Aujourd’hui Couillon signifie intelligent

Chef's Table: A Netflix Original Documentary Series

Netflix

Fun on the best days, annoying on the worst: If growing up with my last name had its ups and downs, no doubt Alexandre Couillon has had his own share of patronymic adventures — only his ups have never been higher. Today the chef’s notoriety no longer stops at the restaurant door where his name hangs. By winning over foodies from around the world, le cuisinier de l’année 2017 also won a semantic battle. Aujourdhui Couillon signifie intelligent, says renowned food critic Gilles Pudlowski.

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In the opening scene of Chef’s Table France (season 3 episode 2), Couillon opens and smells each one of the giant scallops that were just delivered. Not one passes his quality check — a verdict soon relayed to the provider: Vos Saint-Jacques, c’est de la merde. Couillon is a man of few — often blunt — words whose candor makes up for his lack of eloquence. When asked for advice on how to create a dish, he answers: C’est simple, tu vas sur un rocher, tu regardes devant et tu réfléchis. A rock with a view? At the ends of the world, amidst land and sea, it may well be all one needs for inspiration.

Notre cuisine, c’est l’île, l’île de Noirmoutier. The chef’s philosophy and cuisine aspire to capture the essence of his remote island on the plate, sometimes its stories — and wounds. Named after the notorious tanker, l’huître noire Erika, an oyster poached in a squid-ink broth, evokes the 1999 oil spill that disfigured the coasts of Brittany and ruined its economy. La Marine‘s flagship dish made food critic Laurent Vanparys cry — tears of sheer bliss.

Je vois encore l’assiette arriver devant moi, blanche, immaculée, et cette espèce de chose sans vraiment de forme, noire, et je me dis ‘mais qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?’ Je coupe, je mets en bouche… J’essuie mes larmes, j’appelle Céline et je dis ‘on peut en avoir une deuxième?’

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Couillon may have won my heart — the ungrateful last name and the memory of summers in Noirmoutier (is it where I learned to swim?) have their say in this — but I have great admiration for the four chefs featured in Chef’s Table France. Their cuisine is much more than talent and grit. It shows a profound connection to nature and art. “One of the through lines from these episodes is how close each of the chefs are to their farms or gardens, both physically and philosophically,” writes food columnist Joshua David Stein. As true as Sophie Gilbert’s observation: “Most great art, after all, exists to appeal to a single sense. But food works to entice all five: sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste.”

Sight was the first of my senses to be engaged at L’Auberge de l’Ill this summer. The view from the garden was divine: surely a good omen for my parents entering a new decade of married life.

— Claire

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