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Pierre Gagnaire's Lievre a la Royale

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I wrote an article about one of Gagnaire most iconic dishes.

Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant in the rue Balzac is a legend. Just as much as he himself is a legend. Eating here on a good day can bring you the meal of a lifetime, whilst coming on a less good one can be less exciting and very expensive. What causes such large differences to appear is the approach to cooking he takes. Up to this day, there is hardly one chef on the planet who can say that he combines what seem random ingredients in such a coherent way. Gagnaire truly has a unique style, which is incredibly complex and can seem crazy more often than not. But, what most forget is that he is first and foremost a perfectly trained classical cook.

or those who don't believe that, go to Paris in winter or autumn and try his game dishes. Among these, an interpretation of the classic lièvre à la royale is without doubt the most interesting.

Not only because it is one of the most complicated dishes to prepare, but also because only a very restricted number of chefs on the planet manages to pull it off properly. The preparation is intricate and takes a couple of days. In addition to that it is an expensive dish to make: two hares are needed to prepare "one" final piece, one needs truffles, foie gras, lots of good wine (the original recipes call for Chambertin, no less!) and countless other things. Out of one hare one prepares a stock, which is then used to cook the other hare in. Whilst there are two versions, that of Ali Bab and of the Senator Aristide Couteaux, Gagnaire does something very different with it. He serves the beast in three courses. The description of the dish alone would consume nearly a full page, thus it is best to proceed one after the other.

First of all, you are served the rack of the hare. It comes with cabbage, orange marmelade, almond pouder and a sauce that is more or less the classic one. What is striking here is not only the incredibly tender and tasty meat, but also the balance one gets from the powerful sauce and the fresh, lighter cabbage. Whilst the exact components change on a yearly basis, this dish exemplifies what Gagnaire is all about: Balance and power.

The second dish resembles the version of Aristide Couteaux a bit. It is the leg, which is cooked for a long time and then served with parsnip puree and wild prunes. It has the unctuous, melting richness of the classic version, but the addition of chocolate in the parsnip puree and frozen foie gras lift the flavours up even more. It is a rich, but balanced masterpiece. Again, such flavours are not for the faint-hearted, as they are incredibly concentrated, but will make everyone else fall in love with them. Then comes the final version, a classic pie made with the meat that is scraped from the bones. It is the most intense part of the trio, and shows off how perfect the pastry and jus are in combination with the meat. What is again striking is that by serving a pineapple sorbet just after it, Gagnaire gives you the impression that you have eaten much less than you actually did. After having consumed this monstrous dish, one cannot help but wonder how good food can be. It shows off just how far one can go with such a dish that is more than a few houndred years old.
That is what makes Gagnaire unique. He takes such a recipe and creates a contemporary dish, which respects its origin yet turns it into something even more balanced. This truly is a dish of a lifetime.

You can check the pictures on my site qliweb.com

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  1. thanks for this report. i found gagnaire's food hard to understand / appreciate, but i wonder if that was due to a lack of exposure to french cuisine in general.