François Chartier: “Sometimes stopping is an opportunity to reorganize your life”

He defines himself as a creator of harmonies, but his work goes far beyond pairing food and drinks on a tasting menu. He Canadian François Chartier (Montreal, 1964) is able to help cooks to create recipes, develop together with a multinational like Sony una application to combine aromas, or scientifically demonstrate that the cava sticks with everything. He also plays the guitar and writes books such as ‘Papilla and molecules’, which set the standard for the profession worldwide. Robert Parker defined him as a “genius” and Ferran Adrià as the world’s greatest flavor expert. But Chartier has shown, above all, to have a very fine nose to move in the world of gastronomy.

-What is the key to successfully working on so many different projects?

-It is a mixture of intuition and luck. When you work hard you become the locomotive. I am very curious, I need to learn constantly. But when you go too fast you don’t have time to observe what is happening around you. In 2000 I had to close my company. At first it was going to be for a year, but in the end there were two, and I also got sick. However, that dangerous moment made me reflect. I learned to use my knowledge differently, and if we are talking about my work today, it is thanks to that decisive moment. Sometimes stopping is an opportunity to reorganize your life.

-He is a master in the controversial art of pairing. How much science and intuition do you have?

-Many things. The job of a sommelier or that of a chef is to share pleasure, not so much to share your science or your knowledge, but to use it for the enjoyment of others. The restaurant table cannot be a school. Customers have come to have a good time. It is not only knowledge, it is experience. You have to taste a lot, but also know how to cook. And the main problem of many sommeliers around the world is that they do not know how to cook. How is it possible that we tell diners what they have to drink if we don’t know how the dishes have been prepared?

-Your method is based on joining similar molecules present in wine and food, but in that equation, where are the particular tastes of the client?

-They are a very important subjective part that the sommelier should always take into account. At a table of four people with different tastes when pairing a pesto we can find harmonies with the molecules of basil in a verdejo, in a ‘pale ale’ beer for those who do not like wine, or even or in tea Sencha green for those who do not drink alcohol. This way everyone will have a different but equally satisfying experience. So pairing should not be routine. The key is communication between people, and keeping your heart and head open.

-Why do we usually choose wine based on food and not vice versa?

-Celler de Can Roca or Mugaritz have already made menus inspired by wines, such as El Corral de la Morería with sherry. In 1992, as a sommelier in Quebec, I had to design a menu to pair seven different vintages of a wine with pronounced notes of licorice and blackberry, so I asked the chef to add a little licorice and blackberry to his traditional caribou stew. From that day on, 70% of my work is based on helping to create recipes that go well with the wines, rather than choosing wines from the winery that go well with the recipe.

-When did you realize that you had a gift for aromas?

– I do not remember it, but my brother, who is older than me, told me that from a very young age when we went to a restaurant I smelled food and I really liked talking about aromas. I have not been aware until years later, but apparently since I was a kid I was already a ‘freak’ of aromas. I don’t know whether to call it a gift, but I do think that my life is linked with pleasure, the pleasure of eating, of drinking, of music …

-What do your childhood memories smell like?

-I remember a pork ragout that we ate at Christmas, typical of Quebec, that uses cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves … The time to get home and smell that stew from the door is my cupcake from Proust. Scents have a more important impact on our life than what we see or hear, but most of the time we don’t realize it.

-Can you make a pairing between people?

-Of course. Energy is also released between people. That makes them connect sometimes and sometimes not. It is important to surround yourself with people who have complementary energies. I met my wife three years ago at a dinner hosted by Ferran Centelles. They sat us together and three minutes after we started talking something magical had emerged, as if we had known each other for life. Today I live in Barcelona with her and we have two daughters. It was a perfect harmony.


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