At Les Sources de Cheverny, chef Frédéric Calmels has found a new challenge, but also a way to satisfy a craving for nature. Former right-hand man of Jérôme Banctel in the restaurant La Réserve, past the kitchens of Michel Troisgros or Alain Senderens, the native of Recoules-Prévinquières, magnifies the richness of the Loire region for the menus of the inn and the Favori, the gastronomic table freshly topped with a Michelin star. meeting.
The initiation did not last long. Less than a year after taking over the helm of restaurant Des Sources de Cheverny, a high-end hotel concept located in the gardens of Château de Breuil in the Loire Valley, Aveyron chef Frédéric Calmels has just won his first Michelin star.
At the helm of Favori, a gastronomic restaurant that values the Loire’s culinary heritage, the resident of Recoules-Prévinquières joins the star chefs of the Aveyron, where he trained some of them.
Before joining the project led by Alice and Jérôme Tourbier, who, after 20 years of success at Les Sources de Caudalie, came to convey their vision to the heart of the Loire Valley, on the border of the Gardens of France and the Forest of Sologne , Frédéric Calmels had already won a gastronomic Bib with the Auberge, the other “catering point” of the complex dedicated to tranquility and well-being.
A surprise? “Not quite, recognize the inhabitant of Recoules-Prévinquières who, on the plate, serves a kitchen where the “Ligerian garden”, the plant, finds all its noble letters. We have worked rigorously and intensively to be visited by the guide. Every shift was dedicated to this… but we had bet more on a reward in 2023. It’s here, a year earlier than expected. Let’s not sulk our fun.”
Fun but not overly euphoric for a chef who knows the music resolutely. Passed by the hotel school of Saint-Chely D’Apcher, “a school of rigor” confirms the person concerned, Christophe Calmels then chopped his teeth in prestigious establishments such as the Senderens restaurant, La Table du Lancaster with Michel Troisgros, or even La Tour d’Argent.
He then spent six years with Jérôme Banctel. First as sous-chef of restaurant Le Gabriel de La Réserve Paris, then Le Loti de La Réserve in Geneva. “A nice professional but also personal meeting, admits de Aveyronnais who “wanted to move and leave Paris”. Meeting.
How and when did cooking come to you?
Nothing was premeditated (laughs). I had never really thought about that. My father is a farmer. When I was young I worked a lot with him on the farm. Very early on, I had the opportunity to be in the presence of good, natural products. To appreciate the happiness of the table, good small dishes. My mother cooked very well. One day I told myself that I would become a chef. I went to school, I did an internship with Michel Truchon in Villefranche-de-Rouergue and then with Michel Bras. These first experiences reinforced my choice by giving me the desire to move on.
Then you moved on to prestigious kitchens. With Michel Senderens, Michel Troisgros, Jérôme Banctel. What do you remember about these experiences?
Excellent memories, a real requirement and a constant source of inspiration. From Michel Troisgros I remember his cuisine based on acidity, supplemented with a small splash of vinegar, lemon, a slightly sour dairy product. From Alain Senderens, his way of building a plate, approaching a tasting by being very specific about food and wine pairings. Being able to taste a dish almost in one bite. That’s why I cook fairly centered on the plate: legible, simple.
From Jérôme Banctel, his technique, his accuracy in everything and the certainty that you have to be regular and rigorous to persevere in this profession. These three chefs, quite innovative in that sense, had me make a few forays into Asia as well. Michel Troisgros was the first French chef to work with fresh yuzu, while Alain Sanderens was the first to introduce ginger into his kitchen in the 1970s and 1980s. These influences can be found in my cooking.
A kitchen where plants are king
This is the primary intention. Offering plant-based dishes embellished with spices, herbaceous accents and wild plants. Work on the duality between the gardens and the garden of the Loire and the slightly wilder side of the Sologne forest. But I can assure you, I also like meat and fish. I’m not a vegetarian yet (laughs).
Do you also want to return to a seasonal character of products?
By coming here, the idea was indeed to take a different approach to the profession than in Paris where you can have everything when you want. I wanted to get closer to the land, to the producers, to live a little more to the rhythm of the seasons. To adapt to them. Watching the vegetables grow, working with the gardeners on a harvest schedule that could be compromised by a lack of water or a late frost… I am discovering all this territory. The Loire has a lot to show off and not just its vineyards. It’s all super interesting.
And Aveyron in all this?
For example, in the inn area, where cooking over the fireplace is central, I offer grilled Aveyron lamb sausage. I also cook with flambé capuchins. A few nods to the department. I would have loved to offer an aligot with Loire cheese, but no one here does that yet. We may eventually be able to develop something with a local producer.
More prosaically, how did you structure your home?
With a brigade structured exactly on two restaurants, Le Favori and the Auberge. But like so many others, we are always looking for new employees, new talents. I also benefit from this: if young people from Aveyron want to experience a process with me in the kitchen, in the dining room or in other hotel sectors, they are welcome.