Whilst a young Louis XIV played in the adjacent royal gardens, Le Grand Véfour had just opened in the arcades of the Palais-Royal and begun its tenure as Paris’s first “grand restaurant.” Over the next two centuries, the chefs and kitchen at Véfour would go on to feed France’s political and cultural elite and establish a benchmark for classical French cuisine. These days, Chef Guy Martin’s creative menus are soundly nouvelle French, but they end in a flourish of experiential cuisine, courtesy of Pastry Chef Thierry Molinengo.
One of the highlights is Molinengo’s Cube Manjari: a towering box made of chocolate which the diner cracks open to reveal a multitude of layers. A conventional fromage blanc yields way to a surprising piquilo pepper puree and a crispy olive sablé, intermixed with whole raspberries, raspberry sorbet, and raspberry coulis. The magical cube is topped with a whole raspberry and a raspberry coulis-filled chocolate bonbon, and the effect in the mouth is a sweet, smoky, salty symphony. It’s an unexpected end to a meal surrounded by old-fashioned decor, and its quasi-savory character with a forthright amount of spice makes it one of the more stunning desserts in the City of Lights.
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Thierry Molinengo: I started cooking with Alain Ducasse at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco and I worked with Raymond Blanc in the UK and also at Stars with Jeremiah Tower (in the US). After all those positions I decided to switch to pastry. I wanted to bring savory to pastry. We call it “la patisserie du cuisinier.”
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry in France?
TM: I'm seeing a lot of use of herbs and spice. We try not to use chemicals in our preparations anymore – we did that 3 or 4 years ago but now it doesn't fit. I'm also seeing more often the use of savory in pastry. I noticed in the US that young people like food and don't necessarily like to cook but like to go out to eat. Our diner is older and the young cooks who come to work here don't know the traditional techniques. They need to know these techniques before they start experimenting.
AB: Are there less widely used ingredients that you especially like?
TM: Vitelottes, which are violet or Chinese potatoes. I like to use them with green apple and pineapple.
AB: Is this on the menus now?
TM: Not yet. We are still playing with it.
AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
TM: My offset spatula. I use it all the time and I need it to be precise. I also use a timer. It is very important in pastry!
AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
TM: What do you like to eat? You can immediately see if they like food a lot. Are you a gourmand? Do you taste everything? If you are a gourmand you must taste everything.
AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
TM: To be always clean. Your jacket and your person must be clean, and you must be well-shaved.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
TM: At the moment I'm reading The Silver Spoon by Phaidon Press. I’m trying to make desserts with Italian products.
AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
TM: Hong Kong and Shanghai. For me, these are the places to be at the moment for food.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants in your city?
Chef Yves Camdeborde’s Le Relais St. Germain in Paris. I like their terrine de foie.
AB: What are your goals and dreams as a chef?
TM: My dream is to find the next dessert that will be the most pleasing for the customer. I want to stay as long as I can in this profession. Hopefully I will have my own boutique, but I don't want to talk about it because if we do it won't happen.
AB: If you could have any chef cook for you, who would it be? To cook for?
TM: To cook for me it would be Pierre Gagnaire. To cook for it would be the chef at the White House.