What are your childhood memories of food? “My father was a good chef. He made good roast chicken and a fantastic tarte tartin that was huge – it could serve 50 guests. He taught me to work hard and be honest, not only with yourself but with others. I never worked with my father, so I didn’t learn cooking from him. He was very tough but in my family we all worked.”
What do you like most about cooking? “Pleasing the customer is important but having a good team is, too. Jacky [Tauvry, chef de cuisine at Pierre, in the Mandarin Oriental] is very humble and close. My work is to help him grow, to have the capacity to translate emotion and to cook. My work is my team – if it’s just me, I’m dead. My team is my family. When I travel, I like to eat with them, to create real links so they will work hard for you, for your philosophy.”
How do you manage 15 restaurants in 14 cities? “I don’t know! Before, I only had one restaurant. I only began to travel for work when I was 55 years old. You’re not a kid – you have a personality, you have to confront other challenges. In every city I must deal with the management, the team and the product. For one person to do that, it’s impossible, but I can with a team.
“When I’m travelling, I spend a lot of time alone but it’s a way to concentrate on my work. I always have a book with me, and keep up with the news and politics. I try to keep connected with the planet. I pay attention to the food products I use and that’s my way of respecting the planet. Products are getting more expensive and more and more rare.”
When creating dishes, what elements must you have on the plate? “Liquid is the most important. It can be orange juice, wine, chicken stock. I need liquid in every dish. When you cook spinach, there is water in the leaves and you can add garlic and herbs to it. All products are living, they are never dry – [he picks up a biscotti] this was dry but you need water to make it.”
Why do you have so many dishes in one course? “When I was young, I found it sad that when you go to a restaurant, you can only have one dish at a time. When I go to a restaurant, I want to try so many things. It wasn’t until I went to Tokyo for the first time that I realised you can do that. It’s important for my dishes to tell a story.”
How do you feel about having influenced chefs including Hong Kong’s Richard Ekkebus and Philippe Orrico? “Richard worked with us in the early ’90s and Philippe worked with us in London. For a long time I worked with a small team; now at Sketch, in London, we have 70 chefs. Some stay for a few years, some for a few months. When they work for me, I am their teacher, father, their boss, their guide. After they leave me, they live their own lives. I don’t think about how I influence them. I want to continue to tell my own story.”
What do you do when you’re not working? “I go to the gym, run. I have no time to play golf. I like cars but I don’t like to drive. It creates a problem, no? [laughs]. In Brittany, at the end of the year, I spend a week with my family. And I spend the time to soak in the sun, the sea. I also like to read, love painting and listening to music.”