PIERRE GAGNAIRE COMES TO VEGAS AND HOPES NO ONE THINKS HE’S A PIZZA MAN
On December 4, 2009, Pierre Gagnaire (gahn-Yair) will be the third renowned French chef in four years to open his first American restaurant in Las Vegas. Twist by Pierre Gagnaire in the Mandarin Oriental will join miX by Alain Ducasse, and restaurants Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy among the classified growths of Las Vegas dining, so we reached him for a friendly Q & A about the Vegas-French Connection, and what we can expect from this master of avant-garde cuisine.
Eating Las Vegas®: With the American and Las Vegas economy still struggling, what are your thoughts about opening in Vegas in a very down economy?
Pierre Gagnaire: (laughing) This is how I can finally prove my love for America! I am not just saying that just as a joke. Europeans now…because there has been such a long period of time when there was sort of a love and hate relationship been the United States and France especially. Now French people really want to love America.
ELV: So you’re not nervous at all about opening in a difficult economic time?
PG: No, no, no. Never because I am more worried that my sauce doesn’t work, not that the restaurant won’t work. It (Twist) will be a stunning place.
ELV: All of your restaurants are rather small, aren’t they?
PG: Yes. I don’t know how to do big restaurants. It is so hard to do big restaurants. It’s not my playground, I work on a small scale. (Twist will have 55 seats.) I think I have found the right playground; I don’t like the word “concept”. My restaurant will feature an a la carte which is going to be traditional Las Vegas food twisted by us. It won’t be a pure at heart fine dining experience where we will be chasing (Michelin) stars. On the other side (of the menu) you will have a menu which you think is more the complete gastronomy experience. So it is a mixing between…I like to think of it as a story that is going to be written day after day, and it’s going to be the story of Pierre Gagnaire in Las Vegas.
ELV: Did you talk with Mon. Robuchon and Ducasse about coming to Las Vegas? If you did talk to them what can you tell me about what you discussed with them about their experience in Las Vegas and how it would influence your experience in Las Vegas?
PG: (laughing) They would not tell me the truth. So I would rather talk to Jean-Georges, Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller…and of course Guy Savoy. We live in the same area in Paris…and we talk all the time.
ELV: What’s it been like, for you and your chefs, to prepare for a Vegas opening, and how does it compare with other cities you now operate in?
PG: The Chef Pascal Sanchez has a very warm personality and is a fun guy. He is not pretentious. He has been working as a chef for 12 years, he worked for about 4 years in Paris and 8 years as a head chef at Sketch in London. It has been very, very hard work…very complicated (in London). And operating there is just as complicated (difficult) as Las Vegas (will be).
ELV: Why do you say that?
PG: (laughing) Because the English love to hate French people. The huge part of doing the menu and the restaurant was listening people. And listening to Adam Tihany, you know the designer, listening to people from the Mandarin Oriental, listening to other restaurateurs, listening to people who are doing conventions, and you suddenly realize that when people come to Las Vegas, they come for a whole package of experiences. They can gamble, they can see shows, they can go on helicopter rides, so Gagnaire is a tiny part of these things. So you have to come in a very humble way, but still you have to be yourself and you have to give to the people the same Gagnaire experience, but you can’t take anything for granted.
It is impossible to duplicate what is happening in Paris. For an example, two years ago I came from London to New York to do a Louis Vuitton dinner. Everyone loved the food, but they all left before 11:30 because they had to go back to work the following morning, so nobody ate dessert. I had 50 lbs. of dessert leftover and didn’t know what to do with it. It is something you learn about each market. Every market is different.
ELV: Do you think we have moved beyond what they call edge or molecular cuisine?
PG: No. No doubt that there are two different aspects of molecular gastronomy. You’ve got the beginning…when people are very excited about the whole movement and so it is very trendy, so everybody is talking about it. Then it reaches a peak, and then it goes back into where it belongs which means (it’s incorporated) into the techniques of the cuisine as a whole.
So it will now be included in maybe a brasserie just like vacuum-packed cooking. It was very fashionable at one time and now it is in the kitchen and it is in the menu but nobody talks about it. It’s part of the group (of skills) that we are using now, but it was fashionable at one phase. Then you have the chef’s talent and can he incorporate it into his way of cooking? You now use traditional techniques that is (are) very ancient as well as the very modern one. Nowadays, what is fantastic and you can have a very traditional apple pie and on the side you can have like a foam (or other modern technique) seasoning the apple pie.
ELV: Other than Paris, Las Vegas will soon be the only place in the world where diners can enjoy and compare the cooking of Ducasse, Savoy, Gagnaire and Robuchon. How would you describe their cooking, and how does your cuisine differ from theirs?
PG: (after a long pause) Ducasse has the intelligence of a business man. He is very clever. Robuchon is a great chef. I admire his work. I think Savoy wants to please people. He has a similar personality to Daniel Boulud, and their cuisines are alike in that way.
Ducasse adapts his cuisine to where he is. Robuchon’s cuisine is quite personal. I can’t actually describe myself. It is very difficult to describe because I now like starting get myself into a weird (strange/new) environments. I am always ready to take up the challenge in a very difficult environment. (I do this) In order not to be bored in the kitchen, to tell a new story all the time with my restaurants.
ELV: One final question, who are the toughest gourmets in the world…the toughest customers to please?
PG: If you take the Americans for an example, you have some American people who come to restaurants in Paris and they have this huge culture, you know they have such a knowledge about the European culture which is absolutely astonishing. And then you have some Africans/African-Americans that come and shout and have a great time….So you can say that about many nationalities.
Having said that, you’ve got Japanese, South Americans, Hong Kong, they are not used to talk.They are not used to saying what they think. And that differs from American people, so you never know exactly. French people can be the same way as well. (laughing) You have smart and stupid customers (in all languages and nationalities.
When you do your job well, the percentage of stupid customers is very low. Yes, but when they catch you, they hurt you a lot. Recently, an American guy said that I had the technique of a pizza man.
ELV: Americans can be very opinionated about food, even when they don’t know anything about it.
PG: Same thing in France I can assure you.
Merci beaucoup to Pierre’s lovely wife Sylvia, for her patient and good-humored translation services.