The Paris restaurant scene is bursting with chefs perfecting classic French food and at the same time reinventing the famed cuisine. Not all are classically trained or learned in the trenches of established Michelin-star restaurants, some even followed their desire to cook later in life after previous careers. There’s also been an influx of foreign chefs making in roads in Paris, implementing some of their native cuisines and techniques, and incorporating them into local menus. We’ve interviewed three chefs who share their pride, passion, and joie de vivre for food.
Chef/Owner of Table Restaurant
Growing up in a small village in the Loire Valley, Bruno Verjus was steeped in wilderness at an early age. At age eight, he cultivated the family vegetable garden’s bounty of tomatoes, lettuce, and radishes, and later foraged for wild herbs and mushrooms in fields and forests. Also taking a liking to fishing, he caught trout and crayfish in the local river.
Verjus trained as a physician but worked in the corporate world for 18 years running a packaging company. At his job, he traveled the globe and expanded his love and curiosity of food by visiting markets, studying products, and absorbing different cultures. Eventually leaving his long-time job to pursue his passion for food, Verjus was approached by the prestigious French book publisher Gallimard to write a series of food books, using his extensive knowledge of new and existing products plus recipes. This led to writing food guides and his own blog, then a weekly 30-minute podcast with his friend Alain Kruger as producer. “Ne parle pas la bouche pleine” (Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Full) aired for four years and guests included food professionals, artists, writers, architects, dancers, actors, philosophers, and filmmakers.
In 2013 Verjus came full circle with his many years of culinary experience and opened his first restaurant, Table (3 rue de Prague, Paris, France. Tel: +33-1434-31226. www.tablerestaurant.fr). The minimally designed space of slate and limestone seats 46. In addition, a few doors down is a private event space and dining room that holds 14 people.
Verjus sources his products from far and away, working closely with producers from Belgium, Spain, Italy and Scotland, having them provide seasonally available products. The philosophy is not to order specific products but instead have the producers send their freshest products at the best time, so on a day-to-day basis he never knows what he’s going to cook and diners don’t know in advance what’s on the menu.
You grew up in the French countryside near Lyon. What are some of your first memories around food when you were growing up?
I lived almost at the edge of a beautiful river, the Renaison, near Roanne, a city of great gastronomy with the award-winning Troigros (three-stars) chocolatier François Pralus and cheesemaker Hervé Mons, one of “the best artisans in France. “I loved going off exploring to catch wild trout, and gathering apples fallen from the trees bordering the river. I also loved the strong perfume of the mint I’d pick along the paths…a whole universe of scents of clear water, of mucus from caught fish, of crushed wild mint.
Where did you first learn to cook, and what dishes did you made?
I learned to cook by watching my mother, my aunt, and my father on the weekends. I really loved helping in the kitchen, in fact I still love tasting everything. Later I met Pastry Chef Pierre Hermé, who became my best friend, and together we have visited kitchens of the great chefs all over the world.
You were in the corporate world for some years and then became a food writer for cookbooks, magazines, and your own blog. Why did you leave corporate life and what was the transition like?
I learned there a sense of human relations with collaborators and clients. I also learned how to treat daily details as micro-objectives on the way to achieving the larger objective of a great success.
You’ve traveled extensively. What were your favorite culinary experiences?
I love the parts of Thailand on the sea and river, and Japan and the Philippines. Italian cuisine and particularly that of the Aeolian Islands, is a favorite. I love fish raw or cooked, green rice, capers, warm ripe tomatoes ready to burst open, wild herbs, exotic plants, the scent of burning wood mixed with fish grilling on the beach.
What made you decide to open a restaurant?
I felt the need to move on from word to action. Preaching my philosophy ‘the way we eat determines the way we live’ could only become reality by feeding other people. This was the idea behind starting Table.
You source your ingredients from small producers and farms, sometimes very far from Paris. Who are your favorite suppliers and what are their specialties?
I very much appreciate the beautiful wild fish from the Isle of Yeu, the vari- eties of long-bred chickens from the Ruchotte Farm near Beaune, the capers from Salina, and the butter from the ‘red cows’ of Flanders of La Somme in the far north of France.
Do you have plans to open a second restaurant?
Yes, we plan to open another Table in Paris in 2017, in a space with an extraordinary history and beauty. It will be called Table Royale. But I can’t say anything more just yet.