The history of a long-established restaurant, therein lies the extension to my own cooking

Olivier Chaignon
L'Osier Olivier Chaignon

L'Osier Olivier Chaignon

Learning through an apprenticeship day by day to gain practical experience since I decided to follow the road of being a chef.

Were you interested in cooking from a young age?

Mr. Chaignon :
I decided to follow the road of becoming a cook at the age of 14, but to be honest, I was helping to make desserts from about 8 years old. My parents had a friend who was a cake maker and I went to help out during my vacation every year.  Are you familiar with Christmas cakes called “Bûche de Noël” or log cakes? I would decorate a Santa Claus on them or squeeze cream on to the cakes.

I was being paid so I liked that job (laugh). I was able to eat desserts, too. Of course, I was interested in the work itself and had a desire to help because they were friends of my parents.

So you were introduced to cooking from an early age.  That is what put you on the path to cooking?

Mr. Chaignon :
Originally, I wanted to work as a “forest engineer” in France, to protect the environment while taking care of it.

So, when I decided that that was what I wanted to do in junior high school, I went to an interview at a school where I could learn that trade. However, the interviewer told me, “Actually, this is a job that you will find hard to find employment”.  After hearing that, I decided to change my path myself and also told my mother who went to the interview with me.

From there, why did you choose the path of cooking?

Mr. Chaignon :
Actually, I took a one week apprenticeship at a local one star restaurant close to home around the same time.

When helping to make sweets at the restaurant at a young age, I made desserts depending on the season, such as Galette des rois in January and Bûche de Noël in December.  But when I started training as a chef at the restaurant, I realized that I would be able to make a variety of things like appetizers to desserts. It was then I decided to walk this road, thinking that there was a definite future to expand my skills in cooking.
That was when I was fourteen.

L'Osier Olivier Chaignon

After deciding to take the apprenticeship of baking, what kind of career did you have?

Mr. Chaignon :
In France, there is a system called “Apprentissage (※ 1)”. It is a system where you are able to learn about different jobs while actually working at a company, and it is like a school where the training session which could be done at the actual work place is included in the school curriculum. In addition to working at the company, we also learn the basic techniques of cooking, such as basic recipes while also studying general subjects such as mathematics. I did that for two years.

※ 1: Apprentissage
A combination of practical training at a company and learning at a vocational training school. In Japanese it is said to be an apprenticeship training system. Not only limited to cuisine, but also for a variety of occupations such as carpenters and hairdressers.

Why did you choose to go to a general apprenticeship school instead of learning only culinary art?

Mr. Chaignon :
There are two ways of becoming a cook in France. A special hotel school where you learn cooking from a teacher or to go to an apprentice school like I did. Of course there are training courses in cooking at vocational schools, but this only allows you to passively study the basics. On the other hand, you can learn while working as an apprentice and have that direct communication with professional people. That’s why I chose the apprentice school.

Also, the nice thing about this system is that you can volunteer by choosing a restaurant to train yourself. Of course we must be accepted by the restaurant we want to volunteer at. That being said, if you choose a restaurant that does not train you properly, it can be a tragedy. Some of my friends finished their training only being able to peel potatoes.  I was lucky because I chose a place that properly trained me, and I think it was because I was cautious about my choice and paying close attention to the advice of other chefs.

Looking back, how was the last two years for you?

Mr. Chaignon :
I think I was able to build my base during this period.

It was, however, very hard.  There were about 200 people in total when I started my training and in about a year, that number was down to about 100 people. In the second year, about 25% of the students had quit.

I worked for about 3 weeks on site as an apprentice and 1 week at school every month. This went on for about 2 years. My days off at the restaurant were Tuesday night and Wednesday. I was always working on the weekends.

For the weeks I went to school, I worked at the restaurant until Sunday and was up at 5 am on Monday to Friday to take the bus to school every day.  I got home about 9 pm on Friday night and went back to the restaurant on Saturday. I had such a tough schedule.

However, what you learned on site and what you learned at school was quite different in quality and quantity. Even if we fail at school, we are the ones who eat the food but in the field, your customers are your counterparts and are very serious about the food they consume.  This system allowed me to learn a lot.

I made a spectacular start in winning the Apprenti Chef Concours Competition and gained valuable experience as a chef.

L'Osier Olivier Chaignon

I heard that you won the contest as a talented young chef at the age of 18, could you tell me more about that?

Mr. Chaignon :
Apprenti Chef Concours’ participation is available to Apprentice Chefs who graduated from vocational schools with excellent results. I was qualified to the competition because I graduate at the top of my class.

The competition has challenges from appetizers to desserts. That was announced about two weeks prior and the rule was to make four dishes in five hours. Since I was working, I did not have much training time. I was only only able to practice through my dishes one time before the competition..

I got first place both at the district preliminaries and semifinals. 15 out of about 700 participants made it to the national final include me. In the end, I won and was completely surprised because I had no idea that I could win.

After that, I went to the European competition and placed second.  I remember being very sad because the difference between 1st and 2nd place was only 5 points.

After your victory at the Apprenti Chef Concours, was there any effect on your job search?

Mr. Chaignon :
When I ranked first in the French tournament, Alain Ducasse and lots of other famous chefs made offers to me. I still have those letters at home (laugh).

But since I already got a job before the competition, I turned down the other offers and went to work at the restaurant I planned to. The restaurant was a one star and a Relais & Châteaux property. The restaurant only opens for 6 months in a year and closed during the winter.  I worked at a 2-star restaurant while on winter vacation. Eventually, I worked at the Relais & Châteaux property for about 18 months to 2 years.

You had done well in your career.  Where did you go after that?

Mr. Chaignon :
After that, I enlisted in the military for 10 months as it was mandatory.

Actually, taking advantage of my win at the Apprenti Chef Concours, I was supposed to become the Chef at the Élysée Palace (* 2) but it didn’t go as planned and I could not work there. I had already received letters of request from the chef at the Élysée Palace, but at the same time, I got a letter from the French Civil Defense Force and ended up cooking for the officers.

During my time in the Civil Defense Force, there was a hurricane in Nicaragua in South America, that caused major damage. My department was looking for volunteers to help provide support for this situation. When I heard about the situation, I thought to myself, “I would like to provide support in other ways besides cooking,” and was selected to go to Nicaragua as part of a rescue unit.

* 2: French Presidential office in Paris.

After your experience in the Defense Force, did it change you in any way?

Mr. Chaignon :
My experience as part of a rescue unit, of course, was completely different from my experience as a chef, but it changed the way I look at life and how I think about what makes me happy.

Of course, I saw a lot of death during this time and I also saw children who had lost their parents.  It was a terrible situation and environment. I saw lots of people living in the aftermath but were still able to smile.. and they accepted us foreigners. .

We live in places where there are no inconveniences, but we only complain about it. Meanwhile, people in Nicaragua are still able to find happiness everyday even without being able to eat or have access to proper clothing and shelter. When I saw that, I felt very strong that I could never complain, even if I have nothing.

After serving your country, what then?

Mr. Chaignon:
After finishing my service shift period, I went to Paris. After having worked at a one star restaurant (Restaurant Opera) and a two star restaurant (Relais d’Auteuil), I worked at a three star restaurant, “Taillevent “.

After working about a year at “Taillevent”, I told the chef that I wanted to gain more experience at another three star restaurant and he introduced me to “Pierre Gagnaire”.

At the time, Pierre Gagnaire in Parishad no vacant positions, so I moved to London to work for “Sketch”,  the first Pierre Gagnaire restaurant overseas as the opening staff. I worked there for 2 years and returned to Paris and worked for Pierre Gagnaire for another year.

L'Osier cuisine

Photo courtesy: L’Osier

The classic “Taillevent” and the avant-garde “Pierre Gagnaire” have two different styles. Did you have any impression of the difference?

Mr. Chaignon :
Certainly, “Taillevent” and “Gagnaire” are completely different. However, both were consistent in their standards to perfection as a three star restaurant. “Taillevent” is always full from noon with 90 seats to night with approximately 110 to 120 seats and it is quite large as a three star restaurant. The team has 24 people, but it still was not easy to serve such a large amount of customers while maintaining the quality of three stars.

On the other hand, Pierre Gagnaire first requested that the restaurant be based on his idea of ​​cooking so that is what everyone in the kitchen focused on. He was always full of ideas, complex with recipes that keep coming. Keeping up with him while maintaining the perfection of a three star restaurant was tough. In order for us to make it possible to create his cooking, you must first understand his spirit and philosophy. Compared to “Taillevent” which always makes a dish based on a set recipe, Gagnaire has a flexible and creative style, so it was interesting and motivating to me. Also I like the style and the way he thinks. There are lots of areas I agree with and am in tune with his style.

Experiencing two completely different styles, did you lean toward one or the other?

Mr. Chaignon :
I can’t say I like or dislike one or the other. The approach to cooking for both was different, and they both consist of elements that are required to make high quality food. I absorb all of the good elements to make my style.

This is not limited to just these two restaurants, the same can be said about to all restaurants I worked at. Because I believe that I am absorbing knowledge from all of my experiences, which is what helped me create my own style.

What brought you to Japan?

Mr. Chaignon :
I was invited as the general chef of “Pierre Gagnaire A Tokyo”. I came to Japan in 2005 and  worked at Pierre Gagnaire until 2011.

Initially when I came to Japan, I didn’t know Japanese food and tastes of Japanese people at all.  However, thanks to the Japanese staff, I gradually began to learn the ingredients and preferences of Japanese people. I communicated this knowledge to Mr. Gagnaire and he gave me new ideas of cooking based on that information.  By doing so, we created a menu while exchanging these ideas and information.

I am always careful not to use ingredients too familiar to Japanese cuisine and foods that are common for Japanese people, such as citron pepper. In Paris, we used Enoki mushrooms as an exotic ingredient, but it is too common for Japanese people so I don’t use them. .

It was not my original recipe, but it was like a Gagnaire dish born through me.

I heard that Jacques Borie (* 3), who built the framework of L’Osier came to eat?

Mr. Chaignon :
One time when Jacques Borie came to Pierre Gagnaire that previously located in Omotesando, I met him for the first time and exchanged business cards. He also came to Pierre Gagnaire currently at the Intercontinental Hotel.

But in both cases, I think he just came to eat. Another chef was working at L’Osier at the time so he just came in to have a meal.

* 3: In 1986 he was the first chef at L’Osier. After becoming a Shiseido Executive Producer in 2005, he devoted his time to building the framework of L’Osier and was the person, without exaggerating, who built L’Osier.

L'Osier appearance


7-5-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tokyo Metro "Ginza Station" 7 minute walk from Exit B 6
7 minutes on foot from JR Shimbashi station, Tokyo Metro Shimbashi station exit 5
Parking lot available
Lunch 12:00pm ~ 1:30pm (L.O.)
Dinner: 6:00pm ~ 8:30pm (L.O.)
Sunday, Monday, public holidays (irregular), summer season (mid-August), year-end and New Year holidays.