French chef David Toutain’s eponymous restaurant in Paris recently became a Relais & Châteaux member. Despite the challenges of France’s lockdown, the culinary artist continues to make the most of autumn’s delicious bounty.
“I’m here to serve what nature provides us, not the other way around,” the French chef is fond of saying. In this month of October, orange and ocher hues announce autumn’s imminent arrival. Crates of porcini mushrooms, squash, parsnips, chestnuts, and salsify, arriving directly from vegetable gardens across France, are the colors to be added to the chef’s palette. Nature’s bounty at its purest invites him to exercise his savoir-faire, honed over two decades laboring on behalf of both taste and technique.
As for many chefs, the Covid crisis has turned Toutain’s life upside-down, impacting his business and even how his restaurant is perceived. So he decided to take action and reinvent his model. During the first stay-at-home order in France, from March 17 to May 11, 2020, he opened the “Garde Manger David Toutain,” a “pantry” offering take-out meals, gourmet groceries, pastries, and more made from the ingredients found on his season-sensitive menu. Mushrooms, oysters, and truffles, or celery, leek, and quince – he has modified his gourmet dishes to align with this take-out option. In the kitchen, his entire staff is kept busy and, to continue supporting his suppliers, he places essentially the same orders he has always required and cans the ingredients in glass jars. An old-fashioned preservation technique revived out of respect for the foods and those who produce them. A way to preserve, too, a semblance of normality – as much as one can in such abnormal times – which, in turn, preserves the ties that bind.
The young Norman has drawn his inspiration from temples of taste such as L’Arpège, where he discovered vegetables’ power at the age of 20 and became a sous-chef. He stayed in Alain Passard’s culinary church for three years. Then, under his mentor Marc Veyrat, he tamed mountain herbs and flowers for another three years before setting off for new gastronomic horizons: a stint at Mugaritz in Spain with Andoni Luis Aduriz, then time at Corton in New York. He returned to Paris as chef of L’Agapé Substance, which mesmerized Parisian taste buds for a little over a year.
But it was on December 23, 2013, that he gave his greatest gastronomical gift: opening, at long last, his eponymous restaurant on peaceful rue Surcouf in Paris’s seventh arrondissement. A place at once soothing and singular that weaves a harmonious atmosphere from natural raw materials. The menus, named after flowers like meadowsweet, lemon balm, and ground-ivy, are tributes to the soil and all it nourishes. Listed with two stars in the Michelin Guide since 2019, the chef continues to create edible surprises with dishes that balance culinary creativity, flawless classicism, and avant-garde adventurism.