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Interview with François Payard

Payard Patisserie & Bistro, New York City

What's your favorite new ingredient?
I love Japanese influences in pastry. At one point, everyone was seeing European ingredients, but green tea and Japanese gingerroot for pastry are what I'm into now.

What's the most versatile spice?
Salt and pepper, but especially pepper. I get a lot of incredible spices from Mr. Recipe. He has incredible vanilla beans and peppery cinnamon. He's a funny guy and has a mustache that shoots up at the sides, like you see in the movies.

What's the most underused spice?
Cardamom isn't used much in French cuisine.

What items should be in every home pantry?
Salt, olive oil and pepper. You can't cook without these three ingredients. I like using ground white pepper for cooking.

What's your favorite knife?
Everyone uses Japanese knives now. At home I use a ceramic knife from Ming Tsai's collection. At the restaurant, we use Korin's yanagi style knives.

What's your favorite pan?
I only have All-Clad in Payard. It's the best of the best. All-Clad and KitchenAid items really last. Nothing else lasts long anymore.

What's your favorite mail-order source?
I don't order from Web sites often, but I like L'Epicerie [lepicerie.com] and Dean and DeLuca [deananddeluca.com].

What's the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
So many restaurants in Las Vegas are just doing okay food, even ones by the big names. But Joël Robuchon's L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is incredible. It's like being in Paris and he's cooking just for you. He's the only chef in Las Vegas who can find such amazing ingredients. My favorite dishes: egg cocotte topped with a light mushroom cream; sautéed foie gras served on a citrus "gratin"; le thon rouge (lightly seared tuna belly).

What's your favorite place to go to for wine?
Bar Jam—n [in New York City], since it has a good wine-by-the-glass list and they offer carafes. It's perfect at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Sometimes you have to stand, but it's still a great place.

What restaurant in your city would you want to eat in once a week?
I love BLT Prime. I love the rib eye, but the sides are almost better. Last time I went, Laurent [Tourondel], my best friend, sent out all the sides and there were so many they couldn't all fit on the table. My favorites are the blue cheese Tater-Tots, creamed spinach and the onion rings. But I can't eat more than one ring because I'm supposed to be on a diet.

A lot of chefs are getting into making things completely from scratch, like cheese. What would you like to make from scratch?
At Payard we make everything from scratch, from croissants to Gruyère cheese sticks. At home I do nothing from scratch. When you work all week, you want to go out and enjoy other people's food. I'll cook on big holidays, like Christmas, but that's really it.

On a scale of one to 10, with one representing an emphasis on using in-season ingredients as simply as possible and 10 championing high-tech, scientific cooking, where do you rank yourself?
My philosophy is about the best ingredients. So I'm a one. When you have the best pear, you don't have to do much with it.

If you could upgrade one piece of equipment in your kitchen, what would it be?
I wish KitchenAid would upgrade its small food processor. I use mine to make celery root puree and spreads for cheese. They're very good, especially when I just need small batches of items, but the plastic piece in the middle always breaks quickly.

What's your favorite cookbook?
I like the French Laundry Cookbook, as well as cookbooks by Alain Ducasse, Pierre Hermé, Ferran Adrià, and Frederic Bau's Au Coeur des Saveurs.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Sometimes you can recreate an idea with something totally different. When I go to France, I buy lots of women's magazines, like Le Figaro and Elle. I get inspired for book ideas. I'm actually doing two new books. Bite Size, on canapés, is being published in September. The second one is all about chocolate and coming out later.

If you were given $1,000 to spend on food, equipment, travel or a restaurant meal, what would you buy? What about with $10?
If someone gave me $1,000, I'd probably go to St. Bart's in the off-season and do absolutely nothing. I'd love to go somewhere where I can break from the world since I work every day and am so busy. With $10, I'd buy a Microplane [grater-zester] or Weiss dark chocolate.

Who makes your favorite bread?
I like the whole wheat rye sourdough bread and the baguette at Balthazar Bakery [in New York City].

What's the best chocolate brand?
Weiss and Valrhona.

What's your favorite pâtisserie?
Pierre Hermé in Paris.

What trends do you see in desserts?
I'm noticing more green tea desserts. I'm also seeing a trend toward more basic desserts; there are fewer architectural and crazy ones now.

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