In the beginning were all the French regions, each with its own cuisine, products, eating habits, rituals and landscapes.
Then came the kings who united our provinces. This is how French cooking appeared in the court. The mirror of a kingdom and an era, this court was also sensitive to fashion, the arts and foreign influences, which fed the chronicles and gave history its rhythm. Among the influences that could be felt were those of the wars in the Holy Lands, the Italian Renaissance, the creations of Dutch painters, German philosophers and Ottoman musicians.
The great merchant explorers endorsed by the Princes started to criss-cross the oceans: the people of these “new” worlds learned about our existence. We discovered the route of the East and West Indies, the sources of the Nile and the Yang-Tseu-Kiang, yellow gold or ebony wood. Exchanges began and friendships were formed.
This is how our ports, springboards for discovery, became a meeting place for different cultures. Those who absorbed the most of this mix? The cooks who, at each new stage, more curious and avid for knowledge, discovered the surprising flavours of faraway spices. From this discovery, this new emotion aroused by the awareness of others, came bit by bit a fresh attitude and an open spirit that would prove energizing. Beyond the talent, beyond the techniques particular to each of them, it’s this awareness of no longer being alone and sharing with the big wide world a common treasure, that over the centuries elevated French cooking to form of expression comparable to art.
This dialogue gradually took shape with spices as a symbol of our relationship to others and our vision of the world. Bland, anxious and sedentary: this was the immobile world, bitter and closed, conservative and traditionalist. Bold, warm and nomadic, this was the world to be greeted with open arms, with all its changes, exchanges and generosity.
In Saint-Malo, the main port of the Company of the South Seas, future East India Company, the child that I was had his eyes fixed, perhaps more than others, on the horizon. Looking well beyond the ramparts of the old city, I dreamed of improbable voyages, imagining other shores and other suns. My childhood dreams had the perfume of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and benzoin. These spices became the treasures of an imagination sparked by dreams of these adventurers: Bretons, sailors, intellectuals, explorers, writers, who were named Jacques Cartier, René Duguay-Trouin, Mathé de la Bourdonnais, Surcouf, Jean Charcot or Chateaubriand.
Cooking, the form of expression that I chose, allowed me to translate this memory and this port culture by using spices as an aromatic palette, which has grown to reflect new discoveries and the wonders of my travels.