it is good than it is good. Maybe it’s my age but I’m a big believer in taste. When I was a young cook nouvelle cuisine was the new big thing in France. It comes down to the new experiences that every generation will encounter as times change. It is nice to see new things and new movements, when it’s too classic it can become boring.
My advice to people who are starting out in the industry is that the shows on television can be beautiful and inspiring, but the reality is long hours of hard work. Only a few can be lucky enough to have a restaurant. When I interview a young cook and ask them why they are getting into the industry, it’s rarely because they love to cook. It can be frustrating when you are first starting out. There is a lot of stress and repetition, but slowly you are building up your skill set and when you look back on what you have done there is a great sense of achievement. It is important for a young cook to understand that fame and fortune is not what this life is about. The reality is that you are working weekends and holidays, getting off of work late and coming back the next day early in the morning. After I graduated from culinary school my dad insisted that I work at the best restaurant possible. Where I was from there was a restaurant that had 2 Michelin stars. I was lucky to have someone like him to advise me because I would have missed out on an amazing formation of my knife skills, butchering, and understanding of all the aspects of the business.