Marxist theory of cooking
We talk to France's answer to Heston Blumenthal, revolutionary Paris chef Thierry Marx.
Marx and his trademark chopsticks
Thierry Marx is arguably France's most famous avant-garde chef. As executive director of Sur Mesure and Camelia at the recently opened Mandarin Oriental, Paris, he heads two of the capital's top gastronomic restaurants. He says "My job definition is a quote from a Japanese Master: Cooking, is for looking at, meditating on and eating".
Two Michelin star-holder Marx has created a style of cooking some would refer to as molecular. He calls it "innovative". "I'm inspired by the Japanese approach to cuisine of deconstuction/reconstruction", he explains.
"In France, chefs are not adventurous enough. While I respect the classics of French cooking, I like tasting new flavours and looking to the future not the past. What I'm trying to do is set French cooking free from its bourgeois cage".
Marx is as likely to wear a judo kimono as chef's whites. The black belt martial arts fanatic teaches at The Judo Institute, Paris. Several months each year are spent studying cuisine and martial arts with Japanese teachers. "The most rejuvenating place for me is Kyoto and its temples," he says.
Marx received two Michelin stars for his innovative cooking at Bordeaux Chateau Cordeillan-Bages. He has also written several books - and recently published a free cookbook for Les Restos du Coeur, a charity providing food for the homeless.
Gilles Pudlowski, French gastronomic critic, regards Marx as a Jewish samurai, combining east and west. "He's very different from all the other chefs, probably because of his background, I know he used to speak Yiddish with his grandfather, whom he adored."
Marx's green tea mousse with lemon sorbet
Marx works on, and teaches, his culinary fantasies at the Paris FoodLab. "This is an exciting time to be cooking, because there's so much experimentation going on," he says. Current projects include working with a perfume maker to create new desserts and Le Whiff, an aerosol inhaler that squirts puffs of fine chocolate powder. Each chapstick-size stick contains 200 mls of powder; less than one calorie per four puffs.
Launched in 2008, Paris FoodLab focuses on two frontiers of science, the first related to the air we breathe, the second to liquids we drink. It explores and develops the next generation of aerosol cuisine and new forms of "breathable foods".
Marx is not sure why his culinary career has taken such a revolutionary road. "Maybe it's the name," he jokes.
Born in 1961, he lived in Belleville, a tough multi-ethnic neighbourhood where his father was a baker. He was raised mostly by his grandparents; his grandfather Marcel Marx, a Polish refugee and communist, introduced him to martial arts for self defence.
At 16, he joined the French Army and saw action in Lebanon as a parachutist, then returned to France and trained as a pastry-chef. He honed his craft in Japan (he always eats with chopsticks) and top French restaurants, including with Joel Robuchon where "I would stay really late copying his amazing recipes".
There followed travels with backpack, absorbing inspiration in Australia and Asia. Eventually he returned to Bordeaux and, ultimately, Paris.
At Sur Mesure, dishes include: beetroot, structured and destructured; the signature soy risotto; l'oeuf eclaté, a colourful Matisse-like variation on hen's eggs; low temperature, oven baked turbot with cedrat fruit; and desserts served in stacked transparent bento boxes.
Sur Mesure is a sensory experience showcasing Marx's considerable technical skills. And if he could be a dish? "I'd be a soy risotto. Soy is the most neutral product that exists. But very Asian so, for the French twist, I add truffles and cèpes".
At Camélia, dishes such as rectangles of smoked wild salmon, herbed potato cake, cream cheese and salmon eggs, tartare of seabream, paper thin turnip and mango ravioli, all have Marx's post-modern spin.
Cooking, he insists, must be a pleasure. "Even if we use new cooking techniques, we must combine tradition and innovation".
"Actually, my dad wanted me to be a doctor," he smiles.