Pierre Gagnaire : The Citrus Fruits

Pamplemousse © Jacques Gavard

Pamplemousse © Jacques Gavard

Citrus Fruits by Pierre Gagnaire

Ingredients for cooking are chosen not only for their essential qualities, but also for their strong evocative power that triggers the imagination. The citrus brings out a powerful recollection of morning deliveries to my restaurant of a magnificent collection from Bénédicte and Michel Bachès citrus fruit producers in the Eastern Pyrenees. Holding a piece of fruit in my hand and rolling it in my palm, rubbing carefully and keeping eyes closed, smelling my hands, such aromas – it’s wonderful!

AG-R-U-MES (citrus fruit): It all begins with the sound of the word, a balance between an aggressive touch (the R), a promise of softness (the M) and quite an acute sharpness in the middle (the U). The word in itself has an evocative potential with a range of sensations, intensities and textures. Raw – acidity, bitterness; cooked or crystallized – soft and sweet. Such ambivalence and versatility is pleasing. It opens a nice playing field for the chef I’ve been now for fifty years. Just a dash of their juice, or some peelings, or as a condiment, or marmalade, or as a substance crystallized or crispy when dehydrated etc. There are so many variations multiplied by the number of varieties – yellow lemon, caviar-lemon, lime, hand of Buddha, citrus sudachi, blood orange, yuzu, clementine, grapefruit, combawa etc – it’s endless!

When I started I remember using the sweet-sour base often – maybe over-usage – in a rather simplistic way I should say, to create a contrast between the sweet and sour with a pinch of spice in between, such as star anise, however we didn’t have access to such a variety of citrus fruit thirty years ago. I now realize that in my cooking they may serve more as a link of savors rather than a contrast. Yes, I think that today citrus-fruits are a wonderful link in my cooking.

Pierre Gagnaire is a French Master Chef. His restaurant in Paris has been awarded three Michelin stars and also owns and runs other restaurants in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul. He has just been elected “the greatest starred chef in the world” by his peers in 2015.