I LOVED THE CHEF’S UNIFORM
I really don’t know what made me decide to become a chef. My grandfather was a chef and I don’t remember what he cooked but I remember always loving the white uniform, the tall hat... I think that’s what put it into my mind that I wanted to become a chef and everything happened naturally. I never thought about it. After I finished school, I went to cookery school. When I graduated, I’d always wanted to go to Paris because I knew that, whether it’s fashion, culture or food, everything has always been led there. So I came here and started working in a small restaurant. I met a lot of people and step-by-step I got to where I am today. It was a natural progression.
ALAIN DUCASSE INSPIRED MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE: NATURE
As a young chef (aged 20-30), you don’t think about what you’re doing; you just concentrate on learning all of the techniques and improving. Then, from 30, you start to think about what you are doing, what inspires you and how to create amazing dishes yourself. Alain Ducasse gave me my first chef position here in Plaza Athénée years ago and it was the first time that I started to think about which influences interest me.
The menu at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée is heavily influenced by nature and uses a lot more vegetables and simple, earthier ingredients like lentils, cauliflower, chickpeas etc. It was a vision that both Alain and I shared and we’ve been very lucky to have our own garden at The Palace of Versailles where we can produce all of our own vegetables for the dishes. It’s made a huge difference to the flavours, colours, textures, everything. The garden was originally created for Marie Antoinette but, in the many years since, it had been left abandoned so one day there was a discussion between the President of Versailles and Alain about how to regenerate it. It went well and we started to use the garden in 2014. The gardener in Versailles has really done a wonderful job of revitalizing the garden and today we have an extremely beautiful garden with a brilliant selection of fresh and varied produce. He has the same passion as we have in our kitchen.
I also love working with Alain. We share the same ideals and I continue to work with him everyday. As a chef, it doesn’t matter what you achieve, you always want to learn new things... about new products, new techniques… It’s what keeps it exciting. Every day is different and you keep progressing.
MY COOKING STYLE: MODERN FRENCH CUISINE, INSPIRED BY THE GARDEN
I like to cook modern French cuisine, full of beautifully fresh seasonal vegetables and natural produce. It’s delicious! I also prefer clean presentation, showcasing the natural colours and beauty of the ingredients.
I PREFER VEGETABLES TO MEAT BECAUSE…
I don’t have a favourite dish but I love using simple, earthier products like chickpeas, green lentils, vegetables, cauliflower… I prefer to use vegetables more than meats because, when you first start to learn to become a chef, everybody focuses their attention on the proteins (the fishes or the meats) and the vegetables are always on the side. Now it’s the opposite. It’s brilliant because I think you can cook vegetables like you cook meat. You can grill them; braise them; smoke them; ferment them; make pickles… there are 100 ways to prepare them. It’s a magical thing. Everyday I discover something new. For example, when you dry the meat of the zucchini and grate it, the flavour becomes more like licorice. It’s superb.
TRAVELLING THE WORLD & EXPLORING DIFFERENT CUISINES
I had some great experiences when I was a Sous Chef at Maison Potel et Chabot. The Head Chef and I travelled and worked everywhere in the world together, seeking inspiration from different cultures and learning new techniques. This was pivotal in my career. It was when I started to think more about the many things we can do with food. It was like living in two completely different worlds so, to be honest, I’m happy to be in one place now but it really was an amazing experience.
MY 1ST TASTING WITH ALAIN DUCASSE
I’ll also always remember my first tasting with Alain Ducasse in 2007. I was so stressed. I had to make the whole à la carte menu from La Cour Jardin. It was just before the opening and I will always remember… I had Alain Ducasse right here next to me and my body was like liquid. He told me it was good and, ohh, the relief. It was a great moment.
MY FAVOURITE POSITION IN THE KITCHEN
I’d be the Commis Chef. Whichever section you work on in the kitchen, you have a lot of responsibility so you need to take control of your section, master it and do your job well. However, the Commis Chef is the ‘foundation’ of the kitchen. You know that if you don’t do your job well as a Commis, it affects all the sections and the Chef De Partie will have a lot of problems later. It can have a spiraling effect so it’s a very important role.
MY ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD
I love eating big dishes that can be shared. Perhaps a big chicken with some potatoes and vegetables. Something simple, easy to clean up after, great to share and very tasty.
Clamato in Paris is one of my favourite places to eat because it’s simple. They only serve fish and vegetables, and the food is always amazing. It’s not expensive and the staff and atmosphere are great. I also love La Miguênne.
Romain Meder is the Executive Chef at Alain Ducasse Au Plaza Athénée, Paris, which holds 3 Michelin stars.