The day I met Yannick Alleno was when he was on a stopover in Hong Kong, with a mere four hours to spare. Yet the renowned French chef showed no sign of tiredness; in fact, as he arrived for the interview, the chef was all smiles. Charming as ever, he dived right into our conversation, divulging all manner of saucy details surrounding his latest project in Hong Kong.
Born in the Parisian suburbs, Alleno spent his childhood kitchen hopping in family bistros. By the time he was 15, he started his career in restaurants proper, followed by a year of kitchen duty in the French army. He has moved up the culinary ranks ever since. Alleno joined Le Meurice in 2003 and worked there for ten years, earning accolades and international recognition. In 2014, he took over the culinary management of Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris and opened Alleno Paris, and now manages 16 restaurants from around the world.
This August, the esteemed French chef is collaborating with local restaurant group Epicurean Group to open Terroir Parisien in Prince’s Building in Central. The 130-seat bistro-style restaurant is a casual take on France’s culinary classics. With a lifelong obsession with sauces, Alleno has dedicated his career in creating new sauces for his version of French cuisine.
Hong Kong Tatler Dining (HKTD): Why are sauces so important in French cuisine?
Yannick Alleno (YA): I consider sauces to be the soul of French cuisine. They place different elements together. You can try serving melon and beef together, and that would be awful to start with, but if there is a sauce, it can be a bridge, or as a catalyst to facilitate the chemistry and bring them together into a fantastic dish. I wrote a small book on sauces, and I spent years putting that together. It is not just recipes on how to make sauces but also how I envision the future sauces will be like and how that should be a part of cuisine’s evolution.
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HKTD: When did you start your sauce project?
YA: I remembered the first sauce I ever made was a beurre blanc made with scallops when I was 16 or 17. I was learning how to make pastry at the time and cooked for the family. It was the first time I made the seemingly simple sauce, made with good butter. Throughout my career I examined the relationship between ingredients and the role of sauces in enhancing the food experience. I understood the significance of sauces in regulating the balance in flavours, and that’s how I started my sauce project.
HKTD: Why did you decide to open in Hong Kong now?
YA: Over the past few years we have come to scout locations and examine the food scene. I wanted to know if Hong Kong is ready for us, and vice versa, whether my restaurant fits in the edible landscape of the known food paradise of Asia. We finally agreed on the location, just perfect as I always wanted my restaurant to be in Central. Hong Kong, as I believe, has an advanced restaurant scene, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint.
HKTD: Tell us about Terroir Parisien.
YA: First we need to understand the role of bistros in French cuisine. In Paris, you can find a lot of bistros. These small restaurants are the cradles of many French classics, from pommes Anna to homard a l’Americaine, and our country’s cuisine will never be the same without these vibrant dishes. Bistros are also social hubs where people from all walks of life come meet, gather, and interact with the commonest language to all: food. It should be affordable to everyone, and that’s why we feel the bistro concept is the best one for Hong Kong.
Then there is the terroir concept, it does not just mean land. As a Parisian I have a responsibility to promote, and introduce the cuisine we practice, and where it originates. In Paris we use produce from the countryside just outside of Paris, fresh produce that gets delivered to us soon after it was harvested, and prepared in the style we know the best. You can see this in every food capital: Paris, New York, Melbourne, and hopefully, Hong Kong too. My concept for Terroir Parisien will be to transport that sense of belonging from Paris to Hong Kong.
HKTD: As a chef yourself and a mentor for younger chefs, what do you consider to be the most significant role of cuisine?
YA: I have learned a lot since I first started cooking, and I realised the most important detail in cuisine is what the people can feel but cannot see. When you make food, you need to straight to the point and reflect honesty and truth on the plate. There is simply no room to be too clever. Everything is about detail, and for chefs, practicing and younger generation, it is always important to remember to master the basics, and be creative with the rest.
HKTD: Speaking of Paris, how will you define being Parisian?
YA: One word: special. It is not a sense of superiority against others. It is, essentially, an attitude from the people that arises when we share food, wine, and conversations. It is indeed very friendly, but friendly with a special accent.
HKTD: How do you see the future of cuisine?
YA: That’s a big question, but it’s not without a straight answer. We need time and a deep understanding of humanity. Ever since we learned of cuisine, we were given everything: the best terroirs, ingredients, and the climate to produce them. The natural elements aside, it is us who learn to put these elements together and transcend them through centuries into what we now call ‘cuisine’. It is humanity in the culture that we value, and the only factor that cuisine relies on to give it a future.
The future is also set on ‘original food’, evidently shown in the rise of Nordic cuisine. What chefs from Northern Europe are doing is so prominent and influential now. When you examine their approaches—fermentation, forest foraging, cooking food on burners, and salt-curing—these are not new techniques, but original ones that humans have used throughout history and our existence. Nordic cuisine helps us rediscover what once flourished, with finesse to improve the quality and shine so brightly as they do today.
HKTD: With the rise in popularity of a less formal dining format, where do you see fine dining’s future lie?
YA: Fine dining, at its core, should reflect on what the chef is, his or her identity to be exact. For me, fine dining is about people coming to us for an experience, and us showing them something unique on our plates, so they can connect not only to the food but also with us in food language. It should still be something we make an effort to feel the experience as a whole, from service to food and wine. Formality isn’t the most important element about fine dining; it should be about appreciating the efforts and the connection.
HKTD: As the king of sauces, do you have favourites of your own, and any guilty pleasures when you’re off duty?
YA: I love ketchup, real American ones that I eat with my eggs in the morning. I love Heinz ketchup. I also enjoy junk food. Burgers, to be exact. I used to go to McDonald’s and have Big Macs with my son. Then my love for burgers becomes my work, as I developed the burger at Le Meurice. People love it, as we took the time to deconstruct each element of the burger, make it perfect and put it back together. I also love hot dogs, which I also created for Terroir Parisien.
HKTD: What can we expect from the Hong Kong branch of Terroir Parisien?
YA: It is casual and informal. The entrance is smaller but the discretion is also part of its charm. The space seats 130 guests, with a bar in the centre, and a semi-open kitchen on one side. There will be a long bar table for smaller parties and a private dining area. I will make it a point to return to Hong Kong often to develop and polish concept more as the restaurant opens later this summer.