Le Taittinger, International Signature Cuisine Prize, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. Fifty years and just as many human journeys and adventures around this gastronomic accolade. To mark the occasion, the book “Le Taittinger: le prix des chefs” [Le Taittinger: the chef’s prize] retraces the history of this competition between tradition and inventiveness and features the portraits of fifteen of its winners shot under the careful eye of photographer Gérard Rondeau. It is a sensitive collaboration that mixes the culinary arts with those of the image.
From an idea around a table, to a global reality at headquarters. It was one evening during the harvest of 1966, that the idea of Le Taittinger, International Signature Cuisine Prize, formerly known as the Pierre Taittinger International Culinary Prize (in homage to the founder of the Champagne House, and gourmet food lover) was born. At the time, Claude Taittinger (son of Pierre Taittinger) and Georges Prade, Commander of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne were deep in conversation about their shared memories and mutual love of French gastronomy. They came up with the idea of a competition to pay tribute to it. Since then, the prize has gone on to embody the spirit of mastery as well as creativity dedicated to tantalising the taste buds.
Now a symbol of excellence in the industry, the honour involves several stages. A national phase by submission of a written dossier, followed by an international final held at the Ferrandi Paris culinary school, whose students work as the candidates’ commis chefs. A rare global culinary prize, it is present in eight countries. Chaired by Emmanuel Renaut, three-star chef of Flocons de Sel (in Megève, France), the judging panel is comprised of renowned professionals, all industry figureheads in the eyes of the competitors. Many great names in gastronomy have emerged victorious from the rigours of the contest, starting with Michel Comby (1967), then Joël Robuchon (1970), as well as Michel Roth (1985) and Régis Marcon (1989), promising a future crowned with success to Charles Coulombeau (2020). The idea of a tribute book, far from a catalogue format, was to faithfully recount these life stories and recreate the soul of the competition.
“Through this book, we wanted people to be able to understand the adventure of Le Taittinger. This event is not just about men and recipes, but about a human adventure. It was important to us that people could feel the atmosphere of the prize”, explains Vitalie Taittinger, President of the House. For Le Taittinger: le prix des chefs, she and her team therefore called on 15 winners, asking them to recreate their recipes, then gathering comments and testimonials from each of them, as well as from the judging panel, commis chefs and other people involved in the competition. The story was put into words by Nadège Forestier, the dishes immortalised in pictures by Jean-Blaise Hall and Gérard Rondeau was the man entrusted to capture the personality of the chefs themselves.
Gérard Rondeau and he alone
Native photographer of the Champagne region, he established himself through his love for this region, notably with his series along the river Marne and his tribute to Reims cathedral, as well as for his work in keeping with the project, going behind the scenes of museums as well as behind the scenes of the competition, and has distinguished himself throughout his career for the quality of his portraits. “We wanted a moment of grace, a truth. Portrait photos in the style of a painter”, adds Vitalie Taittinger. Although the artist’s images have been etched in her imagination since she was a little girl, it was by meeting each other that the attention paid and the choice of Gérard Rondeau were confirmed for the anniversary book.
“Gérard has a very specific way of photographing. He is very discreet, he works with a small, Leica camera, which he always keeps hidden under his jacket. He doesn’t make people pose. He’s always looking for that fleeting moment, that he’s going to find”, explains Jean-Pierre Redont, Secretary General of Taittinger. In black and white, the world of Gérard Rondeau therefore represents the competition, taking portraits as if for one of his own personal collections. Bringing all his sensitivity and know-how to the chefs, cracking those hard shells on which their reputation is built, revealing to us the deep individuality of each of them. On the cover we see a white apron, a medal rests proudly against the wearer’s torso. A decoration bearing the effigy of Pierre Taittinger, giving a glimpse into the extent of this family history and collective history, where knowledge passes down the generations, where people always come first.