A local's guide to Paris - Andreas Karapanos - Citimarks

Andreas Karapanos

Andreas Karapanos

Persistence is power


Citimarks: When was the moment you realized that you want to dedicate yourself to cooking?

Andreas Karapanos: It was during my military service. On the first day, an officer called all soldiers to charge us with missions, depending on our backgrounds. When they asked us if there were any cooks, something pushed me to step in front of the line and shout “Me!”. I knew nothing about cooking.

They named me cook of the barrack and, just as I started to panic, a Deus ex machina stepped in: every morning, I would call my mother, ex-cook herself, to guide me through the recipes, step-by-step. With time, I gave more of myself, and realized how much satisfaction I was getting from cooking for other people; from offering them a meal of my own creation, and seeing the smile on their faces. Indeed, to my great pleasure, the soldiers found my food delicious. Near the end of my military service, it was they who urged me to apply for a cooking school: “You should do it!”. And so, I did.

What are the restaurants that your audacious spirit took you to? 

A year later, with the same determination, I showed up in another restaurant, asking to speak with the chef. Although annoyed for taking him out of the kitchen at dinner time, he offered me a job opportunity. My work was appreciated there, and soon I was offered a position at the award-winning Hakkasan London and at Daniel Boulud’s three Michelin-starred restaurant at Mandarin Oriental London. At Boulud’s, I adopted their strictness in using only top-quality, fresh ingredients: I started paying more attention to raw material and wanted to further explore the alchemy between ingredients, flavors, and textures.

I therefore decided to focus on the best gastronomic restaurants and sent my résumé countless times to the team of Joël Robuchon that I had always admired. My persistence paid off and managed to get a position in his Atelier. At the end of an intensive two-year experience, I moved to L’Abeille of the Hotel Shangri-La, another two-starred restaurant, under the supervision of Christophe Moret. My mind was blown by the quality of their vegetables; tomatoes smelled deliciously from afar! Later on, under the guidance of Alain Ducasse -Moret’s mentor- at the Plaza Athénée, I have learned that "less is more".

Eminent French chef, Alain Ducasse.

Alain Ducasse, a living legend of the modern French gastronomy. © AFP/Fred Dufour. Source: Le Monde.

An original creation of Alain Ducasse's team.

Ducasse and his team advocate for a food elaboration process with a greater respect to nature.

"Escoffier invented modern gastronomy as we know it today. [...] He is my inspiration and my spiritual father."

Less is more...I imagine that you refer to the Naturalité: Alain Ducasse’s culinary philosophy advocating a more natural treatment of locally supplied ingredients. What is the benefit from a meal Naturalité?

Naturalité treats vegetables in a new way, offering a holistic culinary experience. Let’s say I am making lobster with beetroot. The beetroot will be decomposed into parts that will acquire different forms and textures. They can be crushed, melted or sprayed; they will be cooked with other ingredients, and delicately blend with the taste of the lobster. The various preparations will all find their way into the dish, offering a kaleidoscope of flavors and textures. By choosing seasonal, organic products, treated in ways that respect their substance, naturalité aims to achieve purity in a flavorful outfit.

What do you remember from your first day in the City of Lights?

Paris helped me pull through the difficult conditions that the hard work of a chef entails. When I first set foot on the Parisian boulevards, I felt that I belonged here. The city gave me strength when I needed it the most.

At the end of my first day at work, I was overwhelmed by that new world opening up to me. I needed to take some fresh air and so I walked from the Arc de Triomphe to the Pont d’Alma: the beauty of the landscape and the majestic architecture filled my heart with enthusiasm. Later, in the same evening, I went up to Montmartre. As I was sitting on the hill, contemplating the city lights from above, I felt like I was closer to paradise. On the way back, I got amazed by the picturesque scenery of the rue des Martyrs and the grandeur of the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Champs Elysées. The excitement of that first evening gave me the energy I needed and a feeling that the vibe of this city can help me defy the challenges to come.

Are there any ethnic cuisines that you enjoy in Paris and what is your experience from the street food in the city?

Paris does not have a strong street-food culture, because Parisians are not accustomed to eat standing on the street. Even when they don't have much time, they try to enjoy their lunch around a table. It is important for the people here to be able to feel the taste of each meal, something that resonates with the slow-food philosophy and is a clear indication of the love and respect French people have for food. 

With regard to ethnic cuisines, there are so many in Paris and from so many different countries. I enjoy visiting the district of the Pyramides, near the Garnier Opera House, to explore authentic Japanese recipes. A ramen soup and a mix of Gyoza stuffed with chicken and ginger is my ideal combo for diner.

Are there any other up-and-coming chefs we should know about?

You should check out the talented chef Pascal Barbot, owner of the restaurant Astrance. Barbot marries tastes and ingredients from very different cultures and blends them into harmonic and tasteful meals. His out-of-the-box thinking pushes the boundaries of creativity further than other chefs of his age. 

What is the most precious lesson that a chef gave you in Paris?

I remember when Joël Robuchon visited the kitchen to check-out our work. It was a busy evening and everyone was stressed, even the waiters. Faced with this collective panic, Éric Bouchenoire, his right-hand man, turned and told me: “You don’t cook for him, you cook for you.” He was right. I had forgotten the reason I was there: to satisfy my love for cooking. 

We get so focused on meeting the expectations of our chefs that, sometimes, we risk putting aside the pleasure we take from the process of creation. Each chef sets his own standards that we should not use as our single measure: we should try to set the bar as high as we can handle, and build our unique identity as chefs.

Andreas Karapanos
Andreas Karapanos
Andreas Karapanos

Cadavre Exquis

If Paris was a song, which song would it be?

Altalena dreams, a song by ManosJMT that mixes the Waltz of the lost dreams by Manos Hadjidakis and Altalena by Lucio Cannavacciuolo. Ever since I came here five years ago, there is no single day that I don’t put this melody on my headphones. Come rain or come shine. This song gives me strength. This is Paris for me.

If Paris was a food, what would that be?

Without a second thought, a blanquette de veau with mashed potatoes, using the authentic French recipe. It is one of my favorite French meals to cook and share with my friends.

If Paris was a film, which film would it be?

The Intouchables, an award-winning French film telling the story of a friendship between two men, a wealthy quadriplegic, François Cluzet and his unconventional, live-in caregiver, Omar Sy. This movie is about caring; about someone being there for you. The profession I have chosen makes me spend a lot of time away from friends, but, Paris manages to fill the void. This city gives me joy, it is my caregiver when my friends are not around. I feel like home.

If you could travel in time for one day, which century of French history would you go back to and what would you like to discover? 

I would go back to the late 19th century, when France set the foundations of modern gastronomy. I would like to meet Auguste Escoffier, the world-famous French chef and culinary writer. Escoffier invented the modern cuisine as we know it today. He was the first to codify recipes and introduced cooking techniques that set the standards for haute cuisine throughout the world; his Guide Culinaire has been a major reference work for cooking schools ever since. He is my inspiration and my spiritual father.  

If you could meet an artist from the past, who would that be and what would you talk about?

Salvador Dali. I am impressed by the genius of his work, combined with his tumultuous life. I would ask him to talk and go on talking on whatever subject he wished, in the hopes of finding some inspiration out of his crazy spirit.

What is your favorite French word?

Incontestablement. I learned this word during my first French language class and I enjoy using it all the time, because it is a difficult word that one rarely hears.

24 hours in Paris

French baker Christophe Basseur

The baker Christophe Basseur, founder of the bakery shop Du Pain et des Idées. Source: Ideemiam.

9 am
Morning coffee & breakfast 
At the bakery shop Du pain et des idées to have the best croissant in town and a delicious orange blossom brioche. The building, classified as a historic monument, features a magnificent painted glass ceiling that dates from the 19th century.
11 am
A stroll in the park 
At the Parc des Buttes Chaumont with its lovely hills and lake.
12 pm
A visit to the museum
The Centre Pompidou of modern art, for its always interesting temporary exhibitions. 
3 pm
A store that embodies the French savoir-faire
The Labo, a perfumery from Grasse, at the South of France. I would go to get a mist of my favorite perfume, Sandal 33, and buy a bottle freshly hand-blend, personalized and engraved on the spot.
5 pm
An elegant Parisian spot
A walk in the Passage des Panoramas, with its iconic 19th-century architecture of Haussmann Paris, its old fashioned Parisian shops and elegant restaurants.
6 pm
Away from the crowds
A stroll along the canal de l’Ourcq from the Bar d’Ourcq to the Parc de la Villette.
7 pm
A place to seduce
I would take my girl down to the river on the right bank of the Seine, between the Pont Marie and Pont de Sully bridges. We would sit at the edge of the Georges Pompidou embankment, a paved riverbank covered with oak trees, and watch the sun slowly fade away behind the Ile Saint-Louis. One of the best sunset spots in town.
8 pm
An unforgettable diner
The Septime gastronomic neo-bistrot offers a great value for money, considering its 15th place among the world’s top 50 restaurants. Also, its cousin, Clamato bar with its wild oysters and an original food & drink pairing featuring rare sake drinks and gins.
10 pm
A spot to enjoy the night views of Paris
At the square in front of the Sacré Cœur church, in Montmartre.
12 am
A seductive cocktail bar
The best whisky sour atDanico, a green velvet bar, hidden at the back of the fabulous Italian trattoria Daroco. Also one of the world’s best 100 cocktail bars.
1 am
A place to dream and be inspired
I would take my scooter and start from the Eiffel Tower, on the left bank. I would ride along the riverbank through the Invalides district; cross the river to reach Place de la Concorde; pass by the Louvre and the Hotel de Ville to end up at Place de la Bastille. After dark, of course, to enjoy the city lights and the fuzz-free avenues.
French baker Christophe Basseur

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