André Daguin

A Grand Chef

Le chef gascon André Daguin, roi du magret de canard, est mort.
André Daguin died earlier this month in Auch, France. From 1960 to 1997 he was owner and chef of the Hôtel de France in Auch. He was awarded two Michelin Stars and more importantly for us he put Gascogne
on the culinary map. He was one of the leaders of the nouvelle cuisine and a master of foie gras. He was much appreciated by other French chefs and was elected President of Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie, the French association of people working in hotels, restaurants and bars. His most significant and unparalleled contribution was the invention of Magret de Canard or grilled Duck Breast in 1959. It is one of many reasons why he was a grand chef.

A True Invention

The best known preparations of duck are confit de canard (the legs of the duck cooked in goose fat) and magret de canard, smoked or grilled. As if preparing the whole bird is not something you want to do. When you look for recipes in classic cookbooks like La Cuisinière Provençale by J.- B. Reboul (published in 1897) and in La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene by Pellegrino Artusi (publihed in 1891), then you will notice that all recipes are for complete birds. Braised if a young animal, stewed if older and larger. With olives, chipolata (small sausages), oranges or onions.
One day in 1959, after a busy lunch, a sales man arrived at the Hôtel. Not much was left in the kitchen, but André Daguin wanted to serve lunch to his late guest. He took a raw magret (ready to be made into confit) and prepared it quickly, like a steak. No doubt the surprised guest loved it. A nice and unconfirmed story.

Today grilled duck breast is one of France’s most popular dishes and many chefs offer recipes for it. With an orange sauce, with a green pepper sauce or with an Asian twist.
The original (!) by André Daguin is with foie gras. Obviously!

Breast of Duck with Thyme © cadwu
Breast of Duck with Thyme © cadwu