“We need to connect more with nature than with social networks”
Influential chef Michel Brass receives the Andorra Taste Award for his contribution to the cuisine of landscape and emotions
“Here is Nature, which invites you and loves you, get lost in her bowels, that she always offers herself”. With this quote from the poet Lamartine, Michel Brass tried to explain his way of understanding life. The French chef, one of the most respected and influential chefs of the last century, yesterday received a special award from the culinary congress Andorra Taste, for making the local cuisine, combined with the landscape, a role model. He did so with an affectionate but vigorous appeal to his colleagues who today lead the sector along the path he blazed. “I would like today’s chefs to stop and go to nature, listen to it, be aware of it more than social media,” he said.
Born in Gabriac, a small town in the south of France, in November 1946, Brass’ first vocation was not gastronomy. “I wanted to be a mathematician, a man of science,” he admits. Through sports, he discovers nature and cooking, a craft taught by his mother, turns out to be the vehicle that expresses his love for this environment, capable of giving him “the first ray of sunshine in the morning or the taste of wild blackberries.” From his childhood, he remembers the texture of the cream on a glass of hot milk, the sugar brioches from the village bakery or the eggs he stole from the hen house on the way home from school. “The thrill of drinking this stolen treasure was more satisfying than the taste of the egg,” he admitted.
He provided the key to a way of understanding trading oriented from the ground up to capturing emotions. “Cooking for me is an act of love for others,” he said. That moment shared at the table, whether it’s dinner with his wife Jeanette or a snack with his grandchildren, “is more important than what’s on the plate.” However, the chef’s challenge is “to have the ability to express what’s inside, like an artist or a musician.” In his case, this led him to capture with finesse and ease the rich palette of flavors of the plant world, forging a path – his first completely vegetarian menu dates back to 1978 – that today young professionals around the world are exploring.
His influence is as profound as it is difficult to quantify. Not surprisingly, Brass invented the now ubiquitous chocolate “coulant” or that vegetable “gargouillou” that has since been copied by all the greats of international cuisine. But perhaps his greatest contribution to the trade is to understand that his value lies not in cooking only the most valuable parts of luxury products, but in making the most of what his environment offers him. Landscape cuisine, which is today the dominant discourse, began to be painted more than forty years ago in the mind of this slim and lively man, whose legacy of short cooking time, simple preparations and respect for the product can be traced even in the humblest bistro in the last corner of the planet.
Brass traveled to Andorra for the first time in his life, “not so much to receive an award” but because he found the concept of wild gastronomy that inspired the congress very interesting. “For me, mountain cuisine is hospitality, seasons.” A cuisine traditionally practiced by women “able to do a lot with very little, to turn what is not appreciated into something good”. This recipe for survival, specific to the heights, is, according to him, the most reasonable option for the future. “In the new context we live in, we have to go back to cooking to avoid waste.”
In Search of “New Andorran Cuisine”
The encouragement of Michel Bras was felt by many of the professionals who passed through Andorra Taste to tell their way of cooking in the mountains, from the Garroxa volcanoes seen by Fina Puigdevall and her daughters, to the Sella Valley photographed by Nacho Manzano, or the Sierra de la Demanda in the eyes of Francis Paniego. “The mountain is a harsh and restrictive environment that shuts down in winter and offers almost nothing, but the scarcity should not be an excuse for not interpreting the terroir,” said the chef of Echaurren, who achieved, together with Jordi Grau, the first Michelin Star for Andorra for decades at Ibaya Restaurant. Although their origins are hundreds of kilometers away, Paniego and Grau have scoured the Principality to extract their hallmarks and bring them to the plate. Starting from ideas that mark the character of the country such as the border, the mountains, the river, the cultivation of tobacco, smuggling, the old eel fishing or the French and Catalan influence, they propose to lay the foundations of a “new cuisine” of Andorra.