Watch out there. VIP chef in the kitchen and VIP institution. One of those name you’ve heard 10 times and you maybe had no chance to either even locate or even try. Mister Alain Senderens has directed Lucas Carton for a while (1985), and I had a chance to go three times along the years 2001-2004.
Here you get to the perfection of this kind of “old empire” where basically the stars never felt down on earth and still shining in the sky. But this star, which was promised for an endless life, been forced by his own creator to recently die and like a Phoenix revive under a different name (the restaurant is now called The Senderens, and will be subject to another post).
But let’s focus on Lucas Carton. This forgotten empire, firstly known for his impressive “art nouveau*” style. You may know this style in Paris with the tube stations all designed by Hector Guimard. Lucas Carton is clearly in the same period and same inspiration. The wood, shaped in a “brasserie” style is fascinating of inspiration. The shape of the walls, the separation between “coaches*” and the mirrors frames are all elements to make you feel transport into a different atmosphere for long hours. Quite weird as well to imagine such a high standard starred restaurant in this kind of “bistro” style. This is honestly what is lifting you when you arrive. He in Lucas Carton the decoration has been done by Marjorelle*.
Then, what else can you expect from this institution…..just the best!! And from my memory two main courses come to my brain slowly but surely. One that I would qualify of “modern fusion”, and another one quite traditional and seriously logistically a real mare to prepare and serve in restaurant in general.
So let’s start by the first one.
We never talked about Lobster yet, did we?. Very odd, as usually it is one of the component of the “grande cuisine”. Everyone fancy Lobsters usually. It’s almost a full excitement when people see Lobster on a menu. People are shouting, almost fighting to be the only one having the course. Me I like it, but it’s not my favorite. I think it’s usually overcooked, boring to eat, and too simple (lol… indeed you buy a “still alive” Lobster, you boil water, you put the animal alive in it….and done….I over simplify here…but in three steps, this is actually what it is). Now here comes the chef. And obviously Alain Senderens will not just suggest a Lobster mayonnaise, like it is served in any restaurant in London for instance.”Nooooooooo”. Alain will surprise you with a Lobster prepared in a Chinese
Nem fashion style!!! Then you read those lines and will tell me “damned”, what the F### is that. “Not here, not at Lucas Carton”.
But I gave it a try. As I was really wondering what mister Alain Senderens can offer me, and especially based on finally something different. And then arrive the Nems in a huge and amazing deep plate. Lightly dropped on the plate, nothing around, just two pieces of a half cut Nem (almost the thickness of a UK large wrap) and on the side a king of Asian style low bowl with a green(ish) mixture.
You’re almost torn at this stage. Share between calling back the waiter and complain, or then maybe follow the reason and wiseness approach which is reminding you that at this stage you have to relief yourself and rely totally to the master chef hands. You hence execute yourself in starting to crunch the precious “wrap“, by following the instruction from the waiter, as not to forget the side green elixir. Then here we come. And it starts to be complicated. For those who don’t eat the green part of the Lobster (when I’m saying eat, I should say “suck”), they will simply not understand what I’m talking about. This elixir is just totally “insane”. After long analysis, it became clear to me that literally it was the “green” part of the Lobster, as named usually “coral” i.e. the green part of the inside of the animal, that usually nobody wants to eat or touch. Obviously, it’s so simple to just eat the body of the shellfish, and leave the legs and heads to more expert people. Here the chef prepare all it for you. Nothing to crack, to kill, to break. No hammer or any surgeon tools.
How amusing is that, no need of DIY skills to eat properly a Lobster, just ask Lucas Cartons and they will serve it for you, all prepared, and even the most flavory part.
The second one coming here in the list is the Chef speciality, a total revamping of an “old roman aged” recipe. Some would qualify it of ancestral. The name is “Canard Apicius” coming from a famous latin roman chef around the 1st century A.D and named Marcus Gavius Apicius¹. Back in the ancestral times, the art of cooking was mainly based on vinegar and sweet’n sour flavor, honey and herbs. Alain Senderens, quite and genius artist, decided to re vamp this recipe and came up with the “Canard Apicius”. As part of the whole Lucas Carton experience, I had to taste it and I’ve to say…..I was impressed.
I’ll be honest with you, I couldn’t come up with a second main courses when I was thinking about Lucas Carton, and I was mulling over the last few weeks trying to remember THE course which I could describe along few lines of a blog. And then I decided to google the name of the chef and some of his “back in 2001’s” menus. And then I bumped into the Canard Apicius….and like the smell of a perfume you can remember 25 laters….it come up to me…when I found the recipe online, read it and there had the slash in the face…like a “this is it, this is the ONE”.
Oh crazy it is….I now perfectly remember the flavor of it, the color, the disposition on the plate. My memory is back and I can tell, it was a WOW. Seriously.
Let’s go back to the main recipe. The basis of it is mainly based on wine, vinegar, herbs, honey. The sugar as we know didn’t exist back in the Roman times, and the wine was in force in any dishes, as Roman empire was a big producer and consumer of wine. The wine was also very sweet compare to the one we’re use to in Europe nowadays, and would be mainly comparable to Italian wines, very sweet and full of sugar. The original recipe on his own is not very complicated (refer to the bottom section below in french). Mainly cooking the duck with an insane amount of herbs, vine and honey. But I can tell you the Senderens’ version is just spot on. You all now the chinese duck!!! So then you’ll tell “ok and then!!??”. Let’s now imagine than a slow cooking of a whole duck, cooked for long hours in a wine glazing and roasted with honey will be? Now you start to feel the idea and the perfection of it. The skin of the Duck is simply absorbing the honey and wine and shiny itself from almost being covered from a brilliant and red varnish. It could be some Coco Chanel one, you would not be surprised.
There it is, on the plate now, usually joined with nice Asparagus and a Ginger and Champagne Carrot Purée. Now I leave you to your imagination. The tenderness of the duck and the flavor the vine and honey cooked together brings definitely the best combination ever to have the duck prepared. Merci monsieur Senderens
Lucas Carton is not anymore unfortunately. Alain decided to relax and stop the challenge of having to run a 3 stars restaurant. This is fair I can imagine when you’ve been one of the leader chef in the world for so long years (20). But he left a serious amount of imagination and professionalism in the current top 25 head chefs currently running in the industry. From Alain Passard (L’Arpege) to Frédéric Robert (La Grande Cascade), most of them worked at Lucas Carton and learnt from the master chef Alain Senderens. Alain is still running the Senderens (same original place of Carton’s) but in a more relaxed manner. He is still under a 2** benchmark currently and you can still experience his talents for actually a slightly more reasonable price. Moreover, the Canard Apicius in still on the menu. If you have the occasion, try it. You’ll die.
LUCAS CARTON (now Senderens)
9 Place de la Madeleine – 75008 PARIS
Tel : +33 (0) 1 42 65 22 90 – Fax : +33 (0) 1 42 65 06 23 http://www.senderens.fr
Senderens au restaurant l’Archestrate puis au restaurant Lucas Carton, s’est inspiré d’Apicius pour créer son célèbre “canard Apicius” :
Lavez et parez la grue ou le canard et mettez dans une marmite. Ajoutez de l’eau, du sel et de l’aneth et cuisez à moitié jusqu’à ce que la bête durcisse; retirez-la et remettez-la dans une cocotte avec de l’huile, du garum (sorte de nuoc mam) et un bouquet d’origan et de coriandre. Avant que la cuisson soit achevée, ajoutez un peu de défritum pour colorer. Pilez du poivre, de la livèche, du cumin, de la coriandre, de la racine de laser, de la rue, du carénum et du miel, ajoutez du jus de cuisson et travaillez avec du vinaigre. Versez cette sauce dans la cocotte pour la faire chauffer et liez avec de la fécule. Dressez la volaille sur un grand plat et arrosez-la de sauce. (212 : L6-II-1)
Traduction Jacques André.