The second-in-command chefs at some of the world’s most celebrated restaurants step out of the shadow of their well known employers at a unique culinary project that invites sous chefs to cook at a monthly Paris dinner.
It is often said that the real talent behind some of the world’s most important restaurants is the sous-chef, the second-in-command to the chef de cuisine who is charged with the flawless management of the kitchen and meticulous execution of the menu, if not the creation of the menu itself. And while this is not the premise of Les Lundis de Fulgurances, a monthly gastronomic event that takes place in Paris, it is these unknown names that the project champions at a series of monthly dinners. Founded by Hugo Hivernat and Sophie Cornibert, the first Les Lundis de Fulgurances took place in April 2010 with a dinner prepared by Sam Miller, the sous chef to René Redzepi at Stockholm’s Noma, the restaurant that is frequently described as the best in the world. Most recently they have worked with Toshiro Fujii, sous chef of Sang Hoon Degeimbre at "l'Air du Temps" in Belgium. The next chef to cook at their one-sitting, communal table for 70 will be the second-in-charge to Massimo Bottura, the owner and chef of the multi award winning Osteria Francescana located in Modena, Italy. What’s on the menu? Even Hivernat and Sophie Cornibert don’t know, stating simply that, “During Les Lundis de Fulgurances, the "second" become the "first", as they will be the ones who determine future gastronomic trends.”
Sophie Cornibert’s definition of luxury?
Rarity, time, quality.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
Alexandre Gauthier's lobster!
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
Taking time out to have a cocktail on the Park Hyatt terrace under the sun.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
"La Nouvelle Vague".
Sophie Cornibert, the co-founder of Les Lundis de Fulgurances, discusses the ingredients behind this unique gastronomic project.
What is the concept behind the Les Lundis de Fulgurances project?
One Monday per month, we find a place for a second chef so that he may express his own and personal creativity, his own unique talent. During "Les Lundis de Fulgurances", the "second" become the "first", as they will be the ones who determine future gastronomic trends. "Les Lundis de Fulgurances" started in April 2010 with René Redzepi's second chef, Sam Miller. At the beginning, I just intend to write reviews about second chefs, generally unknown compared to their chef. Hugo proposed that we set up real dinners to put them in the front scene, as we did two months later. After one year and five dinners, we can say that we share great moments with fantastic cooks full of enthusiasm.
Which chef have you most recently worked with?
The "Lundi de Fulgurances" that took place on September 5 was with Toshiro Fujii, sous chef of Sang Hoon Degeimbre at "l'Air du Temps" in Belgium. We met him in April and we are so glad that he accepted to come in Paris. It is never easy for a sous chef to cook for 70 people on his own for the first time. Therefore, we consider that 70 people is the perfect figure for our events since cooking for more people would require a lots of confidence and the sous chef would be put under too much pressure. We really want that sous chefs have a good time!
What is the brief do you give to the chefs that you work with?
We ask them to stay independent, free and to express as much as possible their own personality / creativity. We never know the menu in advance, we respect their work and preserve their personality. We just give them a maximum budget for the food.
You give unheard of sous chefs from some of the world’s most well known restaurants a platform to cook under their own name – how do you discover the chefs to work with?
We are visiting restaurants (about 5, maybe 10 a month), so we meet a lot of cooks. In April we went to Belgium; in June we travelled from Sweden to Denmark. In our blog (www.fulgurances.com) we are editing texts, photos and videos of these gastronomic discoveries. You can read our trip reviews there. It is really important for us to keep an eye on the food world and to stay open-minded. We may consider this as a kind of "event journalism".
Besides, in order to keep update about the food tendencies (products, restaurants, etc.), we visit restaurants' websites and surf the cooking blogosphere everyday. We consider ourselves as go-betweens, pioneers, looking for these young cooks who will, one day, set up their own restaurant in compliance with their own vision of food.
We have good relationships with cooks because we are honest and we always think from their perspective. We used to work in restaurants as well. I worked for one year in a restaurant called "Frenchie" in Paris whereas Hugo did a ten-day internship at "In de Wulf" in Belgium. We consider that it is important to see what is behind the scenes.
Do you believe that these unknown names are often the real talent behind celebrated restaurants?
While looking for new talents, we noticed that the second chefs play a major part in a restaurant’s mechanism. Second chefs have to order the food, to learn chef's recipes and strictly apply it. How many are chefs who entrust their restaurant to the second chef in their absence? Who knows better than the second chef how to manage the crew?
The real talent in celebrated restaurants is the chef. However, we consider that second chefs should not be considered only as good managers, but have their own personality which definitely benefits the restaurant.
With the closing of pioneering El Bulli and the rise of the likes of Noma, which seeks to reinterpret classical Nordic food, do you see a move away from experimental ‘nouvelle’ cuisine in favour of something more traditional?
We don't think about cooking in term of movement but much more in term of environment. We like to think that nowadays, cooks are more influenced by products than techniques, maybe because lots of things have been already done.
I don't think that the closing of El Bulli rings the end of something like "experimental nouvelle cuisine”. Cooking always has to deal with experimentation, each time you experiment. But, in our point of view it's not the most important thing. Product is the point.
Of course chefs use (and sometimes misuse!) techniques, but it's more to sublimate their environment and to reveal the product itself. As a music player integrates ranges and notes, a chef goes beyond the modes of cooking or sauce reactions for instance, to free himself and develop his own identity.
When we evoke cooks’ work, we assume that with their experience they know how to realize a ravioli, make a marinade or master a robot. That's what allows them, after this preliminary work, to be totally free and creative, also sometimes to be mistaken and always to take risks.
Noma, a restaurant you worked with in early 2010, is arguably the most talked about restaurant of 2011. Which chefs and restaurants do you predict to be The Next Big Thing?
Well, we have our own "names": Sam Miller, Nicolas Guiet who is opening his first restaurant in October, Laurent Cabut, Denny Imbrosi or Ludovic Pouzelgues Cooks who are working with integrity, with a sense of sharing, who never forget products and nature and, finally, who are creative and live for their passion.
More than just championing new names, you pioneer a new restaurant experience with a communal table, one sitting and one menu. Do you think that restaurateurs need to reconsider the traditional dining format?
A moment of restaurant must be considered as a one shot! Discovering a new table is like discovering a new experience. One single menu and a few sittings is the perfect combo to attend to a personal chef's performance. One more time, you must emphasize the difference between an every day restaurant and an outstanding one, of which Noma is the best example.
What interests us when we go to the restaurant, is to live a moment “between brackets”, to plunge into a specific universe, which is also defined by the choice and style of dishes, the way of proposing and serving the wines, the type of bread and the moment it is served, the fact there are two or three different servings or, in the contrary, up to 15 “bouchées”, as in Christophe Pelé's La Bigarrade.
The whole of it results of true decisions, of commitments that could affect up to the design of the tables, just as the table of hosts at Agape substance, for example. In fact, we over all like to catch a cook's expression through his restaurant
Do you aspire to open your own restaurant or do you prefer the flexibility of the Les Lundis de Fulgurances project?
Good question. As we said, we are devoted to cooking through cooks' personality… Actually, we are thinking about something special, not our own restaurant, but something else in line with the "Lundis de Fulgurances". Don't forget we are not chefs. Stay tuned!
The next edition of Les Lundis de Fulgurances takes place in Paris on October 10, 2011.
Diners usually cost 75 euros for 6 or 7 dishes (wine included).
Reservations open three weeks before the dinner and can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.