It has only happened once in thirty years: that a new restaurant snatch three stars in its first year of existence. After Yannick Alléno at the Pavillon Ledoyen in 2015, Arnaud Donckele has just accomplished this tour de force for the Plénitude table at the Cheval Blanc hotel in Paris, inaugurated in September 2021 in the renovated premises of La Samaritaine. With the villa Madie in Cassis (Bouches-du-Rhône), it is one of the two restaurants to achieve the supreme distinction for this cuvée from the France 2022 guide celebrated in Cognac, in Charente, on March 22.
Arnaud Donckele, 44-year-old Norman, was not born yesterday. Since 2005, he has been the chef of the Vague d’Or, in Saint-Tropez (Var), for which he has already obtained three stars in 2013. In 2016, LVMH acquired the establishment and brought the chef into its network luxury hotels. The group entrusted him with the keys to Cheval Blanc Paris – in addition to Saint-Tropez – in 2018. For three years, he co-managed the work of the restaurant and refined an exceptional culinary project.
At Plénitude, he gives free rein to his obsession: sauces. “Paris allowed me to tell the world where my real passion was. What I couldn’t do in Saint-Tropez, because I had started another story [autour du terroir local] », explains the chef. The balance of power is reversed there: vegetables, meat and fish are “simple condiments” intended to highlight the saucier repertoire. “Vinaigrette, hot or cold emulsion, sabayon, siphon, ice cream, virgin sauce to eat… there are so many possibilities! » enumerates Arnaud Donckele enthusiastically.
With patience and passion, the chef builds liquid cathedrals where the abundant elements each contribute to the support of the building. One of his classics, “Lady Godiva”, is made up, among other things, of langoustine broth, peridium water, abalone juice, a reduction of chestnut honey and shallot, a vinegar chardonnay, langoustine head butter, pumpkin seed oil, a rosemary infusion, a coral blend… A liquid of such sophistication obviously has elective affinities. “You cannot serve Lady Godiva with lobster or lobster”, says Arnaud Donckele. You need tender, sweet meat like langoustine to provide “freshness and sensuality” to this velvety.
In a world of cooking that has become obsessed with Instagram, the chef appreciates the lack of photogenic sauces, “puddles”he said, smiling. “They embody the essence of cooking, because you can’t copy them, even if you have the recipe. The elements that make it up, such as orange or basil, are so changeable that only the palate can achieve accuracy. » “Arnaud has a very rigorous skilful cuisine. This is Swiss watchmaking with feelings”summarizes Alain Ducasse who recruited him in 1998 at the Louis XV in Monaco.
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