The Psycho–Gustative Odyssey of Chef Paul Pairet

by Elysian Magazine

He has been called “masterful, turbulent and totally unpredictable” by author and food critic François Simon. French-born chef and restauranteur Paul Pairet honed his unique approach to the art of cuisine through a global journey that began at Paris’s Café Mosaic, and took him to Istanbul, Hong Kong, Sydney, Jakarta, and other exotic places. With the world as his oyster, the Phineas Finn of food set out in 2008 to travel ‘round the world: to San Sebastian’s Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia and Madrid Fusion where, at both, he was the only non-Asia-based chef invited to speak; to the 2008 World Gourmet Summit in Singapore; in 2009 to Salzburg, where he participated in the most acknowledged and cosmopolitan “Guest Chef Concept” by Ikarus of Hanger-7 then on to the Omnivore Food Festival in Paris; and the Identità Golose Milan Congress, all the time unreservedly sharing his near-religious belief in the art, study, and science of food.

Eventually he landed in Shanghai where, for two decades, the vibrant Far Eastern city has provided him with a force of energy in his own constant development, in every aspect of his work, and through many great opportunities. Pairet got the support he needed to build his team and develop his career. There he opened Jade on 36, the flagship restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel Pudong, and in less than three years, created the city’s first cutting-edge restaurant, where he established his inimitable reputation for original, personal, highly technical cuisine that embraces texture, temperature, flavors, and presentation, provoking preconceived expectations of traditional cuisine and raising it to a new, surprising, highly exaggerated level. Said Joanne Harris of The Times (UK), “I know that for my last meal on earth, nothing but Jade on 36 will suffice.”

When Pairet opened his restaurant, Mr & Mrs Bund, in April 2009 on the historic Bund in Shanghai, he planned a modern “French but not so French” eatery that specialized in French and universal favorites. It was an immediate success as “One of the first to bring international attention to the Bund food scene, and his mix of glamour and playfulness set the tone for what came after.” Ever the perfectionist, he popularized the concept of uncomplicated, well-executed dishes and immediately was met with both critical and popular acclaim. Within four months, That’s Shanghai pronounced Mr & Mrs Bund to be the best French restaurant in Shanghai and international recognition spread with accolades and awards virtually overnight. Observed Alice Béguet, food columnist for Le Figaro, “Paul Pairet breaks the rules, has fun in reinventing the meal, updates the social concept of food, and keeps on climbing to the top of the most incredible chefs of his time.”

Then came Ultraviolet—and Chef ’s unparalleled concept: “psycho-taste.”

Pairet originally conceived the concept of offering “a bold and exclusive dining experience that engages all the senses to create the ultimate luxury: emotion” in 1996. His idea was quite simple and primal, but he didn’t know if the concept of multi-sensory, high-end technology merged with fine dining would work and pondered over the concept for some time before he was convinced that he could create a fully immersive dining experience. It was not until 2010 that he presented the concept to the world at the Omnivore Food Festival in Deauville, France and another three years before he finally opened Ultraviolet in Shanghai, in May 2012. When Luc Dubanchet of Omnivore journeyed to Shanghai to experience Ultraviolet the winter after the restaurant opened, he wrote, “Ultraviolet finally breaks the rules, reinvents the restaurant, not to mention the cuisine . . . this crazy work on rhythm, image, surprise, is a complete rewrite of what can be the hospitality, the service, the cuisine of the 21st century.”

The presentation was stringent and unorthodox: a single table of ten, a 20-course avant-garde a la Pairet menu, a total immersion of the five senses using multi-sensorial technologies: a ‘taste-tailored” atmosphere created by revolving lights and a sublime audio course designed as an “olfactory symphony” in a dining room dressed-up by lights, sound, scents, and color, each course enhanced with its own, unique, revolving taste-tailored atmosphere. Shanghai—and the world—was wowed. Reviews described Ultraviolet as “the best dining experience ever.” Raved Thibaut Danancher in Le Point, “Ultraviolet is certainly much more than a restaurant. This is a unique tasting getaway magnified by digital technology. A moment where time stops . . . the illumination from Paul Pairet is, by itself alone, worth the trip.” Howie Kahn of The New York Times traveled halfway around the world to dine at Ultraviolet. “With sights, sounds, scents, and a secret location,” he reviewed, “Chef Paul Pairet’s immersive dining experience could be the next great leap in culinary evolution.”

“Food was the only way I could express myself, my single language.” Chef Pairet explained. “I wanted to deliver my own best; I needed to find a way to speak. I had in mind to make something small, very personal . . . a revival of the 17th century table d’h te. I would mastermind the cooking, then trigger the ambiance to match, contradict, and influence one another. In 15 years, I have come close to opening this small table project three times. When you look at Ultraviolet today, the core of the project remains the same, although everything has been pushed to the extreme. The technology, the staff, the expectations.”

Acclaimed as one of “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants” and one of “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants,” Ultraviolet is the culinary canvas that Paul Pairet, the artist, has created with the zeal, wit, and the eye of a Picasso. As Monica Liau described in That’s Shanghai, “Ultraviolet (is) an odyssey into the psyche of Paul Pairet, (who) is an OCD perfectionist with the soul of an artist.” “The dishes’ conception is frequently playful and witty, their presentation theatrical in the extreme:” wrote William Drew in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. “Chef Paul Pairet takes the idea of the multi-sensory consumption of food—blurring taste with emotion—to an unprecedented and inspirational level.”

Since 2018, the avant garde restaurant has appeared in Michelin Guide Shanghai with three stars, the ultimate hallmark of culinary excellence, and three diamonds in the Black Pearl Guide. That same year, the restaurant placed 24 in the “World’s Top 100 Chefs’ Restaurants” by Le Chef, won an “Art of Hospitality Award” as one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, rated No. 1 by “OAD (Opinionated About Dining) among “Asia’s Top 100 Restaurants,” and was identified by Time Magazine as one of the “World’s Greatest Places.” And in 2013, Chef Paul Pairet received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and its Chef ’s Award in 2016; and in 2018, Les Grandes Tables du Monde bestowed upon him their Restauranteur of the Year. establishing the creative genius of Chef Paul Pairet as, “provocative and innovative, his creative flair, daring experimentation, and inspired dishes will continue to influence chefs around the world.”

In March 2019, he expanded his footprint in Shanghai when he opened his third restaurant, Polux, a casual eatery with a Parisian flare combined with industrial decor. “Pairet’s simplest joint so far,” opened in the heart of Xintiandi, the car-free shopping, eating, and entertainment district of Shanghai. Polux is a French caf , bar, and bistro with an outdoors terrace. Today it’s a popular, informal hangout for diners who just want to drop-in and relax over a hearty brunch, afternoon snack, or cozy dinner. “Eternally untrendy and forever in fashion,” Polux has Pairet’s trademark touch, embodying understated luxury and simplicity…just stripped down to the core.

Ever pursuing his ideal, Chef Paul Pairet is open to the idea of developing outside of China. It will be exciting to see just where he lands next.

By Cordelia Lear

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