David Toutain: Sparkling with Enthusiasm
A couple of years ago, I attended a cooking class with a young French chef named David Toutain. He had just arrived from a detour in New York, now he was lingering between jobs and projects back home in Paris. His resumé already read like the culinary chapter of the Who's Who. Toutain, a Normandy-born cook, had worked with and was formed by Alain Passard, Marc Veyrat (the guy from the lake with the hat) and Bernard Pacaud of "Ambroisie", only to name these three living legends. Toutain had already left France to explore the new world of food and foodies in Spain and the US, now he was teaching a small class of people how to poach fish, how to play with chocolate, how to turn parsnips into delicious purées.
I've forgotten many details of that afternoon but one impression has stayed with me ever since: David Toutain sparkled with enthousiasm, he was all in, a passionate cook, a charming teacher. It was obvious to everybody that he had superior technical skills, and a deep understanding of the products he worked with. But above all, even if that may sound all too kitschy, the main ingredient of his cuisine was love. This guy loved what he did. He loved the things he touched. He even seemed to love cutting a carrot into pieces.
Now, that hasn't changed, fortunately. The chef's love was felt again recently, when I had lunch at Toutain's restaurant "david toutain" on the left bank of Paris close to the Musée d'Orsay. It's up and running since three years or so, after Toutain had explored China and Singapour, and now lunch really is a word too mundane for the exquisite menu he serves.
Food at Toutain's comes as a long row of beautifully presented morsels, brillant little salads, perfectly cooked (poached!) chunks of cod, generous slices of duck and "cèpes" in heart-warming sauces. I feel tempted to say, after years filled with more culinary deceptions than delights, that this was the most satisfying, the best menu I had in a long time.
If you asked for the style, I couldn't tell you. Classic techniques, Spanish inventions, American awareness, Asian whiffs are detectable in this resolutely modern approach to luxurious food but that sounds all too wishy-washy. In fact, this food feels right and good and perfect, really. Which only means that David Toutain, who has been a student for so long, has become a master chef in his own right. So just go there and enjoy your life.