Noteworthy culinary masters, each with their own “cachet” in France’s culinary arena share similar qualities in philosophy of cooking and food!
5 QUALITIES OF FRENCH CHEFS!
I’ve developed an intimate network of great chefs to host the culinary excursions offered on France Off the Beaten Path tours over two decades of my ex-pat life here in France. WOW! How time seems to have zipped by! I never saw it coming, the idea of friending such glamorous icons in the culinary profession seems so foreign, yet here I am 28+ years into my American transplanted French life, and my entourage of culinary friends include some of France’s most highly recognized chefs. These men and women have trained with their own icons of the culinary world, such as Bernard L’Oiseau, Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Christian Willar, and many others who are world-renowned. Talk about feeling flattered; Yes, I am! Now imagine the pressure when invited for a weekend or a dinner to any of their homes, and am asked to bring a savory dish or dessert. Hhhmmmm, pressure on? No, not at all, it’s more self-imposed pressure, because however could I contribute to a meal where the “oh we’ll just be whipping something quick up for dinner” concept implies home-made tomato sauce using tomatoes from the chef’s family garden, and not from a can, where he or she has stewed said homegrown tomatoes for hours to create the perfect flavors for our evening “feast for the palate“… Yes, whip it up! It may not be quick, but then again this is a professional chef’s idea of throwing something simple together for dinner.
“How did these celebrities of France’s prestigious culinary world become your friends?” It’s a question tour guests frequently ask me. As a tour unfolds one foodie experience, one gourmet cultural encounter daily, we savor some of France’s best loved regional delicacies. And as special guests to a chef’s restaurant or as hosted friends at their family home, I often serve up the abbreviated explanation. It’s more than just about the food. It’s also about the relationship, and herein lies the key to responding to that question. French prize their relationships, and nurture them with great care. Like a seed that requires nourishment to grow into a beautiful blossoming flower, so goes the French relationship. Nourish the planted seed with proper food and water, and take time to care and appreciate it, and it will flourish into a beautiful flower to admire for a lifetime. One might assume this is standard practice for developing any good friendship, and well, in many cultures, that might be true. However in France, relationships take this process to a very prestigious level that requires more time and special attention, but mostly lots more time. Nurturing is key and the magic of time plays a paramount role. No one can rush the process. And, as the friendship strengthens, you’ll both occupy a seat at one another’s table that no one else can assume or replace, and it’s a privilege for both.
Making Foodie Friends, French Style…
As my story unfolds, it was with genuine interest in helping me expand my tour itinerary activities that a dear French friend introduced me to a local Loire Valley Chef over an afternoon tea at his chateau. He thought the chef and I would make good friends, and since we shared a passion for cooking, we might like to work together. This is how I met Angelique, a firecracker of a personality and mother of two who enjoys sharing lots of laughs and good stories while sipping organic wine together, as she casually whips up that tomato sauce I mentioned earlier in my story! She holds a special place at my table, as one of my closest French friends, not because of her culinary talent, but because she is a truly spectacular woman with a heart of gold and a warm, fun loving spirit. Being a fabulously talented chef simply adds to her appeal! We’ve had the good fortune of meeting to design cooking classes together. But the best part of our steadfast 15 year friendship lies in the pure enjoyment of hanging out together, especially over a good glass of local wine, and the absolute pleasure of sharing special culinary moments with tour guests during cooking class.
The Perks of Great Friendships…
As with all good friendships, ours came with some very special perks. My friendship with Angelique opened the doors for me to meet and foster many friendships with other culinary greats over the years! One entertaining culinary figure, Christophe, who holds the most prestigious title in France a chef can earn, the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (that will be a separate blog post), remains one of the most significant introductions Angelique shared. And rightly so, because Christophe is her husband. The man holds quite a few prestigious culinary titles, yet, you would be hard pressed to know it by his demeanor. He enters a room, and his smile engulfs everything in its path making a statement before he utters a single word. His kindness precedes him. He takes great pride in his wife and family. And while his wall of fame mounted by Angelique features his culinary distinctions, he remains humble. Implicated in Angelique’s and my cooking class agenda, Christophe showcases a local Loire Valley dessert recipe that he prepared at the 1993 Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition where he won his MOF title. He takes guests through the recipe step by step creating a fun, hands-on teaching atmosphere where guests feel more like they’re cooking at home with friends than at an organized cooking lesson on a Loire Valley group tour. This is how it all began with my French culinary friends. One introduction and friendship leading to another, and next thing I know, it’s fifteen years later, and I count some of France’s finest chefs among my dearest friends.
Another culinary friend, who I continue to feature in my Loire Valley tour itineraries, is also named Christophe. He makes his claim to fame as chef extraordinaire of a charming restaurant in the historic town of Blois. His culinary passion stems back to his childhood, his parents being former restaurateurs themselves. Christophe spent his childhood nurturing his culinary passion, and developed a preference for pastry preparation. Nowadays though he’s better known for his unique fish dishes, though we typically rave about his tasty macaroons also! Each of his culinary creations stand out, not simply as selections on a menu, but rather as exceptional works of art. His passion for creating edible art has led him to experiment with some very unique methods of food preparation. One of his favorites includes slow poaching fish, also known as “sous-vide” cooking. Mastering well prepared, tender, and flavorful fish remains a challenge for many chefs, even after years of training, but Christophe brings a completely new palette of flavors to the table with this style of cooking, and a new meaning to perfectly cooked fish. And while his cuisine reflects a true oeuvre d’art with every detail taken seriously, the chef himself doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s right! He sports an uncanny and easygoing sense of being and humor, and takes great pleasure in dazzling his patrons with his latest creations. He’s fun to work with, always with a reason to smile, and his loyal client following is testament to his popularity.
Educational and Community Involvement…
Many of these friends not only cultivate a loyal following thanks to the 5 Qualities of French Chefs detailed below, but also thanks to educational and community involvement. These are the men and women who coordinate with the local culinary schools of their regions to train students aspiring to also make a name for themselves in France’s culinary arena. Some travel the world to provide professional guidance to foreign governments to build culinary schools and establish formal culinary educational programs. Such is the case with my dear friend Antoine in Bordeaux who leads the cooking class on my Bordeaux wine tasting and walking tours. Antoine spends a lot of time training young chefs, preparing exquisite luncheons for high profile figures of Bordeaux, such as Alain Juppe, and contributing his culinary acumen to help establish culinary schools abroad alongside his best friend Christophe, my culinary friend of the Loire who I mention earlier in this piece with his wife Angelique. As an established, celebrity figure in the Bordeaux culinary world, Antoine also released his latest cookbook in 2015 that features a line-up of his favorite traditional recipes from the Bordeaux region. And thanks to Christophe and Angelique’s insistence that I absolutely meet Antoine, I’ve spent 12 years witnessing his children grow into young adults, and relishing eating the best canneles of the region, a dessert specialty of Bordeaux that he has mastered and teaches tour guests how to prepare during cooking class.
This is how it all began with my French culinary friends. One introduction and friendship leading to another. From family friend Catherine in Provence who hosts cooking class during my Provence walking, foodie tour to high profile chef friend Jean-Claude in Provence, famous for his work at luxury hotel La Mirande in Avignon, who hosts our private lunch in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, to my friends of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, I reflect on my network of French culinary friends, and the great memories we’ve savored over the years together. I realize that each of them share some distinct and interesting qualities that seem to link them to their success and popularity. The combination of these qualities has led them to achieve titles as Master, Michelin-star, and/or Meilleur Ouvrier de France, to receive invitations as feature guest Chefs on gourmet TV, to participate as principal authors or editors of various cookbooks, and to provide their culinary expertise in the design and establishment of new cooking schools abroad. These are French chefs, these are my friends, and these are the men and women with whom tour guests meet and spend time on France Off the Beaten Path Tours. In sharing special moments together, I hope to deepen tour guest appreciation for French cuisine while on tour, and hopefully for a lifetime after returning home! Below I share the 5 qualities of French chefs in a brief list for your reading pleasure followed by a photo gallery of some of my favorite photos in cooking class with France Off the Beaten Path tour guests and my culinary friends. Until my next blog post, I encourage you to travel often, travel far, and enjoy the journey!
5 Qualities of French Chefs
5 Qualities of French Chefs –
- Passion for cooking… They started cooking out of interest and curiosity during their childhood with a grandmother or parent, and what started out as simple fun developed into a passion. Passion at a young age led to profession as an adult via the path of culinary school and training in kitchens around the world under role models we know today as some of the culinary world’s greatest icons. Quite critical of their skills, much as their prestigious credentials indicate otherwise, they take nothing for granted, and treat their profession with utmost respect. It’s art in the plate, and as a frequent consumer of their creations, I attest to their talent! Their passion paved an exceptional path to their greatness in French society. I am honored to call them friends, and my palate honored to enjoy the fruits of their labor!
- Cooking is fun… Their passion is a labor of love, not a chore… and with that labor of love, they create, they invent, they design! They are true artists in culinary form. They each have a unique style or a favorite preparation, all of which comprise some of the finest dishes you’ll enjoy in France. From simple and fresh ingredients, their pleasure in preparation is our pleasure in consumption.
- Selective of restaurants… They won’t eat just anywhere, but it doesn’t have to be Michelin-star for them to appreciate good quality cooking, preparation, flavors, and presentation. They aren’t food snobs by nature or right of passage. They truly believe that you can enjoy fabulous cuisine regardless of restaurant ranking. They’ve been known to rank a restaurant or two that one might consider simply a “hole in the wall‘ among their favorites!
- Have a favorite recipe or two…While they’re capable of preparing everything from simple bistro fare to exquisitely presented gourmet dishes on any given day, they hold one or two, and sometimes more, recipes dear to their heart. Categorized as their ultimate favorites to both prepare and eat, they typically share them from time to time on their own menus and at home with friends and family.
- And most importantly in my book, they have a sense of humor… They appreciate good food, good friends, good wine, and good art, maybe not in that exact order. And in conjunction with those, they also highly prize a good sense of humor, and have a genuine one themselves. They love to share wholesome culinary jokes, as well as some not so wholesome ones. The stakes are high in their profession, so humor is key to self-discipline.
5 Qualities of French Chefs
Book a France Off the Beaten Path Tour Today to meet some of France’s TOP Chefs!
EMAIL US at firstname.lastname@example.org or CALL 1.717.683.2827 with your inquiries about our tours!