This is the second installment in a two-part interview with chef Bertrand Grebaut. You can find the first installment here.
What was the most marked difference between working for Joel Robuchon and Alain Passard?
The comparison is quite difficult. On one had you have a chef (Alain Passard) who is in his kitchen almost every day, who only owns one restaurant (L’Arpège). On the other a chef (Joël Robuchon) that owns restaurants all around the world who has commissioned people to oversee the management in his different establishments. That is the Robuchon method, no direct contact with the chef; you strive only to obtain perfection on a technical level while staying close to tradition. Your apprenticeship is almost military, empirical, and this without any real explanation. Meanwhile with Passard there is less of a sense of routine, you are encouraged to develop your sensibility you end up obtaining a broader vision and understanding more.
Where did you learn more and actually begin to define your style?
At L’Arpège, it’s where I learned the most and where I realized that I had more affinities with a fruit and vegetable oriented cuisine rather than the technical cuisine that you often find in palaces.
How important is service in a diner’s complete experience?
The service has a tremendous importance. The waiters are the ambassador of the kitchen, they are the last link and notably they are the ones that will ultimately define the tone of your restaurant. In our case it is what distinguished us from others.
What distinguishes you from your peers?
Je n'en sais rien [I don’t know]… Maybe it’s because I had other professions and interests before becoming a chef. I chose this path on account of my love for food. My vision of my profession is one of pleasure and not of brash spectacle.
This business is difficult for families. How do you find a balance?
My girlfriend has the same profession; we have a mutual understanding of the stakes. Time off is always a happy moment.
Any food congress that is your favorite? Who is the best speaker you have heard?
By far MAD FOOD CAMP organized by René Redzepi. The speaker that captivated me the most was Ron Finley. He elevated the crowd and imbued hope. He defied everyone and decided to grow vegetables and edible plants out in the streets in his ghetto, to reinstate hope to the people of his neighborhood. He compels respect.
How important is it to train and learn the basics of cuisine?
The basics of cuisine are as important as a solfeggio is to music. All cultural and technical fundamentals are necessary to be creative. Especially when you hold in your grasp the French gastronomic heritage. It is a hefty heritage but consulting it with all the respect that it’s due, gives you the possibility of extracting brilliant ideas.
Social media and copying: How do you feel about that since images of food are all over Instagram and Twitter instantly?
I am as fascinated as I am terrified! It is at the same time positive and damaging for our profession. I encourage the public and clients to restart taking pleasure in the moment shared around a table and stop consuming photos. As a professional it can be a great platform for broadcasting but personally, I haven’t managed to cross that line.
Does this encourage cooks to be constantly moving ahead?
The situation is double edged; yes, produce and techniques are shared easily and rapidly, but on the other hand it does not help the independent expression. We are slowly moving towards standardization of tastes.
What do you do on your day off?
Let’s be realistic, all my free time revolves around one question: Where and what am I going to eat?