Interview, À table with Pierre Gagnaire
A regular visitor to Bordeaux, the Michelin-starred chef is attracted by the dynamism and the many possibilities of the city
despite over half a century in the Kitchen, 14 restaurants and 17 michelin stars, pierre gagnaire is showing no signs of slowing down. Chef at the Bernard Magrez-owned La Grande Maison since 2016, the starting point of his career was an internship as a teenager with legendary chef Paul Bocuse, although his family’s restaurant in Saint-etienne also provided an ideal training ground. Twice awarded 3 Michelin stars, the most recent was in 1995 for the restaurant bearing his name at Hôtel de Balzac in Paris.
Recognized for inventive cuisine which skillfully combines unlikely flavors to striking effect, his menus feature high-quality ingredients, prepared in an assortment of ways. Late to the idea of exporting his style of modern French cooking, today he boasts outposts in major Asian cities as well as the gastronomic hubs of Las Vegas and London. Nine of his Michelin stars are shared across
his 6 restaurants in France, including the 2-star, La Grande Maison.
It will soon be 2 years since you became chef of La Grande Maison. What attracted you the project and to working in Bordeaux?
Simply put, I had a very positive encounter with the owner, Bernard Magrez. As much as I am an artist, he is a business man and I greatly appreciate his approach. I was aware of the history and of what had already been achieved with Joël Robuchon. I was fortunate enough to be able to put the right team in place; Jean-denis Le Bras as executive chef and Julien Gardin as restaurant director, both of whom had previously worked together at my restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.
At the time, it also seemed that everyone was talking about Bordeaux and its potential. It was an incredible opportunity for me and it felt even more exotic than Tokyo and Seoul, where I also work. It’s a city with real personality!
What, for you, are the advantages of being a chef in this city?
In some of my restaurants, especially in Asia, I am limited to only using local ingredients, such are the difficulties in bringing in produce from abroad. Here there is abundance of excellent ingredients; from wild cèpe mushrooms to organic vegetables from the Landes or Caviar d’aquitaine and Arcachon oysters.
The Bordeaux gastronomic scene is also very dynamic. I remember when it was quiet and closed but now it is lively and attractive to chefs. Léo Forget, an ex-colleague from Pèir in Gordes recently opened Mets-mots, which I look forward to eating at. All the time, new Michelin stars are being awarded to restaurants in Bordeaux and the surrounding area too.
You come to La Grande Maison regularly. Do you have time to visit Bordeaux?
La Grande Maison is in Bordeaux! Sometimes people think differently because the building is not right in the centre. The location is still in the city, but with the advantage of calm surroundings. I am here every month or so and try to stay five days. The main reason is because I enjoy coming! I spend a lot of time in the kitchen during those visits, but also with clients in the restaurant. It is important to feel the ambiance and energy of the house and to bring it alive.
When you have free time, what is an ideal day for you here?
Walking around the city, whether it is a stroll up Cours du Chapeau-rouge towards the opera house, a wander around the open-air antiques market at St-michel or a visit to the Gare St Jean, to admire the iron-work and glass rooftop. A meal at Le Petit Commerce with its array of fish or the Argentinean restaurant, El Nacional is always a pleasure, as is an encounter with Philippe Etchebest, the chef at Le Quatrième Mur.
Outside the city, I would like to visit more vineyards, especially Château Pape Clément, also owned by Bernard Magrez. I enjoy good wine and there are so many to discover! I’m told that the place to be at sunset is atop the Dune du Pilat, which certainly sounds like the ideal way to end a day, admiring views over the Arcachon Bay and the paragliders who use the dune as a launch pad.
Pierre Gagnaire in La Grande Maison.
La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez.