“We are what we cook”

“We are what we cook”

Since the start of your career in Monaco in the 1990s, how have you seen your profession evolve?

The profession becomes more caring. We are paying more and more attention to working conditions and the comfort given to employees. Leaders also realize that they are bearers of messages. We have a real responsibility, for example, to work on short circuits. I like to say that you are what you eat.

Has the cuisine changed during this period?

Cuisine follows trends. When I started, it was very Mediterranean. Then, we took inspiration from Japan, from Asia. Today, the influences come from Northern cuisine, with fermentation techniques that we did not know until then. With globalization, we travel more and more and tastes from elsewhere come to us.

Top chef enters its 15th season. How does the show convey these transformations?

The show has changed enormously in fifteen years. In the ten years that I have been appearing there, I have noticed an evolution. On the role of the jury, first. Initially, it sanctioned work. Today, we have a role of transmission and listening. We seek to advise the candidate so that he reveals himself. Fifteen years ago, the participants were very Franco-French. Now, many have already traveled and learned about cuisines elsewhere. They are bold. As a result, chefs from all over the world want to be invited to Top Chef France.

The number of candidates has not changed. About four each year among around fifteen participants. Why so little?

This reflects today’s gastronomy. There are very few women in the sector, therefore very few candidates. From a certain level in the kitchen, there are fewer and fewer of us. This job requires choices. However, some of us are not able – or do not want – to do them. Our profession requires us to be a mother, a companion, a friend in a different way. To lead a different life. We return late in the evening. For a woman, this is a lot of constraints, more than for a man. Even if this environment is not more macho than any other.

What would you say to a woman who is hesitant to take the plunge?

You shouldn’t miss out on your passion! You can very well engage in this profession and approach the rest differently. This taste for the table can be inspiring for our children. And in the kitchen, a woman does not need to behave like a man.

You represent the fourth generation of a family of chefs. Will your two daughters follow?

No, but it doesn’t matter, I’m not at all looking for the tradition to continue. Like any parent, I just want them to be happy.

How do they view your profession?

They think that this job took a lot from their mother. But they feel lucky to have been able to travel with me and discover different cultures. I instilled in them a taste for work, independence, freedom. They are grateful. They know that I do what I love and are happy to see me fulfilled.

Cooking has ceased to be seen as a siding and has become a rewarding profession. How do you explain this reversal?

Television and the media coverage of chefs have largely contributed to this. Top chef has done a lot of good for our profession. Social networks too. Following a leader, seeing their work, can give rise to vocations. Hospitality and culinary schools also do a very good job of promoting these professions. I also think that the French today appreciate eating well more and enjoy cooking more and more at home. The pandemic has greatly increased this attraction.

Cooking shows give a truncated view of reality. Do they not risk arousing vocations that are quickly disappointed?

I do not believe. Top chef, before being a meeting on cooking, is a competition recognized by our peers. The show gives a vision of a profession that requires working hard and questioning oneself. She doesn’t cheat on our daily life, on what we have to give both physically and psychologically.

The hotel and catering industry is missing 200,000 pairs of arms. Are you facing this shortage?

I’m quite lucky, because I have restaurants that attract people. I have some recruitment difficulties for the bistronomic restaurant, Jòia, but not in the gastronomic sector.

How do you deal with this difficulty in recruiting?

In the restaurant industry, it is the hours and working conditions that pose a problem. We need to evolve. At Jòia, I went from being open seven days a week to five days a week to offer Sundays and Mondays off. Employees work continuously, rather than with a break. I made these changes two or three years ago because I was aware that employees were working a lot of hours and that we needed to evolve.

At Marsan, I switched the shifts to a four-day week, while the restaurant opens five days. This choice has a price. It comes at the expense of investment but gives a better quality of life to employees.

In our restaurants, labor represents 40% of turnover excluding VAT. I would like the State to give us the means to have two teams. To do this, charges would have to be lowered. Today, I can’t afford it financially. Besides that, I try to take care of my employees. I installed a rest room and washing machines so that they could do their personal laundry during their break time. I take care of the laundry of their work clothes.

Thierry Marx, who chairs the Union of Hotel Trades and Industries, spoke out in favor of rapid regularization of undocumented employees in the sector. What is your position?

This is a real problem. When it is possible to regularize, it must be done. Personally, I have rarely been confronted with this subject, because we check the papers of all our employees. But it happened to me that one of them admitted to me that he had lied. In this case, we have ensured that he can quickly comply with the law.

Looking back, what do you think of the conditions in which you learned to cook?

I worked in the kitchens of Chef Ducasse and my family’s restaurant. I never experienced any violence there. I’m not saying that they don’t exist, but I was lucky to evolve in a respectful and caring environment. Of course, the workload is significant. Here, at Marsan, how many times have I invited my young colleagues to go home before the end of the evening shift or in the afternoon so that they can rest! But they are passionate and tell me they want to stay to continue learning.

You say that leaders must lead by example. How do you adopt an eco-responsible approach?

We first integrate it through the choice of our suppliers. We work in short circuits, we respect seasonality, we use fish from responsible fishing. I always did it.

Eco-responsibility also means cooking a product from A to Z. For example, today I received lamb. I gave the instruction not to lose anything. Same thing for vegetables: we cook the tops. I have always known this approach, because I come from a peasant background. But it’s true that we had forgotten it a little in the kitchens.

I don’t stop myself from using imported products when they are exceptional, for example Japanese wagyu beef, but I do it very rarely. In France, we are lucky to be very spoiled from this point of view. At Connaught, in London, I am also experimenting with the use of lids on our many containers to no longer use plastic food wrap.

Finally, eco-responsibility for me also means taking people into account. And therefore take care of our employees.

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