Paris — To call Inaki Aizpitarte, the 34-year-old chef at Le Chateaubriand in Paris, the culinary equivalent of deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida may be hyperbole.
But there are similarities. Like the much-adored Derrida (faithful were known to queue for hours to hear the master), Aizpitarte is a cult favorite of foodies, who will tell you he is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in France in years.
And just as Derrida took apart the world to find hidden meaning, Aizpitarte “undoes” the classics, reconstructs them and, somewhere in the process, unleashes a rush of flavors.
“I like to play with elements that we know, tastes that are familiar, but to mix them up, to make them new,” explains the soft-spoken chef as he sips Badoit mineral water in the bistro he bought with a partner six months ago.
Self-taught, Aizpitarte came to cooking like an inspired dharma bum. Wandering and jobless in Tel Aviv, he was short on cash and landed work as a dishwasher. Circumstances led to a job behind the stove. “I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do,” he says. “That was it.”
Back in Paris, he apprenticed in a series of neighborhood eateries before landing his first solo gig at the mom-and-pop-style La Famille. It was during his subsequent tenure at the restaurant at the MAC/VAL contemporary art museum that he became more adventurous — creating meals, for instance, inspired by paintings.
Since he opened Le Chateaubriand, Aizpitarte’s name is on everyone’s lips. After all, not only has he crystallized the move toward inventive bistro food, he’s doing it with unmatched brio.
What’s the Aizpitarte touch? Think spaghetti carbonara with the pasta replaced by strips of celeriac, and an “undone” pissaladière, with all of the ingredients of the onion and anchovy Mediterranean tart taken apart like an Erector set.
For the hearty stuff, there’s pot au feu served cold, a frozen “Inuit” steak and Agneau retour du Maroc, or Moroccan-style lamb, cooked, then pressed, then refrigerated and then fried, with an emulsion of mint tea.
His well-edited menu changes every three weeks, with a three-course prix fixe for 39 euros, or about $49 at current exchange.
This story first appeared in the November 7, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“My approach is all about bringing an element of newness, but not being too mental,” says Aizpitarte. “I don’t think it’s right when your food arrives and you have to scratch your head and ask how to eat it.”