Amaury Bouhours, how do you become a chef of a palace at the age of 33?
As a child I had no idea to become a chef. I grew up in the Paris region and then Compiègne. I was a hyperactive, impatient, if not rambunctious boy. Impossible for me to sit at school all day. The first click for the food trade takes place at the age of 14 during an internship at a butcher. It was concrete, manual and eventually led me to the hotel school in Soissons. This world grabbed me right away. I did a six-month internship with Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV at the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco, where I met two great chefs, Pascal Bardet and Franck Cerutti. I was offered to stay before the end of my school, but I preferred to finish my education and I wanted to stay in Paris. Pascal Bardet called Christophe Moret in Plaza Athénée. It was my first CDI. It was tough, with a lot of intensity, but I liked it.
Do you really become a cook on the Plaza Athénée and then a cook?
One day, in Monaco, Franck Cerutti asked me: “Who are you? I said to him: “I am a cook” To which he replied: “No, a cook is someone who has walked all over the kitchen”. received the message. And so I did all the work in the Plaza to become a chef. Only then did I tell myself that I wanted to become a chef. When you have spent more than ten years in two and three star hotels, you tell yourself that you did this no differently than hotel manager And I was lucky to be there at the right time Christian Saintagne, in the Plaza, gave me confidence and my happiness With him I knew who I was I evolved very quickly and on I became chef de partie when I was 23. Then there was the arrival of Romain Meder. In six years at the Plaza I had the chance to meet these three great chefs. After two years as a sous chef at Lasserre, I came I joined Le Meurice as assistant chef to Jocelyn Herland in 2016. There I learned how to manage a kitchen, how to be a chef … And when Jocelyn left for Taillevent, I took over his position as head chef … three days before giving birth!
So you never left Alain Ducasse’s job. Isn’t it too overwhelming, the guardianship of such a strong personality?
Maybe it intimidated me when I started. But there, at Le Meurice, I am completely free. Today the tests are not like before. Every time the chef comes, I propose new dishes, we discuss them, we discuss… Chef Ducasse has always given young people a chance. In Le Meurice, room manager Olivier Bikao is 33, sommelier Gabriel Veissaire 34, pastry chef Cédric Grolet, who has been there for many years, is only 36… And I think Chef Ducasse is a forerunner since the dawn of time, always one step further . Example naturalness. He was one of the first to offer a gourmet menu using only vegetables in the Louis XV long ago. Nowadays everyone does it. Ditto for chocolate, coffee, ice cream… He goes all out. That’s why I never left him.
Your first steps as an executive chef coincide with the first delivery, a sudden stop. Is it frustrating for a hyperactive?
It’s strange indeed, but paradoxically it gave me time to think, to ask myself. And with Chef Ducasse we also did a lot of things for carers, we gave lessons to isolated women, to the disabled… And in the kitchen I could start all over again. We have built relationships with producers in difficulty. A cook and houses like ours have a role in this. I was aware of it, but it was necessary to move on. We launched the takeout sale, the baskets to support the producers. And we pushed sourcing even further, we enriched the network, deepened human relations. When it reopened it was a real boom. The producers didn’t know when it would start again, they didn’t anticipate, sow, plant… I turned the problem on its head with a seasonal kitchen. In fact, it is nature that says what to do, not the other way around. If you force it too much, you lose the value of flavor. So the producers send me what they are in full maturity. It requires more organization, but it is much better. We work with sourcers, Grégoire and Isabelle, who search throughout France all year round. So we get our supplies from the last vinegar maker in Orléans, a city that was the capital of vinegar when the wine came from the south and which they transformed. I met Gauthier’s butcher shop in Clermont-Ferrand, the historic capital of veal… I am deeply attached to the French heritage and we young chefs have a duty to keep it alive. In our establishments we have the opportunity to touch the most beautiful things, to have the most beautiful products. It is true that it has a price, and if it is often said that the gourmet restaurant of a palace is not profitable, it must also be said that it is the window of the hotel.
How do you define your kitchen? For which taste experience?
It is French cuisine that, as I told you, puts producers in the spotlight. But when I say French cuisine, we have a contemporary approach. We bring it fresh. Like Stark did in the room. Specifically, it is a kitchen that is rather focused on flavors and I am not obsessed with design. My cooking is not meticulous, it is visually rather raw and remains focused on the products you see on the menu. It is a penetrating cuisine with very pronounced characteristics: bitter, sour, smoky, spicy, iodized… When we work with endive, we do not add sugar to round off the bitterness, but on the contrary push it inside with the help of the root, even more bitter. Those who like bitter are happy to opt for it, others will hear something else… That is why the customer composes his menu according to his taste. We decided that I wasn’t making a menu, but that each customer chose 5 or 7 dishes from 4 starters, 3 fish, 3 cold cuts and 4 desserts.
So in-room advice is essential?
Yes. The chamber is an extension of my hand. She has to gauge the customer’s expectations, put him at ease, make him feel at home. It must guide, guide, explain. On the map, the titles are simple, with only three markings for a dish, e.g. Lobster, Nasturtiums and Buddha’s Hand. The space is not there to recite a poem, but to be a real guide in creating a great customer experience.
Are there still things to invent in the kitchen?
On the one hand I would say that everything is already done! But we can take the traditional cuisine and update it, as others did in their day, such as Bocuse and his friends. Cooking is a profession of passion, every morning we try things out with my assistants. We can’t stop, if we stick to our performance we’re dead, creativity is a muscle that needs to be trained every day. I get a lot of inspiration from the techniques of others. In the gourmet restaurant I don’t use vacuum cooking and even if I find the extractions interesting, we don’t do them. We must continue to toast, smother, we must also be a school for young people. But you should try not to be closed. For example, we use a Japanese barbecue that affects the products less than traditional barbecues, we do a lot of preserving seasonal products, fermentation… In fact, we come back to Scandinavian cuisine, in the time when people did not have a refrigerator, where the fish salt was boiled. † †
Nowadays we care a lot about health related to food? You too?
We pay attention. We can’t do yesterday’s cooking with butter, cream… We use it wisely and we still manage to make tasty sauces, but not too greasy. It is better for the gastronomic experience, otherwise we are quickly satiated and we no longer enjoy food from the middle of the meal… quite fresh and slightly sparkling welcome made from dried plants, grapes, lemon, honey and water, a little sparkle that washes the palate and opens the taste buds, an oyster with a gin and tonic granita with seaweed, which prepares fish, a hot broth to clean the palate after the meat and digest it for the cheese, a little ice to pour over go to desserts…
After all, what is a successful gastronomic experience at Le Meurice?
Today many chefs cook very well. But to create more value, to stand out, you have to create emotion. That is the successful experience, when you create emotion for each of the guests. In reality, we are souvenir sellers. When you get up from the table, when you pay, you take nothing but the memories we’ve allowed you to create.