Meet the French cook Alexis Gabriel Aïnouz

As an online star and Jamie Oliver discovery, Alexis Gabriel Aïnouz represents the non-formal route into French cuisine, one focused on fun and a passion for trying new things. Connexion spoke to him about his influences, preferences... and the perfect omelette

29 August 2018
By Connexion journalist

Where were you born and where do you live?

Born and raised in Paris, where I still live today. I do travel a lot for work though, and honestly I enjoy fast-paced cities like NYC or London very much, from a business point of view at least. On the weekends, however, I am always looking for something a bit more chilled, which usually includes a sunny terrasse at a café, a glass of red wine and endless discussions about the meaning of life. Can’t beat Paris for that.

 

What is your earliest food memory?

At my grandparents’, I would have the the most traditional French meals you could think of. Lighting was low, the table was crowded and my “Mamie” would not stop bringing fragrant dishes and shiny sauces to the table. Beef bourguignon, Blanquette, Sauerkraut...

Looking back, I realize she taught me to love all my classics. She also taught me the value of a meal doesn’t sit on the plate itself; the whole experience is highly social and cultural.

 

What first got you interested in cooking?

I loved food very early but started cooking very late. At 25, I moved in with my girlfriend and when we split the housework in half, I got shopping and cooking. What a bargain, I know!

I started with very simple dishes, then bought a few second hand cookbooks and slowly fell in love with the process itself. I especially enjoyed – and I still do today – discovering new dishes from different cuisines. In fact, I remember I would dedicate whole periods to certain dishes, like curry week or sourdough weekends.

 

What is your culinary background and experience?

I have been cooking every day for the past 12 years but I am no chef. I learned from books, blogs and YouTube. I am the living example that you don’t need culinary school to become a successful cook. My recipe was: a sprinkle of passion, a ladle of curiosity, a solid splash of hard work and an embarrassing number of #fails.

 

What five words sum up French cuisine in 2018?

1. Product: seasons, climate, producers and terroir – you can’t make good dishes without good ingredients, produced in sustainable ways.

2. Table: The Social aspect of food is and has always been at the centre of French cuisine.

3. Technique: Even when it looks simple, French cuisine can be demanding in terms of skills.

4. Influence: French cuisine no longer is self-centred. Instead it embraces its world influences, may they be techniques or ingredients.

5. Tradition: Knowing where you come from really helps figuring out where you’re going.

 

What five ingredients could you not live without?

Bread: Sourdough if possible; butter: Salted butter, otherwise count me out; wine: it’s definitely an ingredient I use on a daily basis; olive oil and garlic: I use that flavour bomb in all dishes. Super underestimated if you ask me.

 

Give us a tip for the perfect omelette.

Use a really hot pan and a good amount of fat. Only then will you be able to perfect a sharp and smooth exterior with a fluffy and moist interior. That, or just make it the way you like but adding a guilty amount of cheese makes everything so much better. It truly does.

 

What is more important, a confident cook or great ingredients?

Confident cook beats great ingredients hands down. It is one of my favourite challenges at night to wrap up a feast with boring pantry ingredients. I recently made luscious meatball skewers without using even a smidgeon of actual meat. (Stale bread and milk are your best friends).

 

You won a Jamie Oliver competition that kick-started your media career in cooking. Have any elements of Jamie’s cooking style influenced you?

Many! Jamie is probably the biggest initial influence on my cooking, which, with all due respect, isn’t the most common thing for a Frenchman.

30 Minutes Meals is my favourite practical cooking class ever, even though I never managed to actually do it in 30.

Sorry Jamie. Still love you.

 

Do young French people have different views of food to their parents and grandparents?

I have mixed feelings about this as we tend to find our grandparents’ food outdated, heavy and longish to make, but at the same time we are getting closer and closer to their philosophy when it comes to reasonable, unprocessed ingredients and sustainability.

 

Is French cuisine quite inward-looking when it comes to influences?

I don’t think it is the case any more. In Paris, you’ll find a bunch of amazing young chefs who learned the ropes abroad.

That, plus their French culinary apprenticeship, gives them a incredible array of techniques and dishes they can use and bend to cook with.

 

Who is the greatest influence on your cooking style?

As mentioned before, Jamie Oliver probably kick-started it, but over the years I got influenced by so many chefs and cooks all over the world for various different reasons.

Alton Brown, for example, is a great TV chef and a very efficient teacher, who magnificently blended entertainment science and food in the brilliant series Serious Eats.

The chef and cookbook author Anissa Helou opened my eyes to the specifics of cuisine from the Eastern Mediterranean. But I also look upon Anthony Bourdain (RIP), David Chang and Franco Pepe.

 

What would be your ultimate dinner (with drinks)?

Let’s keep it simple. Get me a glass of red, and a sourdough tartine with a lavish spread of salted butter. That, and the finest friends selection there is, otherwise it’s pointless.

 

What is your current favourite French restaurant?

I recently had a mind blowing meal at Jah Jah By Le Tricycle in the 10th arrondissement in Paris. Their Jamaican Vegan Food is fun, colourful, packed with loads of flavours and so refreshing. I am not even vegan, but I can’t wait to go back!

 

Any fish, meunière-style

serves 2

Ingredients

  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 trout, total weight about 700g, scaled and cleaned (a job for the fishmonger!)
  • 60g plain [all-purpose] flour
  • 3 tbsp neutral flavoured oil
  • 80g butter
  • ½ lemon
  • Chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsley, tarragon…) for sprinkling

Method

1. Season the inside of the trout with salt and pepper. Dust them in the flour until coated, then shake off any excess.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the fish to the pan and when they are lightly browned underneath, add the butter. Fry for 4 minutes, still over a medium heat, until they are golden brown. Using a spatula, turn the fish over.

3. Lower the heat and cook for a further 5 minutes, spooning the oil and butter over the fish constantly and making sure the butter doesn’t burn. Lift the trout out of the pan and onto serving plates.

4. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan and whisk it into the hot, foaming butter and oil. Spoon over the fish, sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs and serve immediately.

 

Picture-perfect eggs meurette

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 glasses of full-bodied red wine
  • 350ml beef stock
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 6 small shallots or the white parts of spring onions [scallions], halved 
  • 175g lardons
  • 175g button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 tbsp butter mashed with 1 tbsp 
  • plain [all-purpose] flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • A dash of vinegar
  • 4 fresh eggs
  • 5 slices of bread
  • 1 large garlic clove, halved
  • A few chive stems

Method

1. Put the wine and stock in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the sugar and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. If you want to have a bit of fun (and you know how to do this sort of thing safely), flambé the wine.

2. In the meantime, heat the oil in a pan and fry the halved shallots or spring onions, the lardons and mushrooms for about 10 minutes.

3. When the wine and stock have reduced, whisk in the butter and flour mixture until you have a smooth and shiny sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

4. Bring a saucepan of water, with a dash of vinegar added, to a gentle boil. Break 1 egg into a ramekin and slide it gently into the water. Repeat with the other 3 eggs and leave to cook for 3 minutes, turning the eggs over carefully. Drain the eggs from the pan using a slotted spoon and place on a sheet of kitchen paper.

5. Toast the bread slices. Rub one slice with the cut sides of the garlic clove and cut into small croûtons. Place an egg on top of each of the remaining slices and spoon over the onions, lardons, mushrooms, the sauce and the croûtons.
Snip some chives into short lengths with scissors, scatter a few on top of each serving – and that’s it!

 

Pissaladière pizza

serves 3

Ingredients

  • 3 canned sardines, drained
  • 6 canned anchovies, drained
  • Olive oil
  • 3 large onions, finely chopped
  • Aalt
  • 1 ball of uncooked pizza dough (for 3 large pizza bases – 350ml warm water, 1 Tbsp salt, 525g flour type 00 and a pinch of instant yeast), ready to roll out
  • 1 small red [bell] pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • A handful of pitted black olives
  • Chopped thyme and rosemary leaves (fresh are best but dried are fine as well)

Method

1. Blend the sardines with the anchovies. Add about 5 tablespoons of olive oil and blend again until you have a smooth paste. This is the base of our dish.

2. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole dish or large pan with a lid, add the chopped onions and season with salt. Cover the pan and cook over a low heat for at least 1 hour. I know this sounds like hard work but you’ll be able to use this onion ‘compote’ in all sorts of dishes. It will also keep for easily a week in the refrigerator, covered with oil, in a sealed jar.

3. Preheat the oven to its highest setting and, if you don’t have a pizza stone, preheat an upturned griddle pan in the oven. Roll out the ball of pizza dough with a rolling pin until about 25cm [10in] in diameter. Place the pizza base on a sheet of baking parchment and spread 3 tablespoons of sardine paste over it. Beware – it’s very salty and the flavour is powerful. Spread 8 tablespoons of onion compote on top and scatter over the pepper and fennel. Sprinkle over the thyme and rosemary and drizzlewith olive oil.

4. Slide the pizza onto the pizza stone or preheated griddle pan and bake for 5–10 minutes or until the edges of the dough are lightly charred and puffed up.

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