No other chef can truly say he combines seemingly random ingredients so coherently. Gagnaire has an unparagoned style, complex more often than not. But, most people forget that, first and foremost, he is a perfectly trained classical cook.
For the few unbelievers amongst us, go to Paris in winter or autumn and try Gagnaire’s game dishes. His interpretation of the classic Lièvre à la royale is without doubt the most outstanding, not only because it is one of the most complicated dishes to prepare, but also because only a very restricted number of chefs ever manages to pull it off properly. The intricate preparation takes at least a couple of days. Besides, it is an expensive dish to make as two hares are needed to prepare one final piece de resistance, and you also need truffles, foie gras, lots of good wine (the original recipes call for Chambertin, no less!) and countless other ingredients. One hare goes to prepare a stock, which is used to cook the other hare in. There are two common versions of this dish, the Ali Baba and the Senator Aristide Couteaux, but Gagnaire does something totally different: He serves the beast in three courses.
First comes rack of hare, served with cabbage, orange marmalade, powdered almond and more or less the classic sauce. Noteworthy here is not only the incredibly tender and tasty meat, but also the balance between the powerful sauce and the fresh, lighter cabbage. While the exact components change on a yearly basis, this dish exemplifies the Gagnaire constant: balance and power.
The second course resembles the Aristide Couteaux version. It is the haunch, cooked a long time and served with parsnip puree and wild prunes. It has the unctuous, melting richness of the classic version, but the addition of chocolate in the parsnip puree and frozen foie gras lift the flavours. Again, a powerful yet balanced masterpiece with flavours so concentrated they are not for the faint-hearted, but everyone else will fall straight in love with them.
The final course is a classic pie made with meat scraped from the bones. It is the most intense part of the trio, and shows off a triumphant combination of pastry, jus and meat. Strikingly, by serving a pineapple sorbet straight after the hare, Gagnaire gives you the impression that you have eaten far less than you actually have. But having consumed this majestic three-act dish, you cannot help marvelling at how good food can be. Gagnaire shows just how far you can go beyond the limits of a dish that was first created more than a few hundred years ago. This is what makes him unique. He takes an old recipe to create a contemporary concoction, which respects its powerful origins yet turns it into something exquisitely balanced and new. This is truly a once in a lifetime dish.