How a famous establishment earned its stars barely a month after opening: hard work and strategy
Tell us about the opening of La Reserve.
Before, I always worked for other chefs. Here, I work for myself. It’s a huge challenge. It reflects on me directly if the results are good or not. It’s completely different from my past experiences.
My challenge was to obtain two stars right away. In this case, I gave myself a deadline. I needed to show Michelin right away what I was planning to do here. I couldn’t afford a “wait and see” approach.
Before the opening, we had lots of meetings to create our own dishes. We got ready to be able to offer the cuisine I had envisioned, and then we made many modifications to the menu. There were many times I even slept here.
I was the one who had created the new recipes at Senderens, but I didn’t re-use any of them at this new restaurant. I told my staff that since we changed our venue, let’s also change the dishes. All those dishes were born here.
How did you feel after getting your stars barely a month after the opening?
My sous-chef Frederic has been with me for seven years, and there is a Vietnamese lady who has been with me for eight and half years. It’s thanks to them that I was able to obtain two stars. I wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself.
A magazine introduced you as “A chef who is building the Parisian gastronomic scene of tomorrow.” Where do you think this come from?
For a long time, I worked under other chefs to enable them to maintain their high quality – that was good training. Now I can express my own style based on what I have learned. I want to show what I can do, thanks to the strengths developed during the long years I worked under great chefs. They might be referring to that.
My personal style was born from my career.
What is your cuisine style?
I have a classical base. On top of that, I express my own identity with carefully selected ingredients and techniques… and a Japanese influence.
Before, I prepared regional dishes, but now my cuisine suits the international atmosphere of the 8th arrondissement.
“Classic” to me means being focused on the taste, with a contemporary feeling. My present style was formed by my career and also by my personality – it reflects what I like.
My trip to Japan also inspired evolution in my cooking style, shaped by the day-to-day teamwork. Let me give you an example of a dish typical of my style: an artichoke barigoule that I prepare using quicklime and top with a minced cherry blossom jelly and coriander. Here you have the classical base: the artichoke barigoule, the technique: quicklime usage; and the Japanese touch with the sakura (cherry blossom). That one can characterize my style.
Now for the miso Salmon (with Kyoto style miso) that I’ve learned at the Miyamaso restaurant… The Japanese ingredient is miso, and the technique is the marinade, which is a way to preserve food. For the flavor I use chili oil, smoked eggplants, zist2 cream, and finally, a unilateral cooking. For my pigeon, I have had cacao miso made in Japan. I cut it, marinate it, and serve it with Brittany buckwheat. The technique is a unilateral slow cooking while sprinkling semi-salted butter. These dishes are made with carefully selected ingredients, specific techniques, and a Japanese ingredient. However, this is not Japanese cuisine – my base remains fundamentally classical French cuisine.
Are you a Japanophile?
Yes. It was always my dream to go to Japan. On my first trip I stayed three weeks and when I returned home, I told my wife: “Let’s move to Japan!” She told me: “Okay, but I want to check it out first.”The following year we went together. She found the culture and the way of life so different that she wasn’t ready to live there, however.
I haven’t been able to live in Japan, but I go there around twice a year to discover ingredients or to introduce French ingredients to Japanese cooks. Japanese ingredients are the only foreign ingredients I use. Everywhere I went in Japan, I ate delicious food. At the fish market, at the slaughterhouse… I’ve learnt how to make miso and how to make tsukemono (pickled produce). I use sakura vinegar, tonburi fruits), black garlic, black shallots, dried figs, yuzu pepper, yuzu, Japanese mustard, and Japanese curry sauce. I haven’t been back to Japan for the last two years because I was busy with this hotel project, but I’m planning on going in April and I look forward to finding new inspiration.
I’ve had different opportunities to cooperate with the chef of Miyamaso for the last seven years. He came to make a “four hands” dinner with me, when I was at Senderens. He is the one who taught me how to make dashi.
Pay attention to each day’s work and find a good mentor who’ll train you well
What is important to become a good cook?
Daily work. That’s the most important. It’s also important to meet the right person. I’ve had some great mentors: Michel Kerever, Bernard Pacaud, Alain Senderens, and the owner of this place who believed in me. Find a good establishment, work every day, learn a lot, taste a lot… Moreover, it’s also important to have a good team.
What is your advice to a young cook?
Get some good training. You don’t need to go through many establishments. I stayed ten years in one establishment. It isn’t necessary to stay that long, but I would say you need at least five years in one place to learn thoroughly.
On resumes, when I see work experience in a series of one year, nine months, six months, it’s not worth much. You can’t learn what you have to learn in such a short time. Find an establishment that will lead you where you’re trying to go, and a mentor with whom you feel good. It doesn’t help to say, “I’m working at Ducasse”. You need to know how you want to grow.
What did you learn from your mentors?
In working for each chef, they gave me the desire to aim for perfection, the desire to taste, the desire to find the best fit, and allowed me to see the importance of realizing what one envisions.
Bernard Pacaud was always in the kitchen. I started to work for him when I was twenty-five years old, and when I arrived I had the impression I didn’t know anything. However, thanks to him, I worked diligently and was able to grow. It was only after I left his establishment that I realized how much I had improved.
Senderens was a different story. I felt I was starting from zero and he made me improve a lot. His strength was the pairing of food and wine. He had the best palate. Whatever he tasted, he knew if it was good or if something needed to be added. He was incredibly strong.
It was thanks to these two great chefs that, today, I have my own style and I know what I want and what I don’t. All thanks to them: Senderens, Pacaud, Kereber.