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~ Mathieu Canet Interviewed by Lucia Bell-Epstein and Siân Lathrop

Continued from: ~Oeufs Mimosa – Food Journals from a Month in Paris 

Ready to eat, we meet Simonez for lunch on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. All three of us arrive at Le Dauphin, the sister restaurant of the renowned Chateaubriand, around 1:15 PM.

The two restaurants sit beside each other on Ave Parmentier, and are credited with putting the 11th arrondissement on the map. While the Chateaubriand is known for its experimental plates, Le Dauphin does beautifully executed classic French food and wine.

The atmosphere in Le Dauphin is unmatched. The restaurant was designed by Rem Koolhaus, and the space makes a visit to Le Dauphin worth it even before you’ve started eating. The menu is warm and familiar, a contrast to the coldness of the marble interior.

Simonez is friends with Chef Mathieu Canet and has set us up to interview him. We order Oeufs Mimosa to start, and Chef Mathieu sends out grilled fish for us. The menu is deceptively simple, everything is in season. We have a salad of cilantro, a plate of grilled leeks with vinaigrette, and a ricotta and spinach tart. It tastes like spring. For dessert, a twist on the American classic, a banana sundae.

We are served food on plates that, when polished off, reveal a tiny red dolphin. As we eat, I can’t help but laugh. The restaurant seems to wink at itself. We are sitting in a marble box, listening to music playing out of black modernist speakers, and yet here we are eating the most classic French dish you can think of: Oeufs Mimosa. It is fantastic.

The restaurant closes so the kitchen can prepare for the dinner service but we stick around, waiting to speak to the Chef. Suddenly he’s sitting at our table in a big black puffer jacket. He makes everyone espressos and smokes a cigarette. “I am trying to make food that is really legible, very understandable and palatable to everybody.” Chef Mathieu’s philosophy is simple: Good food should be accessible. He emphasizes working with good suppliers and food that is in season: “This week is the start of the asparagus season. So this week we will serve asparagus.”

He moves around the marble box, reaching over the counter for another espresso. “The space is brutal, but that brutality is cut by comforting food. There’s no bullshit.” He’s an intimidating figure, tall and bearded, but he moves with grace. His favorite musician is Arthur Russell, the cult figure & disco cellist who died of AIDS in 1992. Russell favored the simple and straightforward – a minimalist with a cello. I am probably reading too much into this, Chef Mathieu isn’t reflecting on why he likes Arthur Russell. He just does.

We sat with him for an hour and spoke in mostly English mixed with a bit of French. Chef Mathieu describes how important it is for him to remove his ego from the food he cooks: “I want to turn away from myself as an individual and learn from the people who came before me. Credit them. The stuff I cook has a lot of references to French classics. If you get the reference that’s cool. But you don’t get the reference from the 200 year old recipe, you can just enjoy your meal. No judgment.” The food and space support Mathieu’s intentions. There is a strong sense of community between the people that work at Le Dauphin, both between front and back of house. It makes sense why there is not much turnaround, most people in the kitchen have worked there for 3 to 5 years…

Lucia Bell-Epstein: How is the food inspired by the architecture of this restaurant?

Mathieu Canet: I am trying to make really, really simple food to break with the architecture of the space. And with the kind of customer who comes into a high end restaurant like this. I am trying to make food that is really legible, very understandable and palatable to everybody. Without judgment. It’s pretty hard to talk about what you do. But I hope you get that sense of that when you eat here.

LBE: How long have you been cooking here? 

MC: I’ve been here for 7 years. I came here to work for Inaki Aizpitarte. He’s the guy who owns the two sister restaurants, Le Dauphin and Le Chateaubriand.

I’m from Bordeaux, in the South-West of France. I had a very typical start in cooking. Worked in a Michelin restaurant in Bordeaux after cooking school. It’s called Saint James, by a really well respected architect: Jean Nouvel. It’s funny because he is a big name in architecture, and so is Rem Koolhaus, who designed Le Dauphin. 

Siân Lathrop: Do you care about design?

MC: Well, Apparently I do. Yes.

LBE: The way you were taught, did you have to unlearn and break certain rules ? 

MC: No, I don’t think about cooking that way. I don’t want to break anything.

SL: Really? Nothing? You don’t want to change anything?

MC: No. That way I can feel the connection with the history of what I am cooking and the people I am cooking it for. Keep it simple. I don’t want to put pressure on customers in my restaurant, like, “you need to understand this way or this way”. It’s why I like to give people simple food, you don’t need to explain anything. 

SL: No philosophy?

MC: Exactly yeah. I just want people to feel the kindness behind it. I just want everyone to be comfortable. 

LBE: How does living and working in Paris inform the cooking that you do ? Has it changed since you came from Bordeaux?

MC: It changed from Bordeaux for sure. But honestly? I don’t really think too much about what I do. No reflection. I just work with good suppliers. Like this week is the start of the asparagus season. So this week we will serve asparagus. 

LBE: What are 3 ingredients that you’re excited about?

MC: The asparagus, both the green ones and the white ones. It’s spring and there are vegetables coming in little by little, with the sun. But I like all the seasons, “c’est cool”.

That is why I say there’s no reflection behind what I give to people. We prepare simple food. Food that is in season. We don’t have 2000 people working in the kitchen. 

SL: How did Covid affect your work? 

MC: It was a good period for me. I didn’t cook during Covid. It was the first time in my life that I had time for myself. I have been working since I was 14. It was good to have time. I read.  

SL: What did you read?

MC: I read Paul Marchand. He was a reporter. The book that stayed with me was Sympathy for the Devil, in which Marchand covered the conflict in Bosnia. Marchand was very sure of himself and took a lot of risks. He was different from other war journalists: he wasn’t staying in hotels, he was on the ground in the conflict. 

His main point was that nobody can understand war, it’s so horrible. Although he took risks, he didn’t blame other journalists for not doing the same as him. Everyone has their own truth and he didn’t think he was better than others. This relates to what I was saying earlier about not putting pressure on people, you know? Nobody has the truth. You just have to let people live. That’s the connection with my work. I think that’s what really characterizes what I do. Not putting pressure on people, doing something simple, which is understandable to everyone. 

I watched a lot of films as well. 

SL: Like what?

MC: Cannibal Holocaust. 

LBE: Do you feel like art informs anything that you do here? 

MC: No. Everyone can make art. Even if you work in a bank you can make art. What informs my work most is simple: be kind to people. Try to put a smile on people’s faces. It is true, there are Chefs who are artists. But it’s way too easy to say “ah because you’re a chef you must be some kind of artist.” 

It is pretty rare that there is real thinking behind a dish, real knowledge. 50% of it is bullshit, there’s nothing behind it. People call themselves artists but they can’t talk about what is behind the work they do, the meaning of what they are cooking. It is empty. No feeling. It’s sad. 

I mean, as a Chef it is easy to emphasize yourself as an individual, to make everything about yourself. People like this have way too much vanity, way too much ego. I want to turn away from myself as an individual and learn from the people who came before me. Credit them. The stuff I cook has a lot of references to French classics. If you get the reference that’s cool. But you don’t get the reference from the 200 year old recipe, you can just enjoy your meal. No judgment. I hate the idea of the big famous French Chef coming to the table and taking credit for the meal. To me that’s horrible. 

LBE: I really feel a sense of community in this space.

MC: Yeah that’s cool. I’m happy you feel that because it’s real. There is one guy in the kitchen, he was a waiter at the Chateaubriand and wanted to be a cook so he came to work for me. There’s another guy who’s been here for 3 years. The sous-chef under me has worked here for 3 years as well. The guy who does the dishes has been here 5 years. There’s this other guy who’s worked here for 4 years. So not there is not that much turnaround. People stay here. 

LBE: In New York places usually have a fast turnaround.

MC: Yeah here too. That’s why this place is special. And I’m glad you said that because it’s true. Maybe it’s a bit too much to call us a family but yeah, it feels like a family. You want another coffee? I’m gonna make myself one. 

~ Alice Moireau Interviewed by Lucia Bell-Epstein

Continued from: ~Oeufs Mimosa – Food Journals from a Month in Paris

“…On my last afternoon in Paris, I climbed the stairs to Alice Morieau’s apartment in Belleville. A cook, food stylist, and overall culinary artist, Alice welcomed me into her home; we skipped awkward niceties to immediately start talking about food. Her tone and mannerisms were passionate as she described her infatuation with Algerian pastries, preserved lemon in salads, and her obsession with sheep’s milk yogurt. We spend the next hour going through her pantry and same-day market provisions…”

Lucia Bell-Epstein : What in your pantry are you excited about? 

AM: Try this roasted Macadamia nut. A game changer. I never tasted Macadamia like this, you know? So this is my goal in life. Everything I taste, I would like to have the most exquisite taste of it, you know, but simple. It’s not even salted, the Macadamia are just roasted. 

LBE: Who taught you how to cook?

AM: No one. I would see my dad cook but he didn’t really teach me. I learned by watching. My parents are painters. Most of the ceramics in the kitchen are made by my mom.

LBE: What kind of projects are you working on? 

AM: Right now I am working for a brand called Christofle. They’ve been making silver plates, forks and knives for over two centuries. This plate here is from 1830. I do events for them: hosting dinners in Paris and the South of France. Sometimes I cook the dinner myself, sometimes I collaborate with a chef. It depends on the specific event. Everything is well thought out. For example if we are hosting a dinner for 25, introducing a new collection, I would hire a chef. That meal needs to be gastronomical. I do friendly cooking, daily life cooking, it’s very simple. I am not a chef. In some situations I need to work with experts. I love hosting people, and sometimes you need to choose between cooking and hosting. It is very hard to do both. My last event I worked with the chef at Clown Bar. He is from Lisbon by way of Cape Verde. His cooking is so precise and perfect. It’s very mindful cuisine. 

Alice’s Pantry Pictured above –

  • Boutargue from Marseille
  • Fresh Orecchiette
  • Hand Picked Anchovies
  • Dry Oregano  from Olhao, Portugal
  • Jam from Babylonstoren, South Africa
  • Honey from Tuscany
  • Fleur de Sel from Ile de Ré
  • Dry Udon from Japan

LBE: If you had to pick one ingredient to cook with the most, what would it be? 

AM: I mean right now I am doing a lot of asparagus, because it is the season. I am doing it every way possible: roasted, grilled, risotto, sometimes in the oven, sometimes on the barbeque. 

Most of the time I steam it because it’s so fresh and so tasty, and you can actually feel the whole asparagus. To me this is the best way to eat asparagus because nothing is hidden. For example, for lunch I did steamed asparagus with tuna, olives, green garlic, and Japanese Bonito sweet vinegar sauce.

I make meals like this all the time, following the same principle. I only use 3 to 5 ingredients, maximum 6 that are good quality. 

LBE: Are there any artists that inspire you? 

AM: Daniel Spoerri. I love the tables he made. He glued everything to the surface of a table and then stuck the table on the wall. Each piece was a proper meal: he would glue the meal to the table, and fix it all to a wall. I also love Rothko, because I love the colors. It’s very classic I know, not weird at all, but I love Rothko so much. I also love old clothes, vintage stuff, with interesting shapes and colors.

In terms of music, well I listen to a lot of American country and reggaeton, and I play classical music when I want to think about nothing. I love the song Sweet Florence. I love Italian disco, anything groovy I like. 

LBE: You’re working in food but you’re not a chef – can you describe what you do? How do food, cooking, and art come together in your work?

AM: Food to me is a ritual. Food is about gathering people, but it is also about every step along the way to that gathering. You buy your groceries, you store them in the fridge, you decide how you will set your table, paper napkins or fabric napkins, what are you going to wear? The whole experience around making a meal I love so much. Everything is a choice. You choose the people, you choose the food, you choose the meal, you choose how you set the table. It’s a curation. How can I curate this moment so I can have the most magical experience? I want to curate the best ingredients to make the dish nice, I want to put it on a nice plate because that will improve the presentation. The lighting is part of the ritual. The choice between overhead lighting and candles. Even the ashtray for the cigarettes is important. I like all the little steps that lead you to a meal. 

I’m really lucky I get to curate these moments for work. I’m not only cooking, I’m not only styling, I’m not only hosting. I’m doing a bit of everything. I cook, I style, I consult for brands. I am very specific about my clients, I only work with a few people. I want to have long relationships with them – I need to have trust. I love the events I curate. 

~ Oeufs Mimosa – Food Journals from a Month in Paris

Written by Siân Lathrop & Lucia Bell-Epstein
Photography by Lucia Bell-Epstein

Siân – Sunday, March 6th. 6pm.

We are flying over the Atlantic, on our way to Paris from New York City. It’s the first time we have been since the world shut down in 2020. Over the course of the next month, Lucia and I will interview Chefs, restaurateurs and creatives about their experience in the Paris food scene. What you are reading are excerpts from these travels – snapshots of a month in France.

Our plane food arrives and it is terrible. Lucia’s bread is better than mine so I steal her dinner roll. Off to a good start.

Siân – Monday, March 7th. 2 PM.

We meet up with Simonez Wolf – a stylist and restaurateur from Paris who moved to NYC for 18 years before making his way back to France during the pandemic. Lucien and Mia from STP connected us.

He is about to open a business in Paris, a Banh Mi shop called “Tâm Banh Mi”, named after his mother. The physical space isn’t open yet, so we can’t meet him there (although after hearing what he plans to serve I will most definitely be back as soon as it is open).

Instead, he suggests The Dreaming Man, a third wave coffee shop opened by Yuichiro Sugiyama and his partner Yui Matsuzaki. It’s the antithesis of the classic Parisian sidewalk espresso, the place serves acidic Danish roasted coffee, pour overs and Japanese style patisserie to go. I remark on this as we sit outside waiting for our drinks. Simonez laughs, “Parisians want to walk with their coffees now, not just sit sipping for hours.”

He is right. In recent years the French Bistro/Brasserie has had somewhat of a renaissance in New York. Old haunts have become incredibly trendy once again. Think Lucien on a Friday night, Buvette on a Sunday morning, and Balthazar almost always. In Paris, however, restaurant goers are moving away from the classic French Fare. There’s a NewYorkification of the coffee scene, and the tweezer-style plating found in the highest end restaurants has been interrupted by a new wave of casual, approachable food. Basque style small plates and natural wine reign here.

Simonez has his own opinions on the predominant sharing / tapas style menus. “It’s boring.” I am taken aback by his honesty. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool and I really love some of those places, but at some point it all turned into the same thing.” Simonez has been back in Paris for a little under two years, and craves the food he left behind in New York. He misses the multiculturalism of the scene, and the wide availability of fast casual food.

Simonez plans on serving the classics while also trying out new sandwiches – all while relying on locally sourced and seasonal produce. When we meet him, he’s in the midst of deciding on the perfect bread for the sandwich. “I’m looking for something soft, but not too soft.” It’s a delicate balance.

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