Thomas, can you tell us how you became a chef?
I always enjoyed cooking. I developed a passion for gastronomy at a young age, a taste that was encouraged by my family. Growing up, I studied a few disciplines without ever feeling fulfilled.
When I turned 28, I decided to do what I actually longed to do, and in 2011, I opened my first restaurant, La Machine à coude, in Boulogne (a Parisian suburb). I am a self-educated chef and restaurant owner – I learned progressively. I built my menus by always starting with the products I was interested in. We started off with a wine bar and two or three tapas.
Over time, we increased our menu and finally offered a complete tasting menu… We did not expect such a success!
You opened your second restaurant Orties – nettles in english – about two years ago. Why did you choose such a name?
I find nettle to be quite an extraordinary plant. While it’s considered by many to be a common weed – an inconvenient, irritating herb – it is in fact, an extremely nourishing plan, and that allows me, through my cuisine, to give it justice in a certain way and to break some prejudices about it.
I am passionate about wild herbs. I very much enjoy gathering them and working with them whether it is nettle, mushroom or wild garlic, amongst others.
You choose your products with extreme care. How do you select them ?
I work exclusively with seasonal products, mostly of French origin – although, at times, I let myself be seduced by foreign products from Spain and Italy, for instance. Most of them are organic or come from sustainable agriculture, with the least chemical treatment.
When it comes to meat, I select them according to their breed. I try to find out if they are local, old species, if they are cross-bred and how they were raised… all those elements impact taste.
About the wine, we only offer natural and biodynamic ones. Despite the constraints of conservation and availability, I am very attached to it.
How did you find the producers you work with?
Before I opened my first restaurant, I went on a tour of France to meet them. I have been as far as the Basque country, where I discovered Truite de Banka, an aquaculture farm in the middle of the mountain. There, I was introduced to Terroirs d’Avenir, an organic agriculture distributor. When I first started working with them, I was the only customer going directly to their hangar in Bercy – 12th district of Paris. Mostly, I try to buy directly, without intermediaries, and go and meet the producers, to see their products: I like that a lot.
” I savor opening up a package full of fresh products and discovering its content, a bit like a present.”
At Orties, you chose a unique tasting menu. How does it work?
There are three amuse-bouches, four savory dishes, and two sweet ones. The menu changes every week. Some dishes are offered more frequently than others, like the spelt risotto for instance, because they encounter much success. We also suggest a vegetarian alternative.
About that, nature and plants are at the heart of your cuisine, visually as well as taste-wise. Where do you find your inspiration?
In nature. In fruits and vegetables that arrive at the restaurant. I savor opening up a package full of them and discovering its content, a bit like a present. I adapt to fresh products so that I can create delectable compositions.
I am also inspired by other chefs. I like Christophe Pele’s work very much – he is the chef of the Clarence. I was lucky enough to eat at the Noma in Copenhagen, one of best restaurants in the world, where I could talk to its chef Rene Redzepi who’s very welcoming and truly passionate — his cuisine is marvelously thoughtful, detail-oriented yielding impressive results!
Who eats at your restaurant?
Our clientele is quite diverse. We have regulars as well as curious gourmets who come in to taste our food. Some come because some chefs recommended our place to them, which is very gratifying. Sang Houn Degeimbre, the chef of the Belgian restaurant L’air du temps, visited us and enjoyed himself very much, and that is greatly encouraging.
What motivates you to cook every day?
The idea of transmission is very interesting. It is also a job that takes up a lot of time, notably on family life. Still, in spite of that and the tiredness, motivation and drive is ever-present. Once one is passionate about one’s work, it is easy to feel happily bonded to it, every day.