Meet Pierre Gagnaire, the ‘best chef in the world’

Pierre Gagnaire in Dubai at ChoixPierre Gagnaire may be back in Dubai at Reflets to celebrate his Best chef in the world’ award voted for by his peers whose restaurants boast two and three Michelin stars – but the humble maestro who has 11 restaurants around the world and will mark 50 years in the kitchen next year, is quick to dismiss the accolade, focusing instead on his team and new seasonal dishes. In this candid and revealing interview with FooDiva, he spills the beans on his favourite chefs, a new restaurant opening, Rene Redzepi’s Noma and bundles more. Voila…enjoy the read.

  • So you’re in Dubai to celebrate your ‘best chef in the world’ win? [Pierre Gagnaire interrupts my question]. No. I am here to work with them [points to his head chef and restaurant manager sitting next to us]. I come here three times a year to support Francois at Reflets and Choix.
  • You’re very humble. But what did you think when you found out you had won? I think it’s important to be humble. The award is only very important for me and the company because the team is happy with it. The award is about the attitude and relationship with my team worldwide. Let me share a small story from a few days ago. We engaged a young girl to work with us here in Dubai, and immediately she saw that the team is very strong, very close, and after a few days she said “but Mr Gagnaire is not my father” because for her it was unacceptable to work like that. I don’t pay these people [the owning company does], but they work for me with my philosophy and my attitude, and we try to do the best. I don’t forget that it’s the owning company who pays us and gives us the possibility to be the strongest. We’re building a small bubble, with real quality. We try to be ourselves and that is fantastic for them.
  • What is that bubble and that vision? To try and do our best, whilst respecting the system. I work for InterContinental in Tokyo; Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas and Hong Kong. If you don’t understand each system, then you can’t stay in this line of work. They are big companies. There are some rules and processes which we must accept. When you understand that, you can be yourself, it’s easy.
  • What advice would you give aspiring chefs? To work, to stay honest and be yourself. Find your niche. For some to have three stars it’s not a problem. It’s a job, they go fishing, swimming, take time with their family. We don’t learn passion at school. School was a disaster for me; I had to learn by experience. But school is a big chance. I have one regret, I started working too early, and I lost many years where you don’t have a normal life. I wish I had started later. Now I would tell a chef to go to school first, and then work, but not for the money or the TV.
  • You have shied away from TV work, whereas many of your peers spend more time behind a screen, than in the kitchen. Why? For Gordon Ramsay it’s a big success, but for many chefs it’s a disaster. They do it for two to three seasons, and then its finished for them. Sure they pick up money. We obtained our third Michelin star twenty years ago, so I think only now am I in a position to speak [with authority].
  • Who did you vote for as best chef? [each chef was allowed to vote for five chefs] I can’t tell you that [laughs]. Only 320 chefs voted from two and three star Michelin restaurants [not 500 as reported]. It’s a little strange as there is no one best chef in the world. Michel Bras, Ferran Adria, Joan Roca, Thomas Keller and Alain Passard are all excellent chefs. I love Rene Redzepi a lot but I didn’t vote for him because it’s not a cuisine, it’s not my taste. I met the guy; visited the restaurant; a very interesting experience. The guy is fantastic; very clever.
  • So do you think that’s why Noma has not received its third Michelin star? Yes I think that’s why. But perhaps Noma can have three stars. He created a new style in keeping with his country’s tradition; local produce; the atmosphere; the quality of the plates; the presentation; and the taste. He brings something to the table. But for me, he is not the best. Nobody is the best. Take artists as an example. Is Chagall better than Picasso…than Rubens…than Cezanne…than Van Gogh? No. In food, it’s the same.
  • What is more powerful – Michelin or World’s 50 Best? Today World’s 50 Best is very important, but it’s important for the awards, not the chef. It’s like the top musical charts – after a while you don’t remember the songs and their ranking. Where is Ferran Adria [whose restaurant El Bulli topped the World’s 50 Best list more times than any restaurant – 2002, and 2006 – 2009 until it closed down]? He is finished. He was fantastic but it was impossible to go to the next step. For me it’s difficult to speak to this, as I am in the system. All are important. There are many mistakes with the Michelin guide. I know people who only have two stars and should have more.
  • Any expansion plans in the UAE or further afield in the Middle East? I am opening a new restaurant Acacia in the new Movenpick Riyadh in September. The general manager is a French man. He is a very good man, has lived there many years and knows the mentality.
  • You see that with many big chef restaurant openings in hotels. Oliver Glowig opened a restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain because of the relationship with the GM. Yes. I am here [in Dubai] because of the first general manager Tom Meyer. He was fantastic, funny, loved the job, and a real supporter. It’s very interesting to be in Saudi Arabia. It’s the centre of many connections in the world.
  • With local produce far more readily available than when I interviewed you in Dubai a couple of years ago, are you now beginning to source local? If so what? [His head chef Francois steps in]: No. We don’t get approached by the farms. Perhaps we should, but I think it’s more for home cooks. The scale and consistency would be hard to achieve.
  • Reflets by Pierre Gagnaire

    A Spanish inspired red mullet starter that I ate when I last dined at Reflets in December – with eggplant cannelloni, anchovies, peppers, Swiss chard and a chorizo minestrone

    In the seven years you’ve been operating in Dubai, how have you changed? We haven’t changed too much. Our clientele has been very loyal. For us the big problem is the location and we know that. I am lucky my team has stayed with me. The previous chef Olivier stayed six years. Quality of the plate and the relationship with the people is the key to success. The reason I can travel is my team in Paris. My chef has been there 35 years and my maître d’ 20 years. I have seven to eight people who have worked with me for so long. Francois has changed the cooking style in Dubai over the last year. Supply of good produce is much easier now than when Olivier first started and so he can now focus on being in the kitchen, rather than spending time finding suppliers. We have the maturity, the consistency and today the cooking is more precise. More simple and less complicated. I think we have found our style in this place.

 

Do you have an opinion on who is the best chef in the world, or if not that, perhaps just your favourite?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

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13 Responses to “Meet Pierre Gagnaire, the ‘best chef in the world’”

  1. Garry W April 6, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Very interesting article – it is good to see that he consistently refers to his team – it is clear he does not like the big ‘I’ . Perhaps his Chef, Francois, will start to look at local produce as well now that you have revisited this question. Interesting to see that one of the reasons why he chooses to open a Restaurant in a particular hotel is because of his relationship with the GM in question. Thanks for this informative insight.

    • FooDiva April 6, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      Thanks Garry. Indeed. The team here should at least explore what’s available locally and then make a decision. Credit to Oliver Glowig for championing it in Bahrain.

  2. JayEim April 6, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Alors, est ce Pierre Gagnaire le Chef ou la Marque ou l’ Homme ?

    C’est très gentil d’être nommé “meilleur chef du monde” avec une pléthore de Rosettes Michelin, mais sommes -nous acheminer vers la nourriture industrielle sanctionné et béni par PG et d’autre Chefs qui est similaire à la peinture par numéros ?

    Je comprends que la ritournelle de l’équipe de Cuistot ne cesse pas de nous marteler les oreilles.
    Mais, est-il l’homme derrière les chaudrons ?

    Nous bénéficions d’une Coca Cola ou une barre Cadbury qui sont parfait en tout a part le goût qui semble fluctuer en fonction du pays de fabrication ?

    Une marque de Coca Cola ou une marque de PG ?

    Personnellement, je serais heureux à manger de ses mains, mais pas tellement par une équipe inconnue et glorifié.

    Mais là encore, que sais-je ? Je suis perdu entre être un gourmet ou un gourmand avec le Larousse culinaire a mon chevet…..Je suis encore a la préface 😉

    La cuisine Michelin élevé au niveau de Marque…..here we come….name the price!

    Adieu le Chef artisanal.

    • FooDiva April 6, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      Are you now trying to test my French Jay?! As an aside, I do know a little of the lingo, which I refrained from disclosing to Pierre Gagnaire. Works wonders because you can then pick up the bits he was revealing to his restaurant manager that weren’t meant for my ears! To save me translating your piece (and getting it wholeheartedly wrong), I would welcome your comment here in English so other readers can understand too. Come on it’s only fair 😉

      • JayEim April 6, 2015 at 11:35 pm

        LoL. I was only trying to impress you as being multilingual. I do 3 languages pre 8.30 pm and another 2 past 11.30 pm.
        In between I am having an argument with the parking valet officers as to why I cannot park my Poppa Pink Cement Mixer next to the diarrhea colored Lambos 😉

        Translation start:

        “So are we talking about Pierre Gagnaire as the Chef, the Brand or the Man?

        It is all very well to have the “Best Chef in the World” award with a plethora of Michelin Rosettes. But are we slowly moving towards an industrial food chain as blessed and sanctioned by PG and other Chefs in a similar way of preparing food and painting by numbers.

        I understand the everlasting leitmotiv of the “Team” which they keep banging our ears with.
        But, is he the Man behind the cauldrons?

        We already have the pleasure of enjoying a Coca Cola or a Cadbury bar. They are all good but the taste which seems to be tailored to the country of production.
        A Coca Cola Brand or a PG Brand?

        Personally, I would be happy to eat from PG’s hands and not so much by an anonymous and glorified “Team”.

        Then again, what do I know. I am still confused for being either a Gourmet or a Gourmand with the Laroussse Culinaire at my bed table…..I am still at the preface 😉

        Michelin elevated to a Brand…..here we come….name the price

        Farewell to the artisanal Chef.”

        End of translation

  3. Simon Clough April 6, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Great article and I agree with him on everything accept “Ferran Adria, he is finished”… Well that’s not exactly true is it? He’s coming back with a new concept isn’t he? That’s the last I heard only quite recently too… Maybe Pierre has heard differently..

    • FooDiva April 6, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks Simon. Him and his brother have four restaurants in Barcelona, primarily led by Albert though. And yes they are due to open another one in Ibiza https://www.finedininglovers.com/blog/news-trends/ferran-albert-adria-restaurant-ibiza/

      Pierre Gagnaire’s reference is to the fact that his restaurant topped the World’s 50 Best list for so long but that wasn’t enough to sustain it commercially, eventually closing down. There are some contradictions in PG’s statements, but I put that down to the language barrier and perhaps lost in translation!

  4. IshitaUnblogged April 9, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Lovely reading. I adore Pierre Gagnaire and is always struck by his humility. I don’t believe Ferran Adria is finished. I think geniuses take a long time to recuperate from creating history. And that hibernation is required otherwise the people will finish them with their over expectations. Best chef is like choosing the best novel from different genres – difficult. Safer to nominate grandma in this case.

    • FooDiva April 11, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      Thanks Ishita. Going to back to an earlier reply, I think Pierre Gagnaire’s rationale for a finished Adria is that he had to close down El Bulli as it was no longer commercially viable – not that his career is finished. Like with any of these awards, it’s hard to pick one. The #Worlds50Best should also have different classifications according to cooking style and cuisine.

  5. ga April 9, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    He is indeed a fascinating man, no doubt about that but its not my kind of food as you know. My current favourite Chefs are here in Dubai Chef Webster at Feast which I hear you had to the pleasure to visit last evening, UK – Aiden Byrne at Manchester House, it is my food dream to dine there at his Chef’s table. I can wish.

    • FooDiva April 11, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      I was super impressed with Chef Webster’s cooking at Feast…would love to return independently. Plan a visit and make your dream come true GA 🙂

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Meet chef Sergi Arola at his first restaurant in Abu Dhabi - Abu Dhabi restaurants | FooDiva - April 29, 2015

    […] Pierre Gagnaire was voted the best chef in the world by his peers earlier this year, yourself included perhaps. Is he really the best? Very difficult to define. I am not a big fan of this kind of ranking. Depends what you’re looking for. It’s like who is better – Beethoven or Beatles? It’s not important who is the best, but who influences a generation more. In my generation, Pierre Gagnaire had more influence than Ferran Adria. I am 47, Ferran is 52, and Pierre is 65. In the early 1990s when Ferran was no one in Roses, Pierre was the master in St Etienne. I love Ferran and he is a good friend, but I am not a follower of his world. At some point Ferran became the dodecaphonist, and Pierre the jazz. He [Pierre] was the improvisation, from the late 1980s until he arrived in Paris. He started to work with molecular but I don’t care for this. For me it’s about the language, and his is cool and sexy, more than Ferran’s. I am not sure if I want someone to play with me in the restaurant. For me it’s all about pleasure when dining, and Ferran’s style is not a surprise. For me it’s about flavour, taste and texture. […]

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