With the passing of chef Alain Senderens, France has lost one of the wizards of Gallic gastronomy, a genius defined by a playful but deeply considered iconoclasm. Senderens was a founder of the now-maligned nouvelle cuisine, but his cooking was about so much more than fussy flowers or baby vegetables, or the use of reductions to create flavor, instead of the heavier sauces that had been the defining trope of French cooking for centuries.
For me, two Senderens dishes were truly spectacular. These were his lobster baked with vanilla and his canard à l’Apicius, duck that was first poached and then lacquered with honey and spices. The duck made sense, since Senderens had found his inspiration on a trip to China; the lobster was astonishing because it seemed impossible that the combination could work. But it did, and the iodine-rich meat of the lobster was intensely flattered by the taste and perfume of the vanilla.