Get personal with Chef Pierre Gagnaire

When I asked the illustrious Chef Pierre Gagnaire to articulate his sheer genius in the kitchen, he leaned over and with a gentle smile that came through his deep steel blue eyes, to say, “I try to create an emotion.”

Clearly, Gagnaire has such an ability.  His food is as artistic as it is delicious. Edible art that is simple, and also ingeniously creative, his creations are capable of drawing out feelings of love, happiness, inspiration, delight, curiosity, ultimate pleasure.

Yet, Gagnaire is modest in every way.  Though he has gained a cult of international devotees and owns highly-acclaimed restaurants worldwide and has garnered three Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant in Paris, he finds himself short of expressing his brilliance. But he understands that his business is a process and that constant evolution has allowed him to stay at the forefront of the international culinary scene and remain relevant in an ever-changing world.

Gagnaire is the type of individual that is present at every front. By example, this is one of the reasons for his visit to his only U.S. restaurant, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, located on the 23rd floor of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. Working alongside his kitchen team, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don, and wine director, Master Sommelier Will Costello, he says that consistency is supremely important – one that takes patience, the ability to empower his team to envision his idea, then organically allow their magic to take place in the kitchen.

“He creates an environment of family which allows me to have his full support when I am creating new menu items,” says Twist’s, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don. “Most of all, he trusts our team.”

Gagnaire has always encouraged chefs to break free of the rules that have governed the French canon for so long.

“Finally, one day I was ready to open my vision with all these chefs,” says Gagnaire, “A chef has the capacity to translate .. he or she is talented.  I’m obsessed with the quality, and I try to give the process. Not the recipe, never the recipe – just the idea.”

The feeling of creativity, design and artistry delights the senses from the very moment you enter Twist. The majestic floor-to-ceiling windows heighten the energy in the dining room and a dramatic glass staircase leads up to a suspended wine loft.  The restaurant also boasts a most striking lighting feature, which incorporates more than 300 spheres designed to look like bubbles floating across the ceiling. All this, is after being greeted by hundreds of silk purple butterflies that are seemingly an extension of the warm hospitality one receives as a guest.

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Twist by Pierre Gagnaire continues to garner accolades for its groundbreaking menu of classic French cuisine, from vegetarian specialties, like Jardinière (Fava Beans, English Peas, Spring Onions Baby Carrots in Onion and Curry Juice English Pea Soup), to Muscovy Duck from Grimaud Farm (Thinly sliced with Cassis Bigarade Sauce Celeriac-Red Beetroot, Baby Carrots Turmeric Pommes Gaufrettes, Bacon Powder), Chef’s creations are a “twist” on the contemporary.

Gagnaire admits that his life in the culinary world was specified at an early age. His father was a chef, and while his siblings opted for other careers, cooking became Gagnaire’s destiny.  After working under some of the finest chefs in the business, he struck out on his own in the town of St Étienne, where his illustrious career took flight.

Since then, he has overseen the development of a number of restaurants around the world, from London, to Paris, to Seoul and Dubai – each of which stay true to the defining quality and innovation synonymous with Chef Gagnaire.

But, working closely with his team is where he feels most at home.  He explains how relationships are made through food, not only with his guests, but also with his team.

“I didn’t have a [career] choice, but I found that it was possible to tell a story.  Food creates relationships with people, and people are the keys to my life.”

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Unearthing amphora wines in Las Vegas

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In Georgia, old kvevri are stacked next to the monastery where the wine is made.

Archeologists have traced the origins of wine-making back to 8,000 years ago to the country of Georgia.  Wine was produced – and continues to be produced today – using clay vessels called kvevri. Essentially, fermentation of red and white wine in clay involves prolonged contact with the skins.  In wine circles, the term “amphora” is commonly used to describe this style of wine.

It goes something like this: perfectly mature grape bunches are placed into kvevri that are sunken into the ground, a stone lid secures the top, then it’s opened the next spring or summer to skim the finished wine from the grape bunches that have accumulated at the bottom.

Georgia has been producing natural wines like this, without the use of chemicals, foreign yeasts, or filtration long before it became a stylistic trend. In the last decade, however, winemakers in other parts of the world, especially Italy and Slovenia, have embraced this ancient way to making wine, and they deserve some attention.

Jars in the wine cellar at Azienda Agricola Cos,Acate
Jars in the wine cellar at Azienda Agricola Cos, Sicily, Italy.
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Josh Gravner, of Friuli, Italy, opens a Ribolla 2014 amphorae at the end of the whole skin contact period.
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Graver’s Ribolla 2014 direct from the amphorae.

While amphora wines can be made with red or white grapes, the wines made with white grapes end up with an attractive orange hue.  Typically, these wines have more body and structure than a normal white wine, and may even have noticeable tannins, due to the time spent with the skins.  When in Las Vegas, try them at the following places listed below.  The sommeliers  have provided the dish they’d pair with each one:

Josko Gravner Ribolla Anfora,  Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy  2003
Taste at:  Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Manadrin Oriental
Pair with: Roasted Tomato “Provencal”Ratatouille of  Vegetables, Diced Baby Squid, Saffron Fish Soup

Sommelier’s Notes: “This is a super complex dish with the earthful flavors from the ratatouille, the “sweetness” of the squid, the saffron brings the lightly aromatic flowery thing. All of these you would find in something like Gravner’s wines. Just a whole lot going on.” – Will Costello, Master Sommelier/Wine Director,  Twist by Pierre Gagnaire @ Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

COS Pithos Bianco, Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2012
Taste at: B&B Ristorante, The Venetian
Pair with: Grilled Octopus with Fagioli Marianati and Spicy Limoncello

Sommelier’s Notes: “The COS Pithos Bianco has the delicacy to compliment seafood while offering the power to stand up to the flavorful char on the octopus, as well as the spice of the limoncello vinaigrette.” – Kirk Peterson, Beverage Director, B&B Hospitality Group, Las Vegas

Josko Gravner, Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2005
Taste at
: Bazaar Meat, SLS
Pair with: Whole Turbot, Josper-Roasted with Olive Oil and Salt from La Coruna, Spain
Sommelier’s Notes: “The Turbot is a large flat fish found primarily in shallow waters close to shore, it has bright white flesh, a delicate flavor and can have a slightly oily texture.  The texture of the fish provides contrast while the simplicity of preparation of the Turbot compliments the flavors of the seafood and wine pairing.”  – Chloe Helfand, Lead Sommelier, SLS Las Vegas

A few more producers:

Luigi Tecce, Campania, Italy
Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily
Adega José de Sousa, Alentejo, Portugal