when plants are invited to the kitchen

A Japanese-style garden hidden in a small alley that can only be reached on foot. A special place where time stands still… Inside, a creative and surprising cuisine where aromatic herbs are expressed in leisure… Chef Nicolas Durif opens the doors of his star-studded restaurant.

Nicolas Durif, originally from Alsace, did his apprenticeship in the kitchen of the two-star Auberge du Cheval Blanc. After completing his training with other crashed houses, he left his native region for the south of France, hand in hand with Michel Kayser, where he discovered products that he brought in his suitcases. In 2002 he came to La Rochelle, then to Rochefort at the Corderie Royale where he held the position of chef and in 2007 he obtained the title of “young talents of Poitou-Charentes”, awarded by the Gault et Millau guide. Following this experience, in February 2015 he opened his first restaurant, Hyssop, in La Jarrie.

Why hyssop?

cook a dish

Cook a dish – source: spm

Nicolas Durif: The name of the restaurant is a combination of my passion for plants and my region of origin, Alsace. Historically, or somewhat legendary, hyssop was a plant used by witches in Alsace. I have always liked these stories of magic and it is a bit like what you do in the kitchen, when you combine ingredients that have nothing in common and everything comes together perfectly, as a result of osmosis, that we manage to provoke an emotion. Hyssop is a plant that goes well with many ingredients, especially those from the sea, which I like to work with. It can be enjoyed fresh, dehydrated, in emulsion, in sorbet…

What is your relationship with plants in the kitchen?

ND: Plants are an integral part of my kitchen, because they enhance the dish, some even give each bite a different dimension. We do not try to hide the flavor of the food, but to enhance it with plants. We manage to work with about forty different varieties in summer thanks to local producers. I started working with plants with Hubert Maetz from the Hostellerie du Rosenmeer in Rosheim; We went directly to his garden to look for them, then during my professional career I discovered other ways of working with them.

Has any other chef particularly inspired you in your career?

ND: I don’t have a single mentor… In fact, I think I’ve learned from every chef I’ve worked with. My kitchen is unique today, because I have gained experience with chefs who have different visions of cooking. If I had to name just one, I think it would be Michel Kayser from Restaurant Alexandre de Garons, with whom I worked for more than two years and with whom I learned to cook the bull meat that is permanently on my card.

Do you have other “principles” in the kitchen?

ND: Anti-waste is a practice I support. In addition, we only work “inspired” menus, without choice on the part of the diners, which allows us to change periodically, work with seasonal products and, above all, local production. My fish comes from the La Rochelle or Royan fish market, my vegetables from various horticulturists in the department and my plants from small producers from Ile de Ré and Royan who supply us with different plants depending on the season.

We also work with locally grown saffron. What are your favorite plants in the kitchen?

ND: The hyssop, of course, for the reasons mentioned above, but also the sweet plant of the Aztecs, the cress of Pará, as well as all the plants of the swamps: the salicornia, the salicornia, the obiona…

In what ways do you use them?

ND: We try as much as possible not to transform the virtues and flavor of the plants, so most of the time we use them fresh, but some are worked in emulsion or infusion. We also make sorbets with some of them without adding sugar, because they contain it naturally. You recently participated in the “Le Grand Repas” event, inviting university students to create chef menus.

Do you think the basics of cooking should be taught in school or should we rethink how school canteens work?

ND: Yes, I think it would be smart to let our children become familiar with the kitchen, and especially with the products. Teach them how to eat and especially when, that tomatoes in December are not really in season, for example… Unfortunately everyone does what they can at their level and not everyone stays in the same brand. I take my hat off to all these men and women who feed our children having to respect a more than ridiculous budget. When it comes to equipment, some don’t even have enough to cook properly. To change things, we must first have the means.

Do you use plants outside the kitchen too, for example to heal yourself?

A restaurant kitchen

A restaurant kitchen – source: spm

ND: Luckily, I rarely get sick, but I trust the plants to treat me when I do, through inhalations and essential oils. Can you share with us an original recipe where our readers can fully discover the aroma and taste of hyssop? ND: With pleasure! I wish you a good tasting!

Oyster freshness with hyssop
– 6 oysters nº 3
– 3 g hyssop powder

Some fresh hyssop flowers
– 1 peeled kiwi
– 2 piquillo peppers
– 1 shallot
– 6 sprigs of samphire.

1. Open the oysters and save the water as well as the shells.
2. Infuse the hyssop powder in the oyster water, allowing it to cool. Pass everything through a sieve to remove any traces of peel. Add oysters to warm liquid and set aside. 3. Cut the kiwi, the piquillo peppers and the shallot into small cubes.
4. Mix everything together and then spread it out on each shell base. Arrange the oysters on top, finishing with the poached juices.
5. Decorate with sea fennel and some fresh hyssop flower petals.

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