Fresh. Simple. Pure. These might as well be Michelin star chef Baptiste Fournier’s favourite words because he peppers his answers to our questions quite frequently with them. You could as much as say that it’s his food philosophy. One, that he intently heeds to whether it’s cooking a single dish at his restaurant, La Tour back home in Sancerre, France or an elaborate 5-course dinner at a five-star setting. “I like to keep it simple,” says the chef in his French-accented English, adding, “my focus is always on ensuring that the taste of the core product comes out. And even as you’ve got to ensure that the taste of every dish is balanced, the intrinsic value of the ingredient has to be intact.”
The 32-year-old chef was in Bangalore (as part of a five-city tour) for a gourmet evening that had him pairing his signature dishes with wines from the Four Seasons portfolio. Now, serving 100-plus guests a 5-course dinner is quite the challenge, any which way you look at it. Quiz him about it and Baptiste genuinely says, “For a dinner like that what’s crucial is getting the portion calculations right.” Calculations? So, there’s an element of mathematics in cooking we prod further and Baptiste concurs, “Getting the portion calculation right is one of the most important elements in cooking and there is a way to calculate it all,” he says and leaves it at that. And once again, he goes back to reiterating his favourite principle, “The most difficult thing to factor in during such events is keeping it all simple.”
Turn focus to his Michelin star status and Baptiste throws a bouncer when he jests, “I wasn’t supposed to get it.” He quickly backs it up saying, “We were working for it but like most good things, you are never ready for it.” Winning the star, he readily agrees, has changed the status of his family-run restaurant. For one, it’s gained pride of place in Sancerre with everyone curious to check the restaurant out. Expectations from the customers have increased, agrees Baptiste recalling in particular the first six months that followed the win. “For the first six months, we got the worst customers ever,” he says with a wide grin, mimicking finicky customers who think ‘there’s something wrong with the dish.’
Humorous asides notwithstanding, Baptiste shares the vision he now has for La Tour. “I want to make it better. I want to make it a place for comfort dining — one that doesn’t intimidate people with its posh settings. I want to reach out to all people,” he says and one way he is doing that is by ‘changing the menu at the restaurant every one and half-months’. Now, that last part of the sentence has us wondering if we heard it right the first time. “Yes, I change the menu every one and half months because when you cook the same thing day in and day out, you get bored. Also when you cook the same dish every day, there is a tendency that you may make a mistake because you’ve taken it for granted...” And once again, attempting to crack a joke about it, Baptiste says, “Imagine if the Michelin inspector were to come on that same day when you’ve cooked the dish wrong!” “I’ve got to be on my toes every day and changing the menu recharges me,” he admits, making it all sound so easy.
In all this talk about food, we ask Baptiste what his favourite food memory is and he says in a beat, “Gratin Dauphinois that a friend had made for me once.”
“It’s a dish of creamy potatoes made with boiled potatoes and cheese in big earthenware trays. It is a very common dish in France but I will always remember how that meal tasted,” enthuses Baptiste before stating, what easily is the crux of the conversation, “Food has to evoke emotions in you.” And needless to say, Baptiste’s sole motive when he is stirring up a dish anywhere in the world is, “Cooking it with such passion that the person eating it remembers it even after a year. The most important thing for me is to ensure that everything I cook is made with pleasure.” Bon Appetit!