Daniel de la Falaise: a new kind of chef

A champion of home farming and the ‘shun’ way of cooking, Daniel de la Falaise explains why the pandemic is the sustainability lesson we all need

By Mathilde Bulteau    Above image by Adrian Gaut (Trunk Archive)   Saturday 30 May, 2020   Short read

FRANCE – Daniel de la Falaise, proclaimed ‘the most stylish chef in the industry’ by fashion bible Vogue Paris, is the descendant of a high-fashion family. Nephew of the late French fashion icon and Yves Saint Laurent’s muse, Loulou de la Falaise, he has seen success as a model, attended the most lavish parties and amassed a fanbase not unlike a movie star. In his role as chef, de la Falaise has won acclaim for his vegetable-centric books (Nature’s Larder: Cooking With The Senses), and cooked for international superstars including Kate Moss. But it is his championing of the ‘shun’ way of cooking – moored in seasonality and subtle, smart cooking – and his dual role as a farmer, growing his own produce, that’s led him to become one of the most pioneering in his industry. 

He talks to Soho House from his base in south-west France about his many incarnations, and how his long-held views of cooking have helped him prepare for these uncertain times.
A man pushing a wheelbarrow with wood in it.

Images by Adrian Gaut (Trunk Archive)

Oyster shells for sale in a market.

Adrian Gaut (Trunk Archive)

‘I cooked from childhood. All the members of my family led glamorous lives, were figures of fashion and nightlife, yet cooking was always the central theme. We had a good vegetable garden, and so the relationship between soil and the kitchen table was passed down from generation to generation. My mentor in the cooking world was my great-uncle, the restaurateur Mark Birley, who founded Annabel’s, Mark’s Club, Harry’s Bar and George in London’s Mayfair. I served my apprenticeship under him and trained as a chef under Milanese maestro Alberico Penati, at Harry’s Bar, which was the best training I could have wished for. 

‘My inspiration as a chef has always been the notion of shun, the Japanese tradition that every herb, fruit, or vegetable should only be eaten at its nutrient rich peak – at its “shun”. Ripe fruit is at its perfection – it seduces the eye, then the nose, and tastes just as it smells. 

‘A bespoke menu will be composed for the client with the season, the emotion, the setting and the circumstance of the event in mind. Ideally, a meal should commence with the last breath of an ingredient soon to be over, consist in majority of ingredients at the height of their season, and conclude with early pickings of the next glut to come. In this way, the food shared at the table becomes a celebration of a place and a moment in time.

‘I am an itinerant chef, and blessed with an extraordinary network of local independent producers. I travel afar armed with their produce (though not so much at present with every event on the calendar postponed). I work with exquisite fare picked to order that reaches far-flung tables. No middlemen, no wholesale markets, rather, bespoke menus harvested and executed to order – whisked from garden to table. From farm to kitchen to table [is] my motto.
A young boy raking a garden.
A man and a woman in vintage clothing chatting over a restaurant table to other people.
‘We have always been an unconventional caravan of a family. I grew up with “larger than life” talented and eccentric relations around me. With French and English roots, we were all brought up to feel just as at home in France, in England or in America. We are from all those places and from none of them at all – and yet, that is all we know. As children, my sister Lucie and I spent a lot of time with an eclectic mix of international characters; I am very grateful for this. It meant that wherever we landed later in life, we had a ready-made network of like-minded, extended family. I grew up between Wales and France. I later lived in New York, London and California. I presently live in south-west France. 

‘Coronavirus has forced me to look at the world around me differently. The present crisis has highlighted the disconnect between our local community and the local food system. The pandemic has made it clear that, subjected to a little stress, the fragile relationship between local farm and local population is broken. The supermarket chains operate on a scale that’s totally disconnected from the local economy. Country folk have their own vegetable gardens; the older generation often have larders of preserves and conserves. The townspeople, for the most part, do not have that chance, as they depend on the supermarkets. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly established that something needs to change. One can only hope that the confinement experience will lead us permanently towards sustainable values. 

‘On the positive side, I have been able to spend my days with my son Louis, which is a joy as I am a real hands-on father. Louis loves nature. He is curious, kind and funny. We have a close bond and time together is precious. If there is a lesson to be learnt from the present pandemic – and it is one that I have learnt with the help of Louis – it is that of wonder and reverence for Mother Nature. Her capacity to heal and regenerate is humbling. It is time to pause for thought, to reflect upon the provenance of the food we eat, the farmers who produce it, and the environments that support its production. Lockdown will force us to think more, and that is the ultimate adaption.’
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