Editor’s note: This article was first published in the print edition of the Fall/Winter 2022-23 issue of Luxus+ magazine. Click here to view the full issue.
Arnaud Donckele, 45, has been running the three Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant Plénitude, nestled in the heart of the Cheval Blanc Paris hotel, since it opened in 2022. The French chef, who hails from Normandy and was voted the world’s top starred chef by his peers in 2019, explains his love of the land and contact with producers.
What does responsible cooking mean to you?
Responsible cooking is above all about paying attention to the people who make it, especially the producers, and therefore also to the ingredients. It’s a question of quality and pragmatism. I have been working for years in Saint-Tropez with a real team of accomplices: a goat farmer, an olive oil producer who does everything himself, guaranteeing an incredible quality. There is also Yann Menard who cultivates his vegetable garden with his horse so as not to compact the earth too much, or Sidney who works the earth according to the sky and the seasons. In Paris, most of my vegetable garden products come from the Paris plantations, installed on an entirely green roof in the 18th district, just behind the Porte de la Chapelle.
How far can a starred chef go with the notion of a short circuit?
You have to do it on a case-by-case basis and not forbid yourself anything. Pragmatism is fundamental. On the other hand, I am intransigent on quality. I see the producer-chef relationship as a true partnership, a tandem, conducive to constant exchanges. The producers make me progress and vice versa. The preparation of a dish does not begin in the kitchen but with the feet in the ground or with a producer.
How does your home region, Normandy, inspire you in your cooking? Where does your creative energy come from?
I am a Provençal Norman and a Parisian Provençal. For me, Normandy is a way of working: with family and confidence. I am a Provencal at La Vague d’Or and a Parisian at Plénitude. What is important is the heart that we put into each dish. I must say that I melt and fall back into childhood when Maxime Frederic, the pastry chef at Cheval Blanc Paris, serves his teurgoule.
Because it is more the men who inspire me. Regionalism comes later. We are fortunate to have an endless wealth of culinary resources in France, a true living heritage!
You were elected the world’s greatest starred chef in 2019, has this changed your approach to cooking?
It’s an incredible recognition, just like my Michelin stars and the Gault et Millau ratings. When I received this distinction, I couldn’t believe it. I hope I haven’t changed anything since then. It is when you think you have succeeded that you collapse. Curiosity and doubt are essential for me.
It is said that you are the chosen one, the heir of the French Haute Cuisine, how did you manage to make your mark? What makes you so special?
I am unable to say. It’s my cooking that speaks for me.
Do you have a Proust’s madeleine that can be found in your cooking?
The sauces. They structure everything. And the creativity in this area is infinite.
What do you find in your fridge? Personally, do you prefer world cuisine or French cuisine?
More French. Or European.
If you had to choose a wine? A cheese? A product? A dish?
Yquem wine fascinates me.
A cheese: Neufchatel.
A product: sardines.
And a dish: Jean-Louis Nomicos’ maccaroni.
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Featured photo : © LVMH
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