Think about restaurateurs with influence in Paris and you might come up with chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire and Guy Savoy.
How about Danny Meyer, Jamie Oliver and Nick Jones?
The New Yorker, the British TV chef and the owner of Soho House, respectively, are all cited by Greg Marchand, the owner of Frenchie. It’s a Paris bistro and wine bar where the queues are as long as the odds on getting a table for the night.
Although a Frenchman, Marchand is one of a group of overseas chefs, including the Briton Matthew Ong at Albion, who are bringing overseas experience to enrich Paris dining.
Marchand, 34, was born in Nantes, and headed overseas after finishing culinary school: Two years at Lycee Nicolas Appert, in Orvault, and another two at Lycee Jean Bertin, in Saumur. He spent time in the U.K., Spain and U.S. before returning to France in 2008 to open his own establishment. Frenchie celebrates the nickname he was given at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, in London.
“One of the reasons I started cooking was because I knew it would enable me to travel,” Marchand said in an interview at Frenchie. “Someone recommended me to work in Scotland, in Peebles. So I moved there, I did six, seven months. It wasn’t what I was looking for, cooking-wise, so I moved to London.”
“It was 2001: I was discovering London and I was discovering the restaurant scene and I loved it. I worked at the Mandarin Oriental. A lot of the chefs I worked with had been in France and had a really hard time there, so they were pulling my leg and being a bit rough with me, but in a nice way.”
Marchand worked with chefs Hywel Jones at the Mandarin Oriental and Simon Scott at the Savoy Grill, as well as with Jones at the Electric before moving to Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern.
“I’ve had the chance to work with very good restaurateurs,” he said. “Nick Jones is a really good businessman who understood hospitality, Jamie Oliver is a great guy, and Danny Meyer was a huge inspiration for me when I opened Frenchie. Our service is professional but laid back, not bothering you all the time but there when you need it.
“Paris in the past 10 years, I would say, but really in the past six, seven years, has been really moving forward in the food scene. A lot of international chefs have come, a lot of restaurant openings, a lot of bistros with good value for money so it caught up with New York in terms of new openings, of diversity, excitement.”
Marchand intended Frenchie to be a neighborhood bistro. The set menu is 45 euros ($58) for three courses, which may include a main of mallard, with celeriac and trompette mushrooms. The place has been so successful, he’s opened a wine bar across the tiny Rue du Nil, where there are lines of customers at night.
At Albion, Ong’s business partner is Hayden Clout, a New Zealander with whom he worked at Fish La Boissonnerie, another foreign-owned Paris restaurant. Clout was formerly at Harbourside, Auckland, and Kensington Place, London. Ong did a three-year apprenticeship with Trusthouse Forte and worked in hotels before the Yew Tree Inn and moved to Paris in 2000.
“My girlfriend at the time was studying French, she had to live abroad in a French-speaking country for a year so we just decided to come to Paris,” Ong said. “Over the past 10 years, the kind of restaurant people want to go to has changed a lot.”
How did he have the nerve, as a Briton, to open his own restaurant with Clout in Paris?
“I didn’t think of it that way, to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t think it was such a big deal. It was just something we wanted to do and maybe it would have been the same story if we’d been in London.”
What was the reaction? Were French people surprised to find an Englishman cooking for them?
“One guy swore at me with shock but said he had a fantastic meal,” Ong said. “In Paris today, it’s really mixed. You have Japanese, you have Spanish, you have people from all over the world cooking. There’s a lot more influences.”
Ong’s menu contains hints to his background. A dish of pan-fried scallops (from Normandy) features boudin noir (from Christian Parra) in a reference to the U.K.’s black pudding. While he said that he’d like to open a gastropub in Paris, rather than move back to London, he’s in no hurry.
“I love the atmosphere of a British pub,” he said. “Going home, sitting in a pub having a couple of pints with friends and eating some fantastic food and it’s great. I see all the pubs here and they seem to be full all the time. My wife always tells me no one would go to a pub for great food: I think it’s just a matter of changing their opinion.
“This place (Albion) needs to be running like a machine and then I’ll think about it. It’s like I dreamt it could be.”
Frenchie, 5-6 Rue du Nil, Paris, 72002. Information: http://www.frenchie-restaurant.com/ or +33-1-4039-9619. Albion, 80 Rue Du Faubourg Poissonniere, Paris, 75010. Information: http://restaurantalbion.com/ or +33-1-4246-0244.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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