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Festival en Lumiere: Interview (in French and English) with Jean-Baptiste Marchand of La Fabrique

Posted by Amie / February 13, 2012

Jean-Baptiste of La Fabrique with Emmanuelle LeftickInterviewing chefs is definitely one of my favourite things to do. Here's the interview I did (transcribed in English, streamable in French) with all you need to know about guest chef for Montreal's Festival en Lumière 2012, Nicolas Darnauguilhem, who's helming La Fabrique Restaurant from Feb. 20-22. We talk about how to share an open kitchen, the economics of organics, blind faith in unknown menus, and, most importantly, good manners.

When chefs are well-known enough to have been interviewed a lot before, they anticipate your questions and sometimes give you answers to both the questions you asked and the ones you didn't think to ask. I love it because it makes my job easier. Jean-Baptise Marchand of Restaurant La Fabrique is a pro. I (roughly) translated our interview below in English, but if you understand French you can stream the whole thing right here. Marchand starts right in talking about the invited guest chef:

Amie Watson: What's La Fabrique's menu for the Festival en Lumière?

Jean-Baptiste Marchand: That's really hard to answer. The invited chef, Nicholas, will arrive on Sunday. We'll go walk at the market and he'll see what's there, because his is a very spontaneous cuisine. It's market cuisine. But he's a chef who's behind his stoves every day and has 27-30 clients per service, lunch and dinner, so he's someone who changes his menu everyday. He doesn't have a preprogrammed menu and he doesn't know what he wants to do here in advance. He just wants to tell people the kind of products he uses - products that are healthy, organic and natural. I know he'll have a 5-service menu. That's all I know for now. It's an authentic cuisine. And he's behind his own stoves, and that's rare these days.

AW: How will it work with the two of you behind the stoves in the open kitchen?

JBM: It's not hard. Every year it's the same. There's a chef and then there's my team that's at his service, and then there's me. I'm his colleague. I'm his second. I'm the person that will help him make sure everything goes well. It's three days dedicated to Belgium and to Nicholas so I'm not going to get in the way. I just try to be the best kitchen helper in the world. It's good like that. You learn a lot more.

A sneak peek into La Fabrique and its open kitchen from Katherinerollet's photostream on flickr

AW: How many people will be in the kitchen?

JBM: In the kitchen we'll be two or three. I have a regular team of four people in addition to myself. So we're five total, but for the festival we'll have four people plus a few friends that come every year to help out for the festival to meet the guest chef and to learn new techniques. So we'll be eight, but we won't be eight in the kitchen, we'll be two or three in the kitchen.

(About the guest chef) The goal - and what he already does - is to make his meal and then to have a good time (with the customers), because La Fabrique it's a special experience. The chef is in the middle of the room. People will be there to watch him so he has to have a good time. He can't always be in the rush, and be doing a lot of things. So he has to show us how he wants things done and then he has to have his moment in the spotlight.

AW: But he's probably used to doing that in Brussels.

JBM: But it's different for him to work in a small kitchen like mine. It's always hard but agreeable at the same time because I'm always there to show him how to organize himself, because there's not a lot of space to make the menu and I'm there to help him rationalize the menu, rationalize the dishes, and rationalize the time and space in which we have to do it.

AW: Did you already know him? Have you worked with him before?

JBM: No I've never worked with him before. I've known him since we got "married", so to speak - since our pairing last August. We made contact and since then and we've talked on Skype. We've asked how it's going, and we're on the same wavelength.

AW: You do the same style of cuisine as him?

JBM: He's much more into using organic products than I am. I don't have the same market as him. I have a restaurant with 60 seats in Montreal. We have to understand and we have to explain to people that it's really not the same thing to have 25 seats in France or Belgium as is it to have 60 seats in Montreal. There are so many restaurants. So we can't say we do organics. People who do organics and who have five items on the menu, well I admire them. But a bigger restaurant, you need to fill it. So you need to be a little more careful in your choices, a lot more varied. I think that the Montreal public wants to be surprised but wants to have things that they're sure they'll like. So we don't have the same approach at all. He's a passionate guy who'll redo his menu every day. For me that's out of the question. I used to do it when I did lunch. I don't do lunch anymore but I saw when I did that it was interesting but it's out of the question to do that kind of acrobatics for 60 to 110 covers (patrons) during a day.

Jean-Baptiste of La Fabrique with Danny St-PierreFormer intited chef Danny St-Pierre, current chef of Auguste Restaurant in Sherbrooke, QC

AW: So for diners who come for the Festival it will be a unique experience?

JBM: Each year the Montreal public is very satisfied. I know there's a French public too because I have a French clientele that comes to La Fabrique that I'm used to, so they'll come see what's happening this year too. I'm always surprised because they come with the eyes of people who want to be seduced. So when people want to be seduced it's always easier to seduce them. It's almost like a first date with someone who's a star, a well-known person, who does things with good products. It's popular right now to work with natural products. I think that the Montreal public is already seduced and will be seduced.

AW: For you is the festival about being an opportunity to meet other chefs or is it just stressful?

JBM: I'd say in five years my vision has changed a lot. There was a lot of stress before. Last year I was pretty stressed because I got a young person who I taught three years ago, who's had an extraordinary path, who worked at The French Laundry, El Bulli, a lot of places, and she made an extraordinary menu. A lot of stress, a lot of people, but at the same time an unconditional pleasure to learn because every year it's the same, we learn so much. We see new approaches, we see new techniques, and we see a whole philosophy behind it. That's what's important when we've passed the bar in the kitchen. I say this with a lot of modesty but when you've passed the bar to young chefs, when you become the chef of an enterprise, what you want to see are different philosophies, different philosophies that show up in a cuisine. So every year I'm amazed because every year because each young chef who used to work in my restaurant - there are some who aren't there yet and we see there's a maturity problem - they're very technical. And so they make up for the maturity problem with technique. In my opinion they'll have a beautiful cooking philosophy, a beautiful philosophy that wants to treat ingredients as they should be treated, they want to respect them. And I see a lot of value in that because we need to respect things that we'll serve people, things that allow us to develop ourselves, to give us pleasure, and let us make a living, too. We can't forget that.

AW: During the festival will you have time to get out with your invited chef, Nicolas?

JBM: We're in the process of organizing a tight itinerary. Nicholas decided to come early. He's closing his restaurant for 2 weeks and he's taking a vacation. It's not really a vacation but it still is because he'll discover an entire country. Well, a region in the country, at the moment, that he's never seen. So he'll arrive with his eyes open. We have to show him as much as we can. We'll go to an ice cider place to show him how they make ice cider, because I have friends there. We'll go see a few small producers I work with. We'll try to do the food and wine part of the trip and then we'll show him what life is like in Montreal. Because he needs to see what it's like, this exciting life in Montreal.

AW: Is he bringing other people with him?

JBM: He doesn't really have sous-chefs. It's two in his kitchen. But I think he's bringing the person who's in the dining room with him.

AW: I hope it's a good week for you.

JBM: I hope so too. But it's always good when characters are a little different, because they give us a great opportunity to meet new people. So we have to thank the Festival de Montreal en Lumiere that works so hard to find all these chefs. It's really a huge amount of work they do for the festival. So to thank them it has to go well. And we can't forget that it's an invited guest and we have to welcome him. We can never get angry at a guest.

What: Montreal Festival en Lumiere
Where: Restaurant La Fabrique, 3609 St-Denis
When: Feb. 20-22
How Much: $50 sans wine, $90 with (natural, organic)
What (food): Who knows?

Photos: from Le Festival MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE on flickr



Risa / February 13, 2012 at 06:56 pm
Awesome interview!!
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