Photo by Shih Ji Hung
Troisgros, Robuchon, Gagnaire, Barbot,,, The essence of the masters and what I learned from it.
I first went to “Troisgros”, which was close to Lyon where I went to the language school.
The position was as a sous chef.
I was there for about a year but what I learned from Michel Troisgros was simplicity.
It was the idea not to include more than 5 elements or flavors on one plate.
Food at “Le Jardin des Sens” is southern French cuisine, so the ingredients are colorful and are characterized by volume potions. There is no such thing as a small serving on a big plate. It is a cuisine that decorates food on a big plate and includes many components.
I myself was young, so I wanted to include many of my own techniques.
I wanted to show that I can do this by using various components.
But Troisgros was different. In order to let people know which is the main cast of the plate, they reduce components, and for the decoration they said it is necessary to create space on the plate. The idea being the space lets people use their imagination was something I learned there.
You went to Paris for further experience.
Then I joined “L’ATELIER de Joël Robuchon” at the opening as one of four head chefs with Eric Lecerf, Eric Bouchenoire, and Philippe Braun. I was in charge of the meat.
What I learned at “Robuchon” was a technique to keep the best quality.
The motto was “Try them all beforehand”.
What it means is that when the supplier brings foodstuffs, we make the supplier wait while I sampled all the delivered food. If it is meat, we cut it, fry and eat it to check the quality.
If the quality is good, we accept it but if not, we ask them to prepare another one.
It is inefficient to let the suppliers go and then ask them to prepare another one. It forces them to not deliver poor quality food. So my breakfast was steak everyday.
I worked at restaurants that served modern French cuisine such as “Le Jardin des Sens”, “Gagnaire” and “L’Astrance”, but it was good that I could work at such restaurants with old fashion classic styles as “Troisgros” and “Robuchon”.
As you said, you moved to “Pierre Gagniaire”, that has a totally different atmosphere.
Yes. It was in 2001, it was like being headhunted. I was in charge of meat and later pastry.
My cuisine pursues originality so it was rare to be told that I am similar to other chefs wherever I trained, but as I look back now, I think I am close to Gagniaire in personality.
Similarly, we both like art.
But it was tough while I was working. In any case, he was an inspirational type.
So when I was told, “Today we match pears to duck.” so I spent 3 hours peeling pears, then he said, “Let’s match mushrooms instead.” suddenly right before the open.
As the guests arrived, we started preparing mushrooms in a hurry.
Everyday I could not predict what would happen. However, as I worked there, I became to understand the meaning.
The condition of the ingredients change everyday, and I noticed that Gagnaire made components according to that. Not using more than 5 kinds of food materials was the same as Troisgros, but what I learned there was a psychological process of decorations.
For example, when we served steak to right handed customer, we placed the softest part on the very left side. By doing so, they cut from the left so they eat the softest part at the very beginning.
After that you went to “L’Astrance”, right?
Yes. In 2002, I entered “L’Astrance” as a sous chef. I think it was the smallest 3 star restaurant in France. It had 26 seats and only four chefs. The kitchen was so small!
What I learned from Pascal Barbot was to see materials themselves.
We went to the market everyday and bought the ingredients we needed.
It took more time to shop than before, so I happened to work 3 hours longer..
I also learned not only to buy materials on the day, but also to see the essence of things. In the kitchen, there were 2 Asians, including myself, and 2 European chefs who were not French. It was quite rare back then not to ask their nationality, as long as the person was good. This is a very Pascal way of thinking, to see the essence of things.
It is not possible to think that only French people can cook French cuisine nowadays. Especially now that they serve pasta in French cuisine, and the boundaries of cooking are being cast away.
Missing piece of myself and Eight Philosophies (Octaphilosophy) which I found when confronted by rich people who are not even happy with the best white truffles.
Then you worked with the Pource brothers.
In 2004, the Pource brothers were opening ‘Sens’ all around the world, so I worked in a position like a creative director for two years developing menus for their Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore and Shanghai restaurants. As they opened the new restaurants I went to the place and made seasonal menus for all 5 restaurants including main branch in a lab located in Montpellier.
After that you moved away from the city to a resort.
What objective did you have when you went?
I went to the Seychelles from 2006 to 2008. Frederic Vidal, the former owner of “Hotel De Paris” , was going to open a luxury resort called, “Maia” there, and I became an executive chef.
This place cost 4,000 USD per person per night and the guests were all wealthy people. I was able to use any ingredients. On the other hand, that meant if I could please them, I could make anyone in the world happy. They were not happy even though I served them white truffles, caviar or wagyu of the highest quality.
Then how can I make them happy?”.
At the same time whenever I made a life decision, I choose with a goal in mind. I think of what I am missing and choose the next step. My theme at that time was “individuality”.
I became a chief chef of a 3 star restaurant and worked with famous chefs in France.
I know their styles and I know what they say is “delicious”, so I can cook a dish that satisfies them. But where is my own style?
That was a piece that I thought I could find in the Seychelles.
I thought I could surprise rich people with simple ingredients like potatoes and onions.
For example, people have never tried a combination of onion and coffee.
When thinking about a new menu, I tried to forget what I had learned so far.
When I thought of the combinations of ingredients in my mind, I did not use classic combinations.
I thought, could I make people surprised and happy by combinations that no one had ever done before. So I matched pigeon and licorice, as well as sea bass ( One of the kind of Japanese sea perch) with chicory and parsley root.
The eight philosophy, which is the concept of my current restaurant (Octaphilosophy, Food of Restaurant Andre was served along considering the eight concepts: unique, texture, memory, pure, terroir, salt, south, and artisan) were something that I found there.