He caused a media furore in 2014 for imposing an outright ban on photography in his one-Michelin-starred restaurant, but French chef Alexandre Gauthier is hardly as draconian as you might think. In real life, the head honcho of the Michelin-starred La Grenouillere in La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil in the north of France, comes across as a down-to-earth, even slightly shy, chef.
While he was in town recently to cook at La Brasserie at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, he found some time to chat with us about Michelin stars, his hobbies, and why he believes that the camera takes away from the dining experience.
How did it feel to receive a Michelin star for La Grenouillere in 2008?
Getting a star for the restaurant is a big deal, of course, but to me, the most important thing is that I can express myself on a plate and I can be who I truly am. If you focus too much on earning a Michelin star, you forget about connecting with people – your customers, your team – by simply being you. Also, everyone has to remember that when a restaurant receives a star, that isn’t it. It’s a moment that has to be celebrated, yes, but the journey continues and it is all about consistency and maintaining a certain standard by doing more, and doing it better.
Describe your culinary style.
I like using very simple ingredients, like potatoes and beetroot, and taking things up a notch by experimenting with techniques and methods to show that you don’t need fancy items like caviar and truffle to make a high-end creation that everyone can appreciate.
What do you do in your free time? Does it help keep you inspired in the kitchen?
Hiking and trekking are my favourite activities for two reasons: firstly, when I’m out exploring the outdoors, I come across various herbs and plants that I’d like to try and use in my dishes. Secondly, I’m a very busy man and am constantly in the kitchen, so being in nature helps clear my mind, and because I become relaxed, I’m able to think of new ideas.
Got any pet peeves?
I wouldn’t exactly call it a pet peeve, but I do have something to say about how people dine these days. The way it is done now: diners whip out their phones, snap photos of the food, and on the spot, they Facebook it, Tweet it… I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is all very nice, but can’t you wait till after to post your shots on social media? Whatever happened to enjoying the company and not staring at a screen for the first hour? Be in the moment and forget about all that for a bit – that is how a real dining experience should be.
Tell us something about you that many aren’t aware of.
I love listening to Gregorian music. The tunes, the chanting – I find him very calming.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Collecting art. I spend a lot of time on online art auction websites as well. I get such a high from it.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A mountain guide.
What do you think are some of the most underrated qualities a chef can have?
Drive and persistence. You have to work hard every day, every single hour, every single minute. You can’t be inconsistent and give 50 percent for one lunch service and tell your customers, “oh, sorry, I wasn’t feeling up to it today.” No such thing. Passion will only get you so far; you have got to do your best all the time and never ever give up.