Nicolas Sale is the 10th chef to helm the kitchens of Ritz Paris since its opening in 1898. He shares with Jessica Chan how he is penning a new chapter in haute cuisine at the iconic hotel’s La Table de L’espadon.
Nicolas Sale of La Table de L’espadon, Ritz Paris
It’s a Friday afternoon. Twelve guests are clinking glasses of Champagne Ritz Réserve Brut at Chef’s Table, Capella Singapore. Over at the open kitchen, guest chef Nicolas Sale hunches over each plate, meticulously adorning Brittany lobster tails with blueberries. We may be in Singapore but it feels as if we had just waltzed through the doors of the iconic Ritz Paris and settled into the two Michelin-starred La Table de L’espadon.
Sale is the 10th chef to stage at the celebrated kitchen founded by the legendary Auguste Escoffier. (It turns 120 years old this year but was only named L’espadon from 1956.) Appointed in 2016, the 46-year-old didn’t just succeed Michel Roth. Sale ushered in a new age for the restaurant by dividing L’espadon into two exquisite dining experiences: the Les Jardins de L’espadon for lunch and La Table de L’espadon for a lavish dinner affair. And, it came as no surprise when he swiftly took home one and two Michelin stars respectively within a year.
The former professional cyclist – he won his first lap at age 16 – became enamoured of the culinary arts, thanks to the many vacations he spent at his grandparents’ farm in Mayenne. “I loved family dinners; the camaraderie of people coming together for good food and company,” muses Sale. The stars aligned when he found a mentor in Freddy Faverot of L’ecurie, as it led to a succession of stints at some of Paris’ most sought-after dining spots; three Michelin-starred Pavilion Royal and two-starred Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, to name a few. It took winning a star for Hôtel Du Castelet to land the illustrious chef on the high-octane dining map of France. Not one to rest on his laurels, he continued with another star at Les Pêcheurs and two each for La Table du Kilimandjaro and Le Kintessence in Courchevel.
Why did you choose to divide L’espadon into two distinct experiences?
Ritz Paris had just awakened from a four-year hiatus, due to the massive renovation in 2016. It was a time to reinvent L’espadon but in a way that connected its history with the present and future of haute cuisine. Les Jardins de L’espadon is solely for lunch, where service is quicker (without diminishing the L’espadon experience). It is also where I experiment with new produce and dishes. It’s a laboratory for me. Dishes that resonated better with guests are refined for dinner service La Table de L’espadon. An example would the rabbit with mustard, that’s presented as a confit shoulder and roasted rack with physalis pickles. And the menu here changes every Monday; it’s always a surprise.
La Table de L’espadon is the quintessential Ritz Paris experience. The menu is inspired by fishing. Instead of starters, mains and dessert, it is divided into L’appat (the lure), Le Fil (the line) and, finally, La Touche (to hit). The former is a signature of mine where I awaken appetites and prime palates with three interpretations of a single ingredient.
Can you tell us more about the concept?
While working in the mountains of Courchevel in 2012, I had the idea to present one ingredient as different textures and flavours. An example is my Brittany lobster “dishes”. You’re working your way through just one lobster. There’s the gelée, which showcases its sweetness, followed by the succulent lobster tail that comes slathered in a tart blueberry sauce and, lastly, tender claws and bisque with an aromatic, herbed focaccia. The same goes for our desserts. It’s an original way of presenting the menu, and it definitely brings something unique to the dining landscape.
What does the Michelin Guide mean to you?
I bought my first guide book back in 1992, and hasn’t stopped. It’s a reference for my career. Winning stars for Ritz Paris is important as it rewarded the years of work put in by the team. I see it not as an accomplishment but a step in my journey. We must still give our best every day to keep the stars. It’s a recognition as much as a responsibility. Think of us as Olympic athletes. I drive my team (and myself) to constantly question ourselves and evolve.
Tell us more about your unusual source of inspiration.
Vogue or architecture magazines. I get my ideas from words that evoke a feeling. I want to capture that emotion and present it on a plate. For my current menu, it all started with a book on fishing. I realised I can use its process – hooking the bait, reeling in the line and so on – as the structure of my menu.
Why have you decided to come to Singapore for a Four Hands collaboration?
Seeing the world helps me stay open-minded. I’ve gotten a firsthand taste of local flavours and how it’s used in French cuisine. While I can’t find these ingredients in France, I can be inspired to create new dishes based on these experiences.
Any advice for young chefs? Work, work and work.
What’s on your plate for 2019?
I’m always working on a new dish. The seasons dictate what I present, in a way. Right now, I am still refining the spring menu, but I already have a big schedule for the next six months. I’ve actually got an excel sheet detailing all the dishes I want to serve according to weeks and months.