This is the first installment in a two-part interview with chef Bertrand Grebaut. You can find the second installment here.
Parisian chef Bertrand Grebaut has been tantalizing diners with his artful plates and culinary compositions since the day he opened Septime in the 11th arrondissement of Paris in 2011. The reticent young chef speaks the language of food through his craft honed in three Michelin-starred kitchens of celebrated chefs such as Alain Passard of L'Arpège and Joël Robuchon. He is part of a clique of internationally recognized young chefs who are changing the status quo of the French restaurant industry and introducing an informal element which is not yet wholly embraced by the old guard.
Grebaut has been hailed as one of the "Generation New French Bistrot,” spearheading the bistronomie movement pervading the city of Paris and the rest of the country. According to Grebaut his intent is only to serve a modern, high quality, fresh and natural cuisine in a laid back atmosphere with an affordable price point for people from all walks of life. He has chosen to open his venture in his "hood" as he lives not far from the restaurants and knew his concept would be a good fit for the area and hence rue de Charonne became the new hotspot in the 11th arrondissement.
After obtaining a degree in literature, Grebaut explored other professions like graphic design before immersing himself in the world of food. He earned his first star at the critically acclaimed L'Agape which has since closed and subsequently after receiving an Evian-Badoit prize grant he opened Septime. The wine cave across the street followed and then by a lucky coincidence a former garage space adjacent to Septime became available and the Clamato oyster bar emerged to rave reviews. His design sensibilities permeate not only his plates but also the interiors of all three establishments he owns with his partner Theo Pourriat. The artsy bohemian neighborhood of the north east part of Paris has transformed in the past few years into a very hip dining destination, where Septime is the most-hyped about and one of the hottest tables in town. Understandably reservations require persistence and patience, and when you do finagle one you invariably spend part of your meal planning your next visit!
The subdued yet elegant aesthetics of Septime's the interior is offset by rock music (Jimmy Hendrix) and sounds of happy customers as its modest prices for spectacular food make it unique in the very expensive city . This year in February Septime earned its first very well deserved Michelin star while placing #57 on the World's Best Restaurants list for 2015. The warmth and informality of the space with a bar by the entrance and an open kitchen at the back are enhanced by an unhurried, informal service accompanied by a well curated wine list. It is easy to lose count of repeat visits since the flawless tastes of Grebault's spectacular produce centric plates inevitably lure back not only Parisians but also international Gastro tourists again and again.
We chatted fairly early one morning in Clamato behind its striking green facade as deliveries lined up inside the door. The seafood and oyster bar's signature stools were still stacked on tables as it only opens in the evening while the crew next door at Septime prepped for the lunch service. He spoke candidly about his work, life, and his experience at the Gelinaz shuffle when Rodolfo Guzman of Borago, Santiago took over his kitchen while he swapped places with chef Fulvio Pierangelini of Hotel de Russie in Rome.
The Daily Meal: What is modern French cuisine?
Chef Bertrand Grebaut: I don’t know, you tell me! I suppose I’m trying to portray modern French cuisine. It represents freshness and creativity but all the same staying in connection with my culinary heritage.
How has the immense success you have achieved changed you as a person? More importantly, are you content?
The flip side of success is immense stress and pressure. However, as a team, we build off of these emotions. They reunite us and give us self-confidence. So yes, we are content.