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About Love and Sharing, Interview with Top Chef, Jacques Chibois

editorial & arteditorial

11 April 2023

Meeting the great chef Jacques Chibois was a return to childhood. I found it so powerful considering that, no matter where you come from, childhood memories remain a pretty strong subtle connection. This time it was amazing because we had the same memories, even though they were from different corners of the world, from different age stages of life.The pot slowly simmering in the oven, the smells in the kitchen where mum was cooking, the scent of oranges received as a Christmas present, the love of sharing and living by giving to others, to live through others. There was no money, but the trade-off was love. Isn't it beautiful ?!

Later in life, like Jacques Chibois, I discovered the beautiful Côte d'Azur and we had the same feeling of exoticism. Seeing those oranges, which we only received at Christmas, lingering in the trees all year round, the herbs, the plants, the scents, everything that makes up the Mediterranean space was a paradise in itself. The garden of La Bastide Saint Antoine in Grasse, property of the great chef, slowly revealed these smells of life, the real ones that we sometimes so deeply forget. The scents of freshly cut grass and blossoming orange trees are there to remind us to always return to that simple divinity of things, to that true essence of life.

An immersion in this real Jacques Chibois, little by little, was due. Follow us! 

‘My origins are from Périgord Limousin, at the bottom of the Haute Vienne and at the top of the Dordogne. My parents were farmers but also, above all, millers. In the past, millers were also traders and there was a table d'hôte.'

He tells me how his mother ran a table d'hôte and brought a lot of people together, because she was a very good cook and did everything with love. A cuisine with porcini mushrooms, foie gras, truffles, ducks.This is your legacy from here...

‘It's a culinary heritage! My parents directed me to an agricultural BTS but it was not my essential DNA, even if I like it. I decided to cook and I left to do a competition to enter a hotel school in Toulouse. I did not go because the father of a friend told me about a gentleman who was looking for an apprentice. And I left and stayed for a year. After a year, he decided to sell to build his own restaurant. He sent me to Paris to Michel Guerard. You should know that there was a namesake, there were two Michel Guerards and he didn't know.'

Coincidentally, things go in one direction, sometimes helped by others, sometimes by our own wings. And, sometimes, it's the heart that beats faster when you go to a certain direction. This is where we know that emotion grows in us at the same time as our dreams. But to go to Paris...

"I had to convince my parents. The chef told my parents that I did not belong to them, I belonged to the kitchen.'

Michel Guerard, the chef who revolutionized slimming cuisine

‘I arrived in Paris, at the home of the real Michel Guerard, the cook who made the kitchen evolve with a creative side. I came across the right one! On the other hand, after eight days, I looked at the photo that had been given to me and I saw Monsieur's face. And I said to him: ‘Mr. Guerard, I think we made a mistake! He was also surprised because he didn't know that there was another Michel Guerard who was a cook. He asks me what I decide and I tell him that I stay. Afterwards, he did his research and, after eight days, he told me that I was lucky because Michel Guerard was the chef who made the small trays for the planes. And that's where it all started!'

Do you think you have to go through Paris to be a good cook?

‘You have to pass Paris because there is a lot of competition, quality and Paris is Paris! Everyone comes to Paris.'

The capital of the world...

‘Yes, for cooking and for the arts, perfumes, sewing. Paris is a symbol. At the beginning of the century, Paris made people dream. It still does! Everything was happening in Paris. It allowed me to go faster.
Everything is complicated and if we resist, it's because we want it. One small person among twelve million. It is complete indifference!'

When life kicks to move faster, changes in destiny that shake things up and move forward, it means that there is a force greater than us.

"After six months, Michel Guerard was a consultant for a Russian cabaret restaurant in Paris called Reginskaya, the cabaret of Régine, the singer. One evening, the chef is arguing with the director, he leaves and Régine calls Michel at midnight to tell him that his chef has left. He quickly comes to see me and tells me that I have to replace the chef. I was an apprentice.'

Jacques Chibois was completely surprised... by the fact, by fate. Suddenly, chef Michel Guerard looks at him and says: 'I hope you succeed and, above all, do not disappoint!'

The pressure rises and makes the body and the heart of Jacques Chibois vibrate. At that moment, he felt his shoulders heavier, but his heart was beating with pride. It was a stroke of fate! And he had succeeded! It was everyone's amazement to know that he was only an apprentice.

"My career started there. Then I did military service with General De Boissieu. I cooked for the General of the French Armies, the son-in-law de Gaulle. I was with the daughter of Gaulle which allowed me to evolve afterwards.
I continued to work with Michel Guerard who placed me with Jean Delaveyne, with Roger Verger, with Louis Outhier. He took me back to go to Eugénie les Bains and after Paris to take care of a change that Régine had made with another restaurant, Chez Régine. Afterwards I took care of the Regines openings in London, New York, Sao Polo.
I took care with Michel Guerard of his agro-food, also the meals for the Ministries.'

Jacques Chibois did a lot of things...

‘On TV on TF1, with Michel Guerard, we talked about light cooking. I very quickly became responsible manager. Then I wanted to be myself. The Gray d'Albion hotel was opening in Cannes in 1982 and I left to work there.' 

Change of scenery ...

‘Yes and I was the only chef in France of a hotel with 200 rooms, 7 restaurants. A restaurant that opened every month. Recruitment, competition, dynamics, everything had to be done.'

Does it change the dynamic?

‘Cannes had the same dynamic as Paris because it is very touristy, with all these events. Côte d'Azur and Paris are almost the same. Côte d'Azur in summer, Paris in winter.
After three months, Gault & Millau came to taste our cuisine at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, marking first "a new star has arrived on the Croisette".
I went from six covers per day to 80 customers per day. My career started like that. Afterwards, all the guides followed and, like that, I became an international chef. I was an Intercontinental consultant, in the United States I had 180 hotels, in Japan. In Greece I created a resort, a Michelin star restaurant.

A small place you call your home rather that other's big place

‘Twelve years later, I opened La Bastide Saint Antoine because I preferred a small home to a large home. A snowball effect, a fairly quick success because people come to live an experience, aplace. We like to have a difference with the rest and bring a completely different cuisine. I opened the kitchen with the symbolic meaning that is Grasse.'

What is the specificity of your kitchen, in fact?

‘I work on the aromas, the perfume which represents the taste and the cuisine.'

Give us a secret...

‘I decided to cook vegetables for dessert and add olive oil and that was a revolution. Also, in the kitchen, bring all those delicate flavors that the Côte d'Azur and Provence have. With its flowers, its herbs...
It touched me a lot because I'm not from here. I am from elsewhere. All these products on the Côte d'Azur were exotic products for me. A revelation! You are sitting on a pile of gold and you don't know it. In this exotic side, I brought two values: to restore a fairly common value for them, and the use of the olive oil that I discovered here.'

The taste of tangerines at Christmas, the most precious memory of childhood with its unforgettable scent that sticks to our souls...

‘I remember for Christmas, the parents bought a ‘envoie de Nice'. There were eight tangerines. One for each. And when I saw all these tangerines in the trees, I said to myself that I am in paradise. I tried to transform this paradise in the kitchen and bring a very fragrant, very tasty, very light cuisine. Thanks to Michel Guerard, creative, and, at the same time, light, as also in his book in which I participated.

What does light cooking mean?

"You can eat as much as possible, without gaining weight and being in good health. Eliminate all products that are harmful to taste, super weight and balance. Also light in its flavors and its very fresh products to have a quality of life. It was market cuisine, garden cuisine, with all that the South can bring us.'

Do you think this type of cuisine has become more and more a trend or not?

"It was the truth that had been forgotten and continues to be forgotten today. 80% of the planet eats agro-alimentary food and 20% cooks. Afterwards, they are surprised that there are diseases, that they are obese. People buy nice kitchens for their apartments, but they never do anything.
Now we are bringing this cuisine from Provence, this cuisine from the Mediterranean with all its influences.'

French cuisine, a culture in itself, the origin of all cuisines as a profession...

‘French cuisine is a real profession. It is the only cuisine in the world, thanks to Louis XIV and his great festivals, which had a lot of importance. His cooks, who were appreciated by the King, advanced in their careers. They became cooks through the great Catherine who had revolutionized Russia. At the Russian court, at the time, they spoke French. We brought in the chefs who started writing recipes. And weigh them. And so was created the profession of cook. Grande cuisine has continued to evolve and, today, our generation and that of Michel Guerard, of Paul Bocuse, we are promoting our profession, our restaurants around the world and French culture. We have trained a lot of young people from all over the world. Today there are great chefs all over the world who were trained by the French.'

Where is French cuisine today?

What we taught is to keep the French philosophy, but today we mix the cuisines a little too much in French cuisine. She loses her identity a little bit. France has 5-6 climates and each Provence has different cultures. This richness with little distance has made great French cuisine. Today we are going too much towards the sensational.'

Behind this simplicity, nothing can be hidden

"We create emotional things through taste, through true creativity. Today, creativity means putting lots of things on the plate and we don't understand anything about what we eat.
We have lost the sense of art! These little things that we put together, which grow and which make a work of art! Behind this simplicity, nothing can be hidden.'

Where are you in this context, what is your philosophy?

"Everything is cultural. I come from Limousin where there is a very simmered cuisine. We cook slowly and for a long time. It is a very tasty cuisine. We ate extremely well. I come here, on the Côte d'Azur, and things change. The climate is completely different, the air is much warmer. products that we don't have in the center of France. All those herbs, the aromas! We cook very lightly. Fish cuisine, too! When you mix the two, you have an expressive cuisine.
The farmers told me: 'there has to be a foreigner who comes to show us another way of cooking our products'

When the chef mixes his childhood heritage with exotic discovery, what does it give?

It's an author cuisine, a signature cuisine! We remember a dish, a house, a person, a region!'

The only money was love

"We are cooks thanks to our mothers, to our grandmothers because they were ladies who loved their families, their entourage. People didn't have any money back then. The only money was love and friendship. This money was to give, to give of you to someone. As we had no physical money, this money was the happiness of transmitting, of sharing. They offered what they had. It was their currency. It was a table d'hôte, this happiness around you and which you must not forget because today, we are losing it. Because of telephones, the system!
To do our job is to love others and be with them, to participate, to share. In life, if you don't have others, you can't do anything. It's other people who make you grow. It's other people who make you successful. And if the others don't matter, it's the end of the world, of the truth. 

By Andra Oprea

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