Effervescence, vibe, and umph.. Can’t miss it when you hear a passionate person talk!
They say that the key to happiness is to follow your heart and do what you love with relentless determination- but how many of us really have the guts to venture outside the box and explore? How many hours do we spend at work or in our daily routines?
Passionate people have always fascinated me. They believe each person has potential. I am on a mission to discover what makes them tick!
THE GUTS TO CHANGE: JEAN-CLAUDE ALFA
An inspiring encounter with our foremost chef Jean-Claude Alfa:
S.B. What is your signature style?
J.A. Traditionnelle de bistrot. Everything is simple but of top quality and perfectly blended together. I have had no training at all. I found my inspiration and recipes in cookbooks written by both famous and lesser-known cooks. I acquired taste by practicing on my own. With time, each cook develops his own style. The same recipe given to 30 different cooks gives 30 different outcomes!
S.B.How risky was it to switch to cookery as your main breadwinning job?
J.A. I was in the fashion and clothing industry. I gradually dropped this field to uptake cookery. I do not perceive it as a risk, as I believe that when you are really passionate about something you feel such an affinity and familiarity with the subject of your passion that you know deep inside you are not taking a risk at all. However, you need the courage to go for it! This also sometimes means going against what others might perceive as a safe field for you or a ‘comfort’ zone, and overcoming many obstacles on the way.
S.B. Your thoughts on working hard until you make it?
J.A. I believe that if one does not feel passionate about something, they should not undertake a project, especially not cookery as it can be an extremely challenging atmosphere in the kitchen, in the quest for perfection: Finding the right help that can follow your swing and be on the same wavelength, standing the heat around the oven when everyone is on edge, handling the tough client, accommodating meal amendments, answering the waiter’s pressing request for the dish.. It all adds up, it is definitely a very demanding field!
S.B. How did you start off experimenting in the kitchen?
J.A. I spent all my free time off from Boutique Givenchy in the kitchens of the Hotel George V, with the sommeliers or the cooks, and served the clients. I believe you can only learn this in France, as they use quality ingredients that are unique to their cuisine such as truffles or morel mushrooms. The refinement of their vegetables is also exquisite, like frisee blanche or haricots extrafins. Eventually, it’s all about fine-tuning: mixing products and accommodating each product’s needs in its own traditional way. For example, when you say blanc de poulet, the first thing that will come to mind will be estragon or morel mushrooms! The clients are the barometer of this continuous challenge, they are your best source of information and they do not forgive the slightest lowering of standards.
S.B. Your advice to a self-starter like yourself?
J.A. Never compromise on quality and time. These are the two most important factors in the cooking equation. In a professional context, cooks are taught subterfuges of cookery to accommodate numbers and timeframes- as legitimate as this way of cooking might be, it is not ‘cuisine de bonne femme’ anymore or ‘home cooking’. It is a continuous challenge to maintain the quality of the standards that you reach as you perfect your dishes, and everything that comes with it such as service, atmosphere, etc. Every element of the process needs to be synchronized: the meat at the same time as the sauce but also the vegetables, etc. This is where the main stress comes from.
S.B. Who were your virtual mentors?
J.A. I was inspired by famous master chefs for basic stocks and sauces, such as Paul Bocuse, Michel Guerard, Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Daniel Boulud at the Daniel in New York. I also enjoyed Italian and Moroccan cuisine. To become a big chef you must not only eat the local food of your chosen cuisine on a regular basis, but also immerse yourself in the culture: music, comic strips, little habits, and way of life. To cook it, you must live it!
As I move around between the tables and the kitchen, I quickly understand that his wife and partner Sophie is an invaluable asset in delivering high standards of quality from A to Z. She complements his work in the overall restaurant experience, such as by managing the quality of the service: wine and food serving, welcoming the client, facilitating synchronization, ensuring the smooth functioning of the restaurant. Jean-Claude and Sophie were such sweethearts, modest and stimulating.
Jean-Claude accepts to share with us one of his secret recipes!
1 poulet fermier of 1,700 kg
Imported Ducros Thyme (Local thyme being too strong for this recipe)
Preheat the oven at 200 degrees
-Coat the chicken entirely with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme
-Peal the lemon and stuff it into the chicken along with a generous addition of salt and pepper
-Tie the chicken so that it remains plump, and bake it on the on the leg side for 20 minutes, then turn the chicken over to bake on the breast side for another 20 minutes- spoon the juices over the chicken before and after turning
-Remove the chicken and place it on a platter covering it with foil for 10 to 15 minutes, the more you allow it to rest the more tender and juicy it will be
-While it is resting, prepare the sauce: deglaze and scrape loose the sticky bits by adding ½ glass of cold water, or ½ a glass of dry white wine. Return the dish to the oven so that the sauce slightly thickens
-Cut the chicken into 4 pieces and drizzle with a little sauce. Serve the rest of the sauce on the side