I grew up in Barr, in the Alsace, in a large family, and my father was a very successful business person who always entertained customers in our home. We would have a menu for the week and lots of guests. This was the 1960’s when it was considered rude to take a customer to a restaurant. My father also loved to cook for the family and this had an influence on me. So at the age of 11, I made my first pre-apprenticeship. It was summer time. I learned about beautiful food: chopping five or six pounds of truffles, for example. It was a whole different world: the best, the best, the best. The best green beans, the best parsley, the best chives! I did this for two summers in a row.
At my country house, I have orchards and a vineyard. It’s an inspiration to see all that fruit. I am surrounded by the environment I love. I also love fishing in the northern lakes.
What was your most moving culinary experience?
The first time when I walked into the kitchen at Auberge d’Ill. It was so composed. So much was happening! All the flavors, the chefs, the food! It confirmed for me: This was definitely what I wanted to do. It was the happiness: To make people happy, you must give. Being there was to be in a temple of gastronomy. The discipline, the organization, the smells, the flavors.
The most amusing kitchen incident you ever witnessed?
When you grow up in France and are the new apprentice aboard, it’s almost a game with the cooks already there. When I first got started, they sent me to a hardware store to, they said, “pick up a machine or tool to make the souffle.” So I go and I pick up a big bag, perhaps 100 pounds, and I shlep the bag a half mile, I’m turning red, blue, every color. I get to the kitchen, open it up, it’s a bag of junk! “Now we will tell you how to make a souffle,” the chef tells me.
Your best piece of advice for amateur chefs?
Buy only the best you can afford: the best of the best. Do the most seasonal dishes you can. When you are inviting someone important to you, try the dish at least once before you serve it.