My second stop on my Parisian tour was at Apicius, a two-michelin stars restaurant located in a historic private mansion steps away from the Champs-Elysees. The chef-owner is Jean-Pierre Vigato, an autodidact who believes (and proves) you don’t have to go to fancy cooking schools and follow in the footsteps of legendary chefs to make a name for yourself.
Apicius is now one of the most sought-after table in Paris, a juxtaposition of bistro and fine dining in an unique location that makes other restaurateurs green with envy. An inspiration for chefs who like to march to the beat of their own drum.
When describing his cuisine, Mr Vigato likes to use words like ‘simplicity’ and ‘honesty’ and he truly excel at using good ingredients simply and effectively. As a results what stands out at Apicius is the distinct taste that each element of a dish have. There’s something very ‘zen’ about letting a dish speak rather than masking the natural goodness of ingredients and it’s an art to enhance the flavors of a dish with its own natural essence.
Monsieur Vigato goes to great lengths to source the best and freshest ingredients available, most of them come from less than 2 hours from Paris. The langoustines, for example, are delivered fresh from Brittany every morning, still alive. The spider crabs come from Normandy, the veal comes the Correze region, the black truffles from Perigord and so on…
There’s a large brigade of cooks preparing food for 90 guests twice a day, and yet, the atmosphere in the kitchen is quite relaxed compared to many other kitchens i’ve seen in the past. Maybe it’s the sunlight of the large windows and the garden outside that puts everyone in a better mood. There’s also a Chef the cuisine and two sous-chefs who make sure exact cooking techniques are applied every time and Mr Vigato who makes the liaison between the kitchen and the front of the house.
Those tiny oysters that look closely like Japanese Kumamoto oysters are in fact harvested in Jersey island, a small strip of land off the coast of Normandy in the English channel that’s reputed for its seafood, particularly oysters and spider crab. They were used as part of the amuse-bouche plate that day.
And so i helped with the preparations. I cleaned tons of langoustines, opened oysters, helped making stocks, observed a chef making duck pâté and ran up and down the stairs for produce. Everyone was willing to share their bits of knowledge but was also very eager to learn what it’s like to work as a chef in New York.
I also watched every plate being made during service and as a perk (maybe it was my puppy eyes) i was given a taste of many dishes. There was a seared foie-gras with black radish confit, a roasted turbot with spices, spit-roasted lamb from the Pyrenees and roasted veal sweetbread with celery root among other things. I shared a piece of pork belly with Mr Vigato, it was larded with black truffle, crispy on the outside and fork tender in the inside and served with a truffle jus on the side: “C’est que du bonheur!” he said. And it was, indeed.
The team spirit runs pretty high in the kitchen. It’s not what of these kitchens where you’re left on your own to survive. The cooks don’t hesitate to switch station to help whoever needs it the most. Each service turns into the most organized chaos imaginable, but an hour and a half later, the customers leave, the kitchen becomes quiet again, and the cooks starts preparing for the next performance.
You can never spend enough time in these kitchens. There’s so much to learn and so little time but one thing is sure, the inspiration you gain will last for months.
My only regret is that i didn’t get to taste the beautiful chocolate souffle. That’s enough to justify another visit, isn’t it?
“Cooking well relies on a clear head, a generous spirit and an open heart.” Paul Gauguin
20 rue d’Artois
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Tags: Famous chef