Alain Senderens: Alain Senderens, a long career

Conversations with Alain Senderens, one of France’s greatest chefs

In this episode: Alain Senderens, a long career

This is a video series in six parts:

The series is based on short videos that I recorded when I met Senderens at his restaurant.

The conversations are in French but you can choose your language in the YouTube videos:

  1. Turn on “closed captions” by clicking on the CC icon in the lower right-hand corner
  2. Select your preferred language by clicking the cogwheel icon and selecting the Subtitles/CC language (NB: you have to do it in this order)

You can also read the article about Alain Senderens that was the result of this meeting. It was originally published in a different version in Chef Magazine, now published in a more complete version on Forbes and an extended version on Alain Senderens on BKWine Magazine.

The text introductions below are just that, introductions to what you can find on the videos. It is obviously not complete transcriptions.

Alain Senderens, a long career

Alain Senderens on Place de la Madeleine

Alain Senderens on Place de la Madeleine, copyright BKWine Photography, this image may NOT be used elsewhere

The beginning of the career in the kitchen

The apprenticeship began in Lourdes in the Hotel des Ambassadeurs, very late, at 18 years of age. It was a natural choice. The grandmother did a lot of cooking. As soon as Senderens was at home he was in the kitchen. There was a large library on cooking. After the exams in the cooking school, Senderens went to Italy. There was a period in the army during the Algerian war.

Returning from the war Senderens had the chance to start working at the La Tour d’Argent in Paris. “Life is also that, meetings with people,” meetings that changed the life of Alain Senderens.

The first job at Lucas Carton

After La Tour d’Argent in Paris Alain Senderens started work at Lucas Carton (much later renamed Restaurant Alain Senderens) as saucier chef. That’s where he thinks he really learned his job. This is also where he learned work ethics and professionalism. Things are different now. After Lucas Carton he moved to the Hilton, which was paying very well, as a sous-chef.

The origin of the curious name Archestrate

After the army, Senderens spent much time reading the History of Civilization in four volumes. He happens to find Archestrate, a Greek gastronome, during the Greco-Roman period. The story pleased him so much that Senderens thought that if one day he would have his own restaurant he would call it Archestrate. Archestrate said that it was necessary to stop using the garum because it hid the tastes of food. Archestrate was the creator of a new gastronomy of the time.

The creation of l’Archestrate, Alain Senderens’ first own restaurant

For Alain Senderens, the decision to start his own restaurant and create the Archestrate was easy. Working in a traditional restaurant was to make traditional recipes, to reproduce what had been formalized by Escoffier. For Senderens it was impossible to continue like this.

An Alain Senderens creation, leg of guineafowl

An Alain Senderens creation, leg of guinea-fowl, copyright BKWine Photography, this image may NOT be used elsewhere

For Senderens cooking was something else, creating, imagining new dishes. Senderens left Archestrate on the rue de Varenne to take over Lucas Carton. Creating Archestrate was natural and necessary.

Alain Senderens takes over Lucas Carton, and other projects

Alain Senderens had made a great success with l’Archestrate, rue de Varenne, but the time had come for change. Lucas Carton on Place de la Madeleine, his former employer, was for sale. Senderens could not miss this opportunity. That’s life, you have an idea, and you try to realize it…. There are times when everything comes together. We must seize opportunities. For example, the hotel and restaurant project Mama Shelter where Senderens is taking care of the restaurant. He also launched a project in New York, a vegetarian restaurant, Maimonide in Brooklyn, which opened a year later. Seize the opportunity, life is made of opportunities.

Pioneering Alain Senderens: The menu with a one glass of wine to each dish

The story of the set menu with a different wine with each dish began with a single menu with wines by the glass. Château Haut-Brion, Yquem… It was 1985. Then a second set menu of food and wines. It was so successful that Alain Senderens decided to make a full à la carte menu with a suggestion for a wine by the glass for each dish on the menu.

Restaurant Alain Senderens at Place de la Madeleine

Restaurant Alain Senderens at Place de la Madeleine, copyright BKWine Photography, this image may NOT be used elsewhere

His team, his wife and his management did not believe in it. The initiative was a tremendous success. A few years later 80-85% of customers take the food with the glass of wine. The menu with a glass of wine with each dish. The evolution of the menu.

Alain Senderens gives back his three Michelin stars

“Giving back my three stars is the most beautiful thing I could do.” In 2005 he decided to give up his three Michelin stars. He had the three “macaroons” for 28 years and then he realizes that this is not what is the top of the gastronomy for him. More than half of a customer’s restaurant bill was due to something other than food. He changes direction of the restaurant. He removes some luxury but devotes even more to the quality of the raw material and the contents of the dishes.

Conversations with Alain Senderens, one of the greatest chefs in France. Throughout his career Senderens was a pioneer in French cuisine and especially for the pairing of food and wine. He was one of the first (maybe the first?) to propose a “wine menu” with a different wine to each dish. It was Senderens who gave wine the place it deserved at the table. He also jostled and shocked the gastronomic establishment of France when, in 2005, he “returned” his three Michelin stars to make French haute cuisine more democratic. His restaurant, that carried his name “Alain Senderens” on Place de la Madeleine, nevertheless remained one of the best restaurants in France, but with less luxury. He was also one of the great modernizers of the gastronomy and restaurant business in France, one of the founders of the nouvelle cuisine, and much more.

Alain Senderens died on June 25, 2017. The conversations were recorded on November 10, 2011 at the restaurant Alain Senderens on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris.

This post is also available in: Swedish

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