Entretien avec Grégory Marchand, le chef étoilé du Frenchie à Paris

Interview with Grégory Marchand, the starred chef of Frenchie in Paris

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In the Second arrondissement of Paris, a paved alley, where the light never shines too much and which almost resembles a cul-de-sac, has become the site of a pretty kingdom popular with all the taste buds of the city and of elsewhere. In a few years, chef Grégory Marchand has invested both sides of rue du Nil in order to install all the spirit of Frenchie, the bon vivant house that he founded in 2009: here is Frenchie To Go - of which we recommends the extraordinary pulled pork sandwich -, the Frenchie Wine Bar and, above all, the Frenchie restaurant, for which the chef won a Michelin star at the start of the year. As restaurants prepare to reopen across the country – finally! -, it was necessary to speak with one of the most prominent chefs of the moment. Because in cooking, clothes count almost as much as taste.

© Géraldine Martens

When you were studying at hotel school, what uniform did you swap your young man's clothes for?

I entered hotel school in 1994, at 16 years old. With the other students, we wore hats in the kitchen, like in the big palaces - later, during a visit to a restaurant in London, I even wore a sort of little fabric cap. But what struck me the most at that moment in my life had nothing to do with the leader's appearance. When we weren't in the kitchen, we had to wear a suit every day, with a shirt and tie . It felt pretty damn weird for us, I can tell you that. These were impossible costumes, cut haphazardly, which we had bought for nothing in the nearest store on the corner. I remember one thing, that said: I learned how to tie knots at that time.

Today, what does your figure look like in the kitchen?

It's quite simple: it more or less resembles real life. I'm in faded jeans, and I have New Balances on my feet. With them, I can stomp and walk quickly without any problem, I can even run between the stoves. Comfort is what matters most. New Balances, I must have six or seven pairs at home. 1997 models to be very precise. On my shoulders, I always wear a white t-shirt . I have a batch of around twenty at home, which I renew very regularly. This is my essential. Over that, I put on a classic white chef's jacket, with my name embroidered on it, like most chefs. As soon as I put on my jacket, I get into character. I'm a boss, it shows. It's written all over my face. The design of these jackets has evolved in recent years. The cuts are more contemporary, more adapted to the silhouette. They saw into the body instead of engulfing it. Times are changing, as in fashion where streetwear has gradually replaced high fashion in the classic sense of the term.

In addition to being a chef, you are also a business manager since you have to manage your business in Paris, and also the Frenchie restaurant that you opened in London. As for clothes, how do you go from one role to another in the same day?

I am always on the move between kitchens and the outside world. So, it's about being able to alternate between my role as boss and that of business manager as easily as possible, without having to spend three hours in the locker room, changing pants and shoes. So, that's mainly why I'm dressed in a fairly standard way, without being too much of a cook in style. I just take off my jacket and put it back on when I need to, depending on my schedule. Nothing more. In each of my restaurants, I always have two or three jackets lying around, like that. And you know what, I also sometimes show up to my appointments in a kitchen jacket. I think it works. Some time ago, I started thinking with the architect of my restaurants about a particular jacket made by Bragard, which is one of the most recognized houses in the field. We wanted to make a jacket that would desecrate the room. It was a kitchen/dining room compatible jacket. An everyday jacket that could have allowed me to never really change. In the end, it didn't happen. What is also certain is that when I have important meetings, I am never in a suit. I have a thin turtleneck, jeans, and English brogues on my feet. Nothing more. The costumes are for my operations director!

Help us solve an important mystery of life in the kitchen: why do some chefs wear a black jacket, and others prefer white?

Those who like black must tell themselves that it makes them look slimmer! Really, when you think about it, white really doesn't always highlight. And then there's the matter of stains, too. With black, you worry less about it. When you're a chef, stains are obviously terrible. There are those little purees, with all their colors, which squirt everywhere when you use a blender. There are also meat juice stains which are not bad, like the blood on all butcher's cuts, in fact. Personally, I stick to white. I find the white jacket a pure piece of clothing. It goes well with the other tones in the kitchen: the stainless steel utensils, the shiny tiles. So much for the stains. At home I don't wear a jacket or apron when I cook. I'm in a white t-shirt, and I get it everywhere, because I'm not paying attention, because I'm cooking as usual. In these cases, I have a very simple, but infallible technique: pressing.

© Virginie Garnier

Why do the jacket and more generally the cook's uniform constitute an important issue in the kitchen?

The kitchen is the place of all dangers and you need to be able to protect yourself. Chefs don't wear special jackets for nothing. They have a double thickness at the level of the front which allows protection in the event of a splash of water or boiling oil. Likewise, the buttons on the jackets always have snaps so that they can be unbuttoned at once, in case it burns badly. If we were simply dressed in a t-shirt, it would still be problematic: we would risk keeping marks for life. It's also good to have clogs on your feet: they are ergonomic safety shoes that allow you to be comfortable while at the same time providing protection in the event that a big pot falls on you! I don't wear one, and maybe it's because I like taking risks!

Finally, what's the latest Frenchie news at a time when the world is getting ready to breathe a little?

We will be ready to reopen our Parisian restaurant in June, I think. We are preparing and it feels great to know that we will soon be able to serve people as before! In addition, we are developing what we call Frenchie To Go, our takeaway branch. We already have a dedicated place to serve these dishes in Paris, and we are also in the process of opening small kitchens in major cities in France to deliver to your home, via ordering applications!