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THE VANGUARD OF CUISINE: 

WILLIAM LEDEUIL  

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 14 DECEMBER 2010 — With the recent outbreak of transport strikes and the ensuing traffic jams aggravated by shortages of petrol, it had to be something special to lure me into the centre of Paris. Moreover, with the havoc caused by  demonstrations in the main streets of the capital coupled with random blockages of key roads by slow-moving heavy-weight lorries, not to mention terrorist threats hanging over Europe deterring more than one, it had to be something really very special.

By banishing butter, flour and cream...Ledeuil is changing the face of French food.

It was. Undeterred, I drove into the French capital to have lunch at Ze Kitchen Galerie, a meal which was followed by a meeting with William Ledeuil, one of the most important chefs in France today. Since our last conversation over five years ago, Ledeuil has not only made his restaurant, now boasting a Michelin star, into one of the most sought-after places in Paris to eat, but he has also opened a second equally popular restaurant, the Kitchen Galerie Bis, known as the K.G.B., been designated 'Chef of the year' by the prestigious food guide, Gault and Millau, and brought out a long-awaited new cook book.

La Cuisine de William Ledeuil (Albin Michel, 144 pages) is a beautiful book to buy for oneself or to offer as a gift, a book to read and to spend a happy week-end with, assembling for friends one of the very many delicious and surprisingly accessible recipes illustrated there.

As becomes obvious as one reads through the recipes, the 46-year-old chef has invented a style. By banishing butter, flour, and cream, hitherto regarded as staples of traditional French cuisine, and by replacing mundane seasonings and salt by ginger, lemongrass, wasabi and a whole range of fresh, pungent herbs, Ledeuil is changing the face of French food, for French his culinary delights most certainly are.

"My cooking has evolved in the years since Les Couleurs du Gout (Ed. du Seuil, 2004) was published," Ledeuil told me. "While my inspiration remains the same, with importance being given to colour, perfumes and texture, I've traveled and learned much more. I've gained in experience and have access to a greater number of ingredients than before. There is still a mixture of cultures, mainly from Thailand, Japan and Vietnam, but my seasonings are more balanced, measured to the very gram, and there's a greater variety of citrus fruit than previously, which," he added," is in the process of developing since my meeting with the specialist greengrocer, Michel Bachès, three years ago. Based in Montpellier, he's introduced me to such delicacies as Cedrats main de Bouddha, and caviar lemons."

"And as well as my association with Joel Thibault, I also work with the market gardener, Asafumi Yamashita who grows kabu turnips, kabodjian miniature pumpkins, and a whole range of unusual herbs. I'm always searching for new concepts and tastes, and love introducing new products, being a pioneer of sorts."
 
To a query as to whether he didn't think the recipes too complicated for the amateur cook, he replied that many of them were in fact very straightforward, and I received explicit instructions on how to assemble Tarama, condiment mangue-curcuma-citronelle. I was assured that anyone who wanted could produce his Gaspacho de tomates coeur de boeuf à la citronelle, whereas his Tartares de crevette-mangue verte was child's play. Re-reading the recipes carefully, I could not help but agree with him.


Tartares de crevette-mangue verte 
©  La Cuisine de William Ledeuil
 Ze Kitchen Galerie. Aux éditions Albin Michel

In addition to the delicious, unique recipes, beautifully photographed by Eric Laignel, Ledeuil has given very many useful tips from that squeeze of lemon into fresh apple juice to preserve the colour to replacing elusive fresh curcuma by fresh ginger with a little saffron. 

"What matters," the chef continued, "is the quality of the ingredients which must be the best you can find, plus the care in their preparation. The beetroots in my recipe are steamed and the cooking impeccably timed. If you follow some basic rules, then cooking becomes a game."

The K.G.B., Kitchen Galerie Bis, is the name of the bright, lively, contemporary restaurant opened in September 2009 by Ledeuil and his long-time friend and associate, 34-year-old Cédric Maréchal, manager of Ze Kitchen Galerie. Situated just a few doors away from the first, it is just as elegant, relaxed and unpretentious as the former, but is neither an annex nor a bistro, but a place for trying out new ideas with a different presentation.

Inspired by Ledeuil's meanderings not only in Asia and the Middle East, but also from ideas gleaned in Spain and Italy, five or six multi-coloured small dishes, zors-d'oeuvres, which change each day, are served, each more perfumed and more succulent than the next. There are crostinis with tomatoes, chorizo, enoki and manchego, marinated sea bream with green mango, basil and ginger, avocado soup with green apple and crab, to name but three, while the main course could be a fragrant, steaming casserole as opposed to Ze Kitchen Galerie which specializes in dishes à la plancha, a simple, savoury way of grilling meat and fish on a hot, chrome plate.

"Streetfood, whether in Japan or Spain, has often a pejorative image", explained the chef, "and I also wanted to get away from the age-old concept of celery remoulade, mushrooms à la greque or grated carrots as a starter."

He then went on to make the startling admission that he did not really like eating carrots or celery, nor fennel nor leeks, while the smell of a steak fried in butter quite turned his stomach over! And while loving butter on his slice of morning toast, he detests it in a sauce for the blandness it gives.

"When cooking", William Ledeuil told me, "I'm searching for the intensity and pungency of the taste.  Condiments, including fresh lemongrass and ginger, which complement my food are of the utmost importance. I noticed, in my travels, that seasoning depends not on the addition of salt and pepper, but rather on the correct balance of the ingredients. Moreover, most vegetables and fruit possess their own natural sugar and acidity. Why add more?"

"I'm trying to develop a cuisine which is constantly changing and moving forward yet dependant on the produce available that day; where every mouthful brings new and piquant sensations. I also enjoy when and what to buy, which thus allows me to enjoy myself while keeping prices accessible to a wide public."

For the moment, La Cuisine de William Ledeuil: Ze kitchen galerie is only available in French. Here are two recipes:

Tarama, condiment mangue-curcuma-citronelle

Ingredients

1 or 2 crab's legs
3 round red radishes
3 stalks of coriander, Chinese if possible
2 soup spoons of olive oil
Celery salt

200 grams (1 cup) of tarama, white if possible
10 centiliters (3.4 ounces) of milk
Juice of 2 lemons
1 stalk lemongrass
Celery salt

1 yellow mango, Thai if possible
Juice of 3 lemons
Fresh turmeric, if possible
2 stalks of lemongrass
3 soup spoons of olive oil

Preparation

Season crab with the olive oil, coriander and celery salt. Peel away the hard outer leaves of the lemongrass and chop heart finely. Mix milk, tarama, lemongrass, celery salt, then add the lemon juice and mix again. Peel the turmeric, chop the tender heart of the lemongrass, peel and slice mango and blend together Add olive oil and filter. Refrigerate.

To assemble: place a helping of Tarama in each bowl, add the crab and cover with thin slices of radish. Dot condiment attractively around the crab.

 

Gaspacho de tomates de boeuf à la citronelle

Ingredients

600 grams (3 cups) of ripe tomatoes, Coeur de Boeuf if possible
2 stalks of lemongrass
6 centiliters (2 ounces) of rice vinegar
6 soup spoons of olive oil
Celery salt

Preparation

Blend all ingredients together, filter and chill; Add a chopped garnish of 2 small green, or yellow tomatoes, 2 small white or mild red onions, 3 springs of basil, Thai if possible, 2 soup spoons of olive oil.

Recommended only with tomatoes in season.

La Cuisine de William Ledeuil: Ze kitchen galerie
By William Ledeuil and François-Régis Gaudry
Photographs by Eric Laignel

Paperback: 144 pages
Aux éditions Albin Michel, Paris (October 2010)
Language: French
ISBN-10: 222619536X
ISBN-13: 978-2226195364
25.00 euros

Ze Kitchen Galerie
4, rue des Grands Augustins
75006 Paris
Tel: (33) 1 44 32 00 32

K.G.B.
25, rue des Grands Augustins
75006 Paris
Tel: (33) 1 46 33 6685

www.zekitchengalerie.fr

Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and senior editor at Culturekiosque. She last wrote on Dining Out in Rome.

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