Blancpain Interview with Dani García and Alain Delamuraz
We spoke to the Michelin starred chef and Blancpain’s Vice-President and Head of Marketing about the parallels between fine gastronomy and fine watchmaking.
Marbella-based chef Dani García has a two-star Michelin restaurant to his name and is the latest celebrity chef to join Blancpain’s kitchen. On his first visit to the Blancpain workshops in the Vallée de Joux, WorldTempus spoke after a traditional Swiss smorgasbord of cheese, cold meats, fondue, rösti and sausage and just before a copious dessert selection of homemade tarts and meringues with double cream at the Chalottet farm.
To Dani García:
Why did you choose to partner with Blancpain?
Well, there are a lot of similarities between watchmaking and gastronomy but Blancpain has been working with chefs for the longest time, so it’s special for me to work with this brand. We share the same values in terms of quality and luxury – I live in a luxury town [Editor’s note: Dani Garcia lives in Marbella, where he owns three restaurants] where there are a lot of people who love the kind of watches that Blancpain makes.
Dani García © Blancpain
To Alain Delamuraz:
Was there anything in particular that impressed you about Dani García? Why did you choose this partnership?
What is most important is that both partners agree on the approach. The best example I can give you is our partnership with Joël Robuchon. He has 31 Michelin stars to his name and we met one day in Monaco. I suggested working together and he agreed and we started to discuss the details. But when I returned to Switzerland my direction asked me “how much?”. I didn’t have the answer and my superiors thought it would be way beyond our budget anyway. So the next time I saw him I had to broach this touchy subject, but he was not at all interested in talking money. “With money comes contracts,” he said, “and with contracts come lawyers and with lawyers come disputes. But I don’t want to fight with you, so I don’t want any contract, any money, or any lawyers. You will in any case bring me customers.”
There is also the question of the chef’s style. I don’t think we could have partnered with chefs having a cooking philosophy that is more about reconstructing dishes and less about the traditional values. Theses values are exactly what are trying to uphold at Blancpain and which works so well with somebody like Dani García.
To Dani García:
What impressed you most about the visit to the workshops?
In many ways it is similar to working in the kitchen. The client gets to see the finished dish and may well be impressed, but they don’t necessarily see everything that goes into it. For example, they may not realize that a duck has been slow cooked for 24 hours. But the visit today showed me that watchmaking even goes beyond this. It’s more than just a question of quality and passion. For me it is a pity that not everyone gets the chance to see this kind of thing. In Spain, there are only a few people that understand the kind of cooking we do, where every dish has a philosophy behind it. Everybody can eat, but not everybody can understand. It’s the same with the watch: everybody can read the time but not everybody gets the chance to appreciate what goes into it.
How do you reconcile tradition and innovation in your cooking?
My restaurant is called Dani García Cocina Contradicion, which expresses this idea perfectly since it can be understood in two ways. On the one hand there is the respect for tradition (“con tradicion”) with the use of recipes from my mother and grandmother, but on the other there is a more modern edge (“contra”) using new technologies and new techniques.
Did you see anything at the workshops that gave you inspiration?
It was incredible to see the machines that drill the tiny holes in the mainplates of the mechanical movements, because I could imagine using something similar for meringues. It would not be easy but I thought about this when I saw them. The traditional Swiss food with all the cheese and the fantastic onion gravy we had with the rösti was also a source of inspiration. Whenever I travel I pick up lots of ideas.
Dani García at work © Blancpain
To Alain Delamuraz:
Since you also come from this world, has it given you any inspiration for your job?
When I arrived in the watchmaking industry I understood the common points because there are more than you think – even something as simple as the respect for the customer is common to both worlds, so this helps you when it comes to activating the different partnerships.
How does a relatively traditional brand like Blancpain deal with the process of creativity and innovation? Are there any red lines that cannot be crossed?
Respecting tradition does not mean repeating it. Blancpain has been built on solid foundations, which is an enormous benefit to the brand. We need to be constantly questioning our actions and new developments. The industry thought it was doing fine until it was nearly wiped off the map in the 1970s. We have to be careful.
To Dani García:
Are there also parallels in the creative process between cooking and watchmaking?
Yes, absolutely. For example, if I’m preparing a shoulder of lamb I first need to use a machine where the water is heated to precisely 65 degrees Celsius, then I seal the lamb in a plastic baking bag with herbs and slow cook it for 24 hours. This is the technological process, similar to machining all the different movement components in a watch. Then comes the preparation phase, where everything has to be cut and assembled perfectly by hand, just as the watchmaker assembles the individual movement components by hand. But I think this handcrafted part is much more difficult for a watch, because I may only add a handful of additional flavours to a dish, whereas the watchmaker has hundreds of individual components to deal with.
When you do gala dinners what do you aim to show?
First of all you have to be aware that you are not in your own kitchen, it’s not all your own team. I have 30 chefs in my restaurant to serve 50 people, for example, but for the gala dinner I only have three, so it’s really different. We create a menu with dishes that everyone can understand and will be comfortable with and that we are comfortable with in the kitchen. It would be the same if a watchmaker had to assemble a watch outside the workshop, it would be very different!
Blancpain is the archetypal Manufacture: with a watchmaking heritage dating back several centuries, it has successfully preserved its watchmaking tradition, whilst welcoming a spirit of innovation.Find out more >
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