Just ask Romain Chapel, who is making a mark in Asia with Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire at Capella Shanghai. Chapel is the son of legendary French chef Alain Chapel, who is still revered today as one of France’s finest chefs, 28 years after his untimely death from a stroke at 53.
The older Chapel ran his eponymous three-Michelin-starred restaurant near Lyon and had taken many chefs under his wing, who have gone on to become culinary luminaries. One of them is Pierre Gagnaire, who runs an international line-up of French restaurants, including his self-named three-starred restaurant in Paris.
Things have come a full circle of sorts. Last year, Gagnaire chose his long-time protégé, the younger Chapel, to helm his debut restaurant in China, Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire. The classic French restaurant was one of the 25 establishments lauded with one star in the MICHELIN Guide Shanghai 2019 last month.
Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire serves “simple, honest and elegant French cuisine” all-day and its patisserie, La Boulangerie, offers traditional French pastries. He explains: “We cook French classics with an unexpected approach through the use of ingredients, textures or techniques.” Signature dishes include frog cocotte “poulette”, Le Comptoir beef tartare and Poularde demi-deuil en vessie (stuffed chicken in bladder).
The younger Chapel first worked with Gagnaire in 2012 at The Lecture Room and Library in Sketch London as its head chef. He has also travelled around the world to open restaurants fronted by Gagnaire. Like most people who have worked with the iconic French chef, he says he admires Gagnaire for his humanity, kindness and energetic attitude.
Chapel elaborates: “He shows that everything is possible with produce and creativity if you look at it from an unexpected angle.” Prior to working with Gagnaire, he helmed his late father’s restaurant at 28 and maintained its two-star rating until it shuttered in 2012.
Following his father’s footsteps “was not a decisive factor”, though he “never had interest in any other professions”. On what sparked his interest in cooking, he says: “I always like learning about products and the producers behind them.”
As my family ran a restaurant, MICHELIN has always been a big part of my life. As far as I could remember, it has always been associated with quality.
Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire received one star in the MICHELIN Guide Shanghai 2019 — slightly more than a year after it opened. How did you feel when you first heard about this news?
I feel very proud of my team and everyone who is involved in the restaurant. For me, this achievement is the result of our passion and commitment. A lot of hard work and sacrifice went into running the restaurant this past year.
How did you celebrate with your team after receiving this achievement?
We had a glass of Champagne and then went straight back to work. We will organise a proper dinner to celebrate further but it is hard to gather all my team members around a table at the same time as we run a non-stop operation.
As a chef, what does having a Michelin star mean to you?
Being a chef is like running a “marathon”. Getting this Michelin star is the milestone that represents the long journey it took for me to arrive here.
How will having a Michelin star impact or change the way that you run the restaurant?
We will continue the same way that we have done to deliver customer satisfaction and receive this Michelin recognition and, of course, we will strive harder to improve every day.
Learn hard and work harder. As a chef, we are all part of a respected tradition that we need to uphold but we also need to look to the future as well.