This is the first installment in a two-part interview with chef Cesar Troisgros. You can find the second installment here.
There is an explosion of young culinary talent in the French kitchens embodying the propagation of modern French cuisine though many of them have come from other parts of the world like James Henry, Heideki Nishi, Kazu Nakatani, Hayden Clout, Simone Tondo, and many more. They have fueled the “bistronomy” movement spreading casual dining in France, gleefully adopted by the Gallic food fanatics as they braved the economic recession.
At the same time there are chefs like Mauro Colagreco, Bertrand Grebault, Yannuck Alleno, Julian Boscos, David Toutain, Pascal Barbot, and others who are gathering stars and accolades as they move onto the “best of” lists also bringing a renewed vigor and interest to the French dining scene. The well known culinary dynasties in France are attempting to maintain their hegemony by sending out second, third, and fourth generation cooks such as Cesar Troisgros, from the house of Troisgros, into the mix. Unlike other young cooks gaining a foothold in the industry, this young talent carries on their shoulders the burden of responsibility and expectations of a famous lineage.
Cesar, the progeny of Michel and Marie-Pierre Troisgros and grandson of Pierre Troisgros, joined his father in the kitchens of the families three Michelin-starred La Maison Troisgros eight years ago. Instant celebrity may be what many of his peers are aiming for, but Cesar is working to mark his own place amongst his already famous family. This young chef grew up in a living schoolroom of sorts watching his father and grandfather cook while absorbing the family cooking traditions as if by osmosis. Like any other teenager he went through a rebellious stage and announced to his parents his plans to join the music world instead of becoming the next generation of Troisgros cooks. The similarities to other teens ended there since he had his godfather, the President of the Relais & Chateau at the time no less, to guide and channel his energies into his passion for cooking.
Maison Troisgros is an hour's drive from Lyon, situated in a region with strong culinary traditions and other famous names like Bocuse and Pic. The Troigros name is a benchmark of sorts in the world of haute cuisine with names like Pierre and Jean Troisgros, a hard act to follow even for Michel, the father of the two young fourth generation cooks Cesar and Leo. The familial traditions are continuing in other areas as well, and while Michel Troisgros spent time in the Chez Panisse kitchens in Berkeley, California with Alice Waters, young Cesar spent time with yet another famous American chef (Thomas Keller) at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley. Well-traveled and trained in reputed kitchens such as that of El Celler de Can Roca (presently #1 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list) while having learned the basics at Institut Paul Bocuse, Cesar is now his father’s wingman in the Maison Troisgros kitchen, efficiently handling his sous chef duties.
The 28-year-old personable and candid chef shared his insights about his work, training, family and other chefs who have had a major impact on him:
The Daily Meal: Were you expected to join the family business, or did you choose to be in this line of work?
Cesar Troisgros: I did choose it myself, though I did decide at 18 which is late in France since here you can begin to cook or start an apprentissage at 15 or 16.
Did you always want to be in the kitchen?
Not really, since as a teenager I did not know which career I wanted to pursue. At first I wanted to be in the music industry and become a sound engineer. At that time I was in high school and though I was always around the kitchen, especially during summer I didn't want to be a cook. All through my childhood I had been hearing the same thing about "oh you are the next generation" and so on. I got tired of hearing that and at that young age I wanted to do anything other than that. I was 15 and not really aware of the world.
So did you pursue training for the music industry?
No, since after finishing high school I took time to think and in a conversation with my godfather (Régis Bulot, the then president of Relais & Chateau association of the finest small hotels and restaurants) he asked what I wanted to do. I said maybe a sound engineer but I was not certain, since after training I didn't know if I would find work and I didn't know anyone in the industry. He said ‘but you like cooking and why don't you pursue that’ and I realized in that conversation that yes, I did like cooking, so I announced to my very surprised parents that I want to go to cooking school. They were happy with any choice I made but this did please them.