From running a restaurant to doing university research, from opening a school to doing volunteer work – let’s look at the culinary path taken by this versatile man.
Please tell us about your numerous activities.
In 2011, I opened this restaurant (Sur Mesure, which now has two stars) in Paris’ Mandarin Oriental. In November of last year, I opened a buffet restaurant in the Gare du Nord train station. The railway company had requested a high quality restaurant as part of their project to completely refurbish the station. Even though the station is located in a difficult area, it is nonetheless the largest railway station in Europe. A complete renovation of the station is planned within the next four to five years. The train station buffet opens at 7am for breakfast and closes at midnight. We offer very simple dishes, such as egg mayonnaise, pâté in a crust (pâté en croute), scallops from the Bay of Somme, beets… things like that. However, everything is made on the premises, something which is no longer done in French train stations. I also opened a bakery in Paris in 2016 (51 Rue de Laborde, 75008 Paris), where we offer popular favorites and baked goods in a fast-casual style.
In addition, I have opened a gastronomic restaurant and a bistro in the Ginza district in Tokyo. I had worked in Tokyo before, but this is the first time I have my own restaurants there. I worked at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo around 2004. And before that, while working at Cordeillan-Bages, I traveled regularly to Japan between September and April when the restaurant was closed. Specifically, I was working for Mr. Mikuni creating dishes and breads and working on restaurant openings such as for Osaka, Fukuoka, and Marunouchi.
I have other projects outside the catering business. I work for the French Culinary Innovation Center (Centre français de l’innovation culinaire, CFIC) at Orsay University, where we conduct research and organize conferences. We are exploring how food will evolve between now and 2030-2050, taking into consideration the future of agriculture and water supply. The gastronomic field is wide, and includes nutrition, health, culture, agriculture, and fishing – a chair was created to cover all these subjects. We have PHD students working on that.
I also have five schools in France, plus others in development in Colombia and the United States. These are schools with no tuition fees, geared towards poor or disadvantaged students, where they can obtain professional certification in a short amount of time. I’m also involved in charities, in cooking workshops at Restos du Cœur (a French soup kitchen) and also helping out in literacy programs. I don’t just create dishes and serve them to clients; I’m thinking about the future – 2020, 2030, what’s coming next…
I see you’re involved in a wide range of activities. What prompted you to become a chef?
There was no particular connection to food in my family. Life was tough, so the pleasure of food was not relevant. We hardly ever ate pastry, but I was drawn to the world of baking. I was too poor a student to get into the bakery course, and so I studied pastry instead. Then, starting at age eighteen, I spent five years in the army with the paratroopers. I wasn’t sure what to do when I got back to civilian life, so I left for Australia.
Thanks to my patisserie experience, it was easy to find work there in restaurants. I liked the atmosphere and the teamwork in the kitchen. Back in France, I obtained my certification in cooking, got some work experience at ‘Ledoyen’, and then moved to Taillevent, a three star restaurant where I worked under Claude Deligne. I didn’t have any connections but when I went to meet him, he gave me my chance and after we worked together, he introduced me to other famous chefs. It was while I worked with him that I realized I wanted to continue in this profession.
After that, I went to work at Jamin for Joël Robuchon, who was also a great influence on my career. Then I worked under Alain Chapel. These great chefs had learned all the basic rules of cooking. And once they had mastered them, they could go further. One must learn and master the basic rules. After that, you can play around and be creative. But without that mastery, things get complicated. The three basics are: the gesture, mastering the flame, and timing. You need the right gesture for the cut to know how to filet a fish, the proper way to cut meat, or how to finely chop a shallot. If you haven’t mastered these skills, you can’t cook properly.
Who were the chefs that influenced you the most?
Alain Chapel . He was pure creativity, with minimal work on the product to keep a maximum of flavor. And Robuchon too – from him I learned precision.
What came next in your career?
In 1998 I had my first chef appointment at Roc En Val near Tours, where I earned one star. Then in 1991, I worked at Cheval Blanc in Nimes. Then I worked at Cordeillan-Bages in Gironde for 10 years and earned two stars there. And finally, I was invited to be the chef for the opening of the Paris Mandarin Oriental.
How did you feel about being chosen for the opening of the Paris Mandarin Oriental?
To tell the truth, I wanted to go back to Tokyo; so I contacted the Mandarin Oriental to request a position there. They said, “Tokyo, no. But there is Paris.”
How did you first come to work in Japan?
It was in 1992. Before that I had visited a number of times to practice Judo, but it was in that year that I really got to know Japanese cuisine and to love it. I learned a lot from Mr. Koyama at ‘Aoyagi’, and this had a definitive effect on my culinary philosophy. He was extremely creative and fully mastered the basics – he could make a broth or filet a fish to perfection and created freely. In Japan I learned a different approach to the ingredients.