Challenging years of training and encounter with a great master
How did you chose this path?
I come from the countryside, Piré-sur-Seiche, close to Rennes in Brittany. My grandparents did a lot of cooking. It was my entourage and also a family decision but a friend of mine was doing this too. At sixteen, I left for the hotel school where I studied for four years.
After you graduated, where did you work?
I worked at Le Duc d’Enghien, a two star restaurant that was run by Michel Kerever, and then I followed him to Vreugt in Holland. In a career, there is always a special chef that influences your life – in my case it was Kerever. He is the one that taught me about the high level of quality that is required, making me want to go further in this profession.
It was there that I learned about perfection and what it takes to get a Michelin star. I also trained with Joe Rostand in Antibes and André Daguin.
Why did you choose to work at the Jules Verne in Paris?
I really wanted to come to Paris. I’m from Brittany and for me, the Eiffel Tower really meant Paris. When I arrived in Paris in 1993, I went to work in the Jules Verne in the belly of the Eiffel Tower.
After that, I wanted to work in a Palace1 for two years I worked at Les Ambassadeurs, the restaurant of the Hotel de Crillon, under the chef Christian Constant.
My next goal was to become a sous-chef in a three star restaurant. To achieve this, I began working for Bernard Pacaud, who was also from Brittany, at the restaurant L’Ambroisie, where I was able to become a sous-chef after a year. I worked there for ten years, from twenty-five to thirty-five years old. Under him I learned about using good ingredients and the art of seasoning.
What was Bernard Pacaud like?
His kindness made us feel like a family, and his human qualities were amazing. In ten years, I never heard him raise his voice even once. He was an exceptional person in every way, polite with everyone. He was a crucial figure in my life.
Everyone who worked for him respected him so much that we all gave our best without he is having to say. He didn’t need to hover over us telling us do this or that; we naturally wanted to do a perfect job. He would work with us from early morning and share our meal. In this way for ten years I worked with him.
He wasn’t the kind of chef who was always out somewhere, or in the media. Even though he was famous, he considered himself a cook who should be in the kitchen. That’s how I want to be, a chef for whom the staff wants to do their best.
Most of my colleagues were working there for ten years. People will stay a long time in a good environment.
Rather than diversifying my activities, I focus on the challenge at hand
You began running your own restaurant at age forty-three – had it been your goal for a long time?
No, I wasn’t planning things like when I should start to run my own restaurant or how many years I should stay in this position before leaving. I was focused on the current challenges as they arose. I didn’t have a long-term plan so I put all my energy into the task at hand. When I was at L’Ambroisie, it was a challenge just to keep the three stars. At Senderens, where I worked for the next ten years, it was a challenge to lead a large team and to maintain the two stars.
When I left L’Ambroisie I thought about opening my own place but Senderens was looking for a chef and called on me, and I was eager to work under a grand chef like him. In 2013, when the owner of a hotel in Geneva, La Reserve, called on me to open his Paris restaurant, I felt up to the challenge.
A number of grand chefs have a wide range of activities such as consulting, but you don’t seem to have any activities outside the restaurant, do you?
While working for Senderens, I was consultant for Mama Shelter, and was involved in the opening of their branches around the world. I’ve learned a lot from the creation of menus that are appropriate for different locations, such as Turkey.
I still receive some consulting offers, but I haven’t accepted any since the opening here.