Meeting with Thierry Marx, godfather of the 11th edition of La Part des Anges. The interview : his report and enthusiasm for cognac, as well as his inspirations for food pairing.
What interests me in Cognac is its history, its historical aspect is very inspiring, so its roots and then how it has evolved, the way things are handed down in Cognac, that’s what’s really intriguing. The way the values of French gastronomy are handed down, how something short-lived becomes a memorable experience. When you drink something, it’s short-lived, like something you eat and it becomes memorable in fact, because of the aromas, because of its history and its roots. That’s what I like about Cognac.
All the highly skilled work around Cognac is about attaining excellence. Look, first there’s the excellence of the cooper’s craft, then excellence in ageing, controlling the toasting process, being in control of all the work in soil husbandry, in pruning, the way wine is recovered from the vine’s fruit. Then there’s that sophistication applied in distillation and ageing. And of course, because all this is a legacy, it has deep meaning. A legacy is something that has been handed down through the generations, something with a hallmark recognised by all and Cognac is recognised by everyone as an attribute of French gastronomy. What’s funny, no, not funny, but amazing, what’s amazing is how Cognac has contributed to the recognition of French cuisine all over the world, because it is a legacy that shares the same deep meaning made up of values and the sense of terroir.
What’s the attraction between Thierry Marx and Cognac? There’s real emotional attraction to the product, because what’s appealing about cognac is that it is pleasing to the eye, it’s like it beckons you. It has such a gorgeous colour that it inspires you. Then, there are the aromas and then the taste, so for me it’s like a dish: you observe a cognac, you think about it and then you drink it. A good dish is something you observe, think about and then eat.
When it comes to marrying cognac with food the ideas are pretty straightforward. Cognac has a type of elegance, it has extremely powerful aromas that are really easy to recognise; strong woody aromas for example with slight touches of vanilla. And of course, cognac has fruity aromas too. So, with pastries, just as well as with a dish, but just grilled, nothing else, for example meat that has simply been fried in a pan or roasted fish with no frills, both can be perfectly matched with a young or old cognac. And with desserts, it’s the same idea. When you have chocolate aromas, tones of chocolate and tones of cognac make for a perfect match. The two pair very well.
Yes, I know, everyone has labelled me as the chef who likes Japan, or the chef who loves Asia. It’s true, I do like Asia, sometimes its philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and a whole load of things that bring me close to Asia and which inspire me. But regarding cognac, although it is very much liked in Asia, in fact in terms of pairing cognac and Asian cuisine, the only connection I see between the two, again, comes back to the fact that you observe, you think about it and you consume. There’s a certain serenity in Asia, which helps to make something short-lived memorable, as I said, and that’s the only thing I notice in this relationship with Asia, in the connection between my cuisine and Asia. It’s just that aspect of making something short-lived more memorable without having to overstate anything.
I learnt to taste cognacs the way you test a perfume on the back of your hand using a set of sample aromas. Then, some years later, when I began to have access to some of the great cognacs, I was able to start drinking them. So, one day, I was at a cognac tasting and I was secretly putting my thumb into the glass of cognac and rubbing it on the back of my hand to be able to identify the different aromas.
People were watching me thinking I’d gone mad, but at least I was able to identify the aromas, in the same way as you would with perfume.
So, I was causing the other tasters quite a bit of concern, but in the end, they understood what I was doing, at least a little. Then they told me to actually taste the cognac and on the palate I definitely had a different perception. But I surprised all the tasters by identifying the initial hints of aromas, because I was in fact doing it like you would with a perfume.
I’ve even thought that one day there might be a perfume that could be named “Cognac”. I really think that from time to time you could really make the small angel’s share into a little perfume that would be like a bubble of Cognac experience.