The man once named 'chef of the century' was recently awarded five local Michelin stars to add to the 18 he has for restaurants in Paris, Tokyo, New York, Monte Carlo and Las Vegas. Joyce Pina finds out what makes him tick.
Is there any pressure associated with having the most Michelin stars of any chef in history? 'I don't feel pressure at all, to be honest. If people don't like my food, they don't like it. I don't feel I need to cope with certain things anymore. I am happy with the Michelin stars but will never do anything unless it pleases me. I feel I have the advantage of age and experience now. I do what I feel like and what makes me happy. Right now, I don't even feel I am working. For so many years I had to work so hard to pay my bills. I am free now.'
What does it mean to have a gastronomic experience? 'To cook and eat is an act of love. We cannot eat without having an emotional experience attached. When we talk about 'le plaisir de la table', it is not something you experience only at lunch or dinnertime but whenever the right conditions are set in front of you, whenever you feel like it. There is no particular moment to savour food or drink, the only thing you need is to be willing. Once, after New Year's Eve, early in the morning, I was with a great friend of mine and we were eating some leftovers from the night before with a bottle of white wine. I consider this to be one of the greatest moments in my life.'
Is France's reputation as a nation of great chefs a curse? 'Yes, it can be. There was a time when a group of mediocre French cooks were making bad food, creating a negative response to French cuisine. The country's great cooks took a long time to recover from this. And right now this is happening to Spanish cuisine because there are many cooks copying Ferran Adria [of El Bulli], a fabulous and genial cook, my best friend. There is only one Adria but there are too many Spanish cooks trying to copy him and ultimately this can create a bad reputation for Spanish food.'
Adria is reinventing the way cooking is done. How do you see the future of the industry unfolding? 'Adria is as crazy as the painter [Salvador] Dali was. He is a creator and I am such a fan. He breaks rules and is daring. I am much more conservative. I was educated in a seminary and taught to respect, to be rigorous and to follow rules. But what I see nowadays is globalisation helping to promote the art of cooking. Partly because people can travel easily and they are getting to know each other like never before. Great-quality products are now available worldwide. But there is also the risk of all cuisines resembling each other.'
What dish do you cherish the most? 'I remember what my mother used to prepare for me when I was really young - horse steak. I was born after the second world war and at the time we still used horses on the fields and we would eat them as well. My mother would prepare these steaks like nobody else. The way she cooked [horse meat] was so unique, so special, that never again have I savoured anything like it.'