Probably the only former pizza cook to have gone on to collect three Michelin stars, Guy Martin is one of a new breed of top French chefs: adventurous, self-taught and owing allegiance to no one in a profession where who you knew was more important than what you could do.
Since 1991, Martin, 44, has run the sumptuous Grand Véfour in the sublime gardens of the Palais Royale, Paris, offering up an ever-changing, seasonal menu of rare modernity and refinement based on what he calls "youth, colour, passion and the best ingredients that money can buy". Born in the Savoie, he says a love of good food, learned on his mother's knee, drove him into the kitchen. "Somehow, I've always understood what good cooking was. I just had to learn how to do it."
His customers now happily pay £80-100 a head for what he has learned. It is not something he is reluctant to pass on - he spends several days a month in the company of schoolchildren, visiting a range of local schools to teach the essentials of taste and culinary creativity. Cooking, he says, "is self-expression. I feel completely free, and I think cooking should know no bounds. "
For Martin, July 14 is "an historic day, the start of a new era. It began with the storming of the Bastille, of course, the end of monarchy. Slowly, the rest of Europe followed suit, slowly our modern democracy was born. It's a symbol for rejoicing, and for parties with family and friends. It's a day of passions."
So, Martin's Bastille day menu for Weekend aims to be "fun, trendy, forward-looking, a definitive break with the rhythms of a certain ancienne cuisine. It's not provocative, because I don't do provocation for provocation's sake, and it is French in the sense that it's happy, not sad, food, but it deliberately breaks a few classical moulds."
His starter, homard de Bretagne et caviar, for example, "mixes two products of the sea that are not usually served together". But while this is not a traditional dish, it is a unifying dish - the seafood is from the north-west of France, the caviar from far away, the herbs from the south of France, the Mediterranean. "At the same time, it's a noble dish with solid values and rich in flavours." In short, it storms a few ramparts - and erects something more than worthy in their place. The idea for the côte d'agneau with its coffee-and-chocolate sauce and garlic purée came, explains Martin, "from the realisation that lamb is always served with garlic, that in France we usually consider that you need plenty of coffee to digest the garlic, and that nothing goes better with coffee than some good dark chocolate".
It is a "raccourci" - a short cut or a compression - that works brilliantly, and makes a magnificent festive dish. Daring it certainly is, but as Martin says, with suitably revolutionary fervour, "You either suffer your life, or you try to drive it. You either do, or you are done to. It's the kind of dish that should encourage you to take risks, to live your passion fully."
His mille feuille dessert, meanwhile, he describes as "light, with all the right notes of woodland and the heath". The combination of strawberries and a sorbet of wild thyme is again an unusual one; a deliberately modern and independent juxtaposition of flavours. "It does surprise you, this one," says Martin, "but pretty soon you just want to keep on eating it. To me, it speaks of high summer, of a cool spot in the shade, somewhere for lunch." It is a dessert that summons up the kind of sunny summer afternoon that everyone always dreams of - and its optimism, says Martin, "is very July 14".
All recipes serve six.
Homard de Bretagne et caviar detendu avec son fumet
Aka Breton lobster with caviar and lobster fumet.
6 lobsters, each weighing 450-500g, preferably Breton
45ml crème fraîche
100g 'Oscietre' caviar
20 coriander leaves
1 loaf pain de campagne
For the fennel cream
200g double cream
4g fennel seeds
12cm-diameter ring moulds
Place the lobsters in a cold court bouillon and bring gently to the simmer. Poach for 15 minutes. Take them out of the water and let them cool. Shell them. Roast the shells and then use them to make a fumet (stock). To 15ml of reduced stock, add the crème frache and reduce by half. Season well. Peel and finely chop the shallots, then rinse and drain. Finely chop the coriander. Stir both into the lobster sauce.
Now make the fennel cream. Beat the cream until stiffish. Toast the fennel seeds in a pan, chop them finely, and then fold them into the cream.
Cut the bread into slices as thin as possible, and place these on a slightly greased non-stick tray. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and some fennel seeds, then grill until dry.
Now you're ready to assemble the dish. Mix the caviar into the lobster sauce. Place a circular mould at the centre of each plate. Surround each circle with two dessertspoonfuls of lobster sauce. Remove the mould and in its place put the tail of one lobster cut in half lengthways and the claws removed from their shells. Make a quenelle out of the fennel cream, place this on top of the lobster meat and insert a slice of dried bread into the quenelle, so that it stands up like a sail.
Côte d'agneau, jus café-chocolat de l'aïl écrasé aux aromates
Aka rack of lamb in a coffee and chocolate jus with herbed garlic purée.
2 six-cutlet racks of lamb
4 tbsp mustard de Maille
8 white grapes
20ml reduced lamb stock
1 small cup strong espresso
1/2 tsp melted chocolate
2 heads garlic
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
10ml single cream
10 grains allspice, ground
In a medium-hot oven, bake the aubergines until soft, about 30 minutes - check that the skin is not charring. Once done, cut the aubergines in half lengthways, scoop out the flesh and set aside. Reserve the skins.
Remove the papery outer skin from the heads of garlic. Cut them in two and remove the germ (ie, the stem in the centre of each head to which each clove is attached). Place the garlic on a sheet of foil, along with the herbs, two tablespoons of olive oil and two of water. Close the parcel and bake for three hours at 90C. Unwrap the garlic, separate the cloves, squeeze out the creamy garlic flesh within, and crush it with a fork. Thin out the purée with the cream. Season well.
Neatly trim the rack of lamb and season, leaving the sides very clean. Peel the grapes, cut them in half and deseed. Set aside six halves for decoration and crush the rest.
Reduce the stock to 20ml, then add the espresso and chocolate, along with the butter, salt, pepper and half the allspice. Brown the sides of the racks of lamb, then brush them with a mixture of the crushed grape halves and the mustard. Roast the racks for five minutes at 200C/400F/gas mark 6, then leave to rest in the oven for 10 minutes with the heat switched off and the door ajar.
On a plate, arrange a circle of aubergine skin and fill it with the quenelles of garlic purée and the racks of lamb. Add the sauce and decorate with the reserved grapes. Sprinkle the rest of the allspice and a little ground coffee around the rim of the plate.
Mille feuille aux fraises des bois, crème et sorbet au serpolet
Aka mille feuille of wild strawberries with cream and sorbet of wild thyme.
250g puff pastry
300g wild strawberries
For the cream of wild thyme
1 small bunch wild thyme
1 egg yolk
25g plain flour
20g unsalted butter
60g double cream
For the wild thyme sorbet
1 small bunch wild thyme
130g caster sugar
For the fennel garnish
1 fennel bulb
500g granulated sugar
First, prepare the fennel. Cut the bulb into 0.5cm cubes and simmer in 30ml water and 400g sugar for 45 minutes. Leave the water to cool, remove the fennel and set aside to dry. Once dried, cut the fennel into 2mm slices - for best results, use a mandolin. In a small pot, bring 20ml water and 100g sugar to the boil. Arrange the fennel slices neatly in a bowl, then pour the hot syrup over them. Set aside to cool completely, then arrange the fennel on a non-stick tray and put in an airing cupboard or similarly hot room for a day to dry out, turning the fennel over from time to time.
Now, make the cream of wild thyme. In a small pan, put the thyme in the milk, bring up to the boil and leave to stand off the heat for 15 minutes, so that the flavours have sufficient time to infuse. Strain the milk through a sieve, and set to one side to cool.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolk, sugar and the flour together until the mixture is smooth. Then pour in the infused milk and mix thoroughly. Cook slowly in bain marie until the mixture thickens. Off the heat, add the butter, which should be cut into small cubes. Beat until the mixture has cooled. Then whip the cream and stir in. Refrigerate until needed.
Next, make the sorbet. Put the thyme in the water and bring up to the boil. Let it stand for 15 minutes off the heat. Drain, reserving all the liquid, then heat the resulting thyme water to 85C. Beat in the sugar and the pectin. Mix thoroughly. Strain, then churn in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions (or put in a tray in the freezer and beat every 10 minutes or so until done).
Now turn to the pastry. Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 2-3mm. Line a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Put the puff pastry on top, cover with another sheet of paper, and weight down with another baking tray. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 175C/350F/gas mark 4. Put the cooked pastry on a tray, sprinkle with icing sugar and colour lightly under the grill.
You're now ready to finish the dish. Cut the pastry into 12 rectangles of 12cm x 3cm. With a piping bag, cover eight of these rectangles with the cream of wild thyme. Arrange the strawberries on top of the cream. Build up the pastry in three layers, two with cream and strawberries and the last one without anything. Put the mille feuille on a plate and arrange the dried fennel around. Put a scoop of sorbet on top of the pastry, then decorate with a sprig of fresh fennel and serve
Guy Martin is chef at Le Grand Véfour, 17 rue de Beaujolais, Paris, 0033 1 42 96 56 27.