How Septime made 'blandness' a thing of beauty
The restaurant set out to destroy the old French dining order using simplicity and restraint
Bertrand Grébaut and Théophile Pourriat love food, but are less keen on the sometimes arbitrary rules of modern gastronomy and haute cuisine. Over the past ten years, they’ve simplified Parisian dining and made it more enjoyable and accessible, via Septime, their small, perfectly conceived restaurant in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, La Cave, their even tinier, bustling wine bar, Clamato, their crowded seafood spot; and D’une île, the pair’s charming countryside guesthouse.
At all these places you’ll find great wine without having to deal with pretentious sommeliers, carefully foraged and presented wild ingredients, free from hippy stylings; and artfully prepared dishes, free from cloying, obsequious deference to the old ways of doing things.
In their new book, Septime, La Cave, Clamato, D'une île, Pourriat and Grébaut set out their success story to date, include recipes for some of the best dishes served at their highly acclaimed establishments, and offer insights into just what they like - and dislike - when it comes to food.
Some preferences, such as sustainable seafood and natural wines, are very much on trend at the moment, other peccadilloes take a bit more explaining. Consider, for example, their take on something most of us seek to avoid: blandness.
“To say that food is bland often means that it lacks character. However, in many cases we personally prefer a controlled blandness to overly exuberant expressions of flavour,” they write in their new book. “We prefer subtle to flashy, complementary tones to strong contrasts, delicate crystalline wines to extracted (concentrated) and woody bottles.
“When the produce is good, we try not to adulterate it or mask its taste by over-seasoning it. We use a minimal amount of salt, stock (broth) or delicately infused light jus rather than reductions, which saturate the flavours and make them bitter, and we sweeten desserts sparingly,” the pair go on. “For example, we serve raw scallops, brined in seaweed, with fresh almond milk, which we accompany with a subtle white Savoy wine, seeking a symbiotic rather than contrasting pairing of food and wine.
Blandness is one of our leitmotifs. It’s a sign of restraint, discretion and finesse. It’s also a way of eating and drinking more lightly. It’s an all-encompassing philosophy that breaks with the way that food has been served in the past. Aesthetically, it’s more understated and the service is less pompous and demonstrative and more modest. We are more willing to be in the background; we try to avoid the caricature of the all-powerful chef or restaurant manager. We’re particularly inspired by wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic and spiritual concept derived from Buddhism, which incorporates the principles of simplicity and austerity (wabi) and the alteration by time as seen in the patina of objects (sabi). These principles of plenitude, modesty and respect for natural phenomena perfectly match our vision of the world in reaction to current overconsumption.”
To find out more about how the pair reframed blandness as the acme of good tastes, as well as access recipes and wine pairings that best exemplify this approach, order a copy of Septime, La Cave, Clamato, D'une île here.