At 58, life is sweet for Pierre Gagnaire. He is respected by his peers, his eponymous Paris restaurant holds three Michelin stars and he oversees a portfolio of restaurants stretching from London to Tokyo. Better still, he has achieved all this while maintaining a youthful enthusiasm, and a wry distance from the fuss that surrounds him. Maybe it's the beard, but Gagnaire increasingly radiates the aura of some wise, beatific sage. In 2004, when one critic awarded Gagnaire a career-first 0/20 for Sketch, he was, at worst, amused. "I'm neither proud, nor humiliated," he told The Guardian, "just learning the English sense of humour." That Gagnaire has such a mature perspective may well be because it is only in the past decade that he has started to truly enjoy his work. For years, whether manning the spit-roast at Charbonnires-les-Bains or cooking in the French navy, this chef's son hated the roughhouse kitchens and the dull repetitive work. In the 1980s, he embraced nouvelle cuisine and was invigorated by its creative possibilities. Nowadays, he describes himself as an artist, one constantly evolving his "means of expression". Gagnaire relocated to Paris and truly let rip, finding particular inspiration in his friendship with the chemist (and catalyst for the molecular gastronomy movement), All this feeds into the Pierre Gagnaire dgustation menu, an extraordinary nine-course cavalcade. Simple headings, such as Le Rouge and Soupe Aux Choux, are followed by long descriptions of apparently irreconcilable components. They are nonetheless brought together stunningly on the plate, often with a little last minute improvisation. It's all about cooking effusively, with character, and it clearly works. "I am not a businessman," Gagnaire told the Japan Times recently. "I am someone who creates cuisine." Nonetheless, he will open two new restaurants in Dubai and Seoul this year.