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Interview Eric Frechon
from the trees to cook oysters.
It was a kind of smoking en
papillote,’ confi...
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  1. 1. Interview Eric Frechon from the trees to cook oysters. It was a kind of smoking en papillote,’ confides M. Frechon with a conspiratorial air. ‘When I got back from holiday, I started experimenting. I paired the smoked oysters with foie gras and it really worked.’ He senses my surprise: ‘The customers loved it. It was one of our most popular dishes.’ Changing perceptions and expectations is something at which M. Frechon excels, but that kind of creativity can’t be learned. ‘It’s something in your heart, your spirit,’ he explains. ‘You never stop learning —some- times you can achieve per- fection, sometimes it will never come, but you always have to try and improve.’ When M. Frechon was in his mid teens, he moved to Rouen to train at the Hôtelière de Rouen and, after graduation, got his first break as a commis chef at La Grand Cascade under Jean Sabine. This was followed a few years later by a stint at Le Bristol, a year of military serv- ice and then Taillevent, where he rose to chef de partie under Claude Deligne. He then moved to Spain and L’Hotel Biblos Andaluz, where he was second de cuisine under HubertFanthomme/ParisMatch/GettyImages Food, glorious food Eric Frechon is the executive chef at the three-Michelin-starred Epicure at the Hôtel Le Bristol Paris. Elizabeth Hotson meets him to find out how he became one of the greatest chefs in France I ’M nervous. ‘Only a few people are invited into his office.’ A few people a day? A few people a week? ‘A few every five or six months’ comes the unintentionally intimi- dating reply. The ‘he’ in question is Eric Frechon, executive chef at thethree-Michelin-starredEpicure at the Hôtel Le Bristol Paris. I’m led into his office, a cube- shaped culinary temple in the middle of Epicure’s kitchen. It looks directly on to the pass, a domain of which M. Frechon is indisputably master. If the awards on the wall hint at M. Frechon’s status as one of the best chefs in France, the trico- leur on his collar confirms it. It signifies that he’s been awarded the prestigious title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF). M. Frechon gained it in 1993. At the age of 30. Since then, he’s risen to stratospheric heights; Le Bristol Paris is the only hotel in Europe with four Michelin stars, three at Epicure and one for Le 114 Faubourg. Although 114 Faubourg serves beautifully conceived dishes such as king-crab eggs with ginger and lemon mayonnaise, Epicure is the jewel in the crown. Its seasonally changing menu con- tains such other-worldly gems as ‘green zebra’ tomato tartar with lemon thyme, ‘pineapple tomato’ juice and coeur de boeuf tom- ato sorbet. However, the beginnings of M. Frechon’s culinary odyssey couldn’t have been more prosaic. Born in Somme, Normandy, he entered his first professional kitchen at the age of 13. ‘I wanted to buy a bike,’ he smiles, ‘and working in a kitchen was a way to do it.’ At a restaurant in Le Tréport, in north-west France, he was given the job of prepar- ing the seafood platters: ‘I loved it and I knew cooking was what I wanted to do.’ He never looked back. Nowa- days, M. Frechon’s influences vary from the traditional—culi- nary demi-god Auguste Escoffier —to the decidedly left-field, as demonstrated by an intriguing anecdote about a holiday in Senegal. ‘I saw the local women use huge, flat leaves straight Patrick Bausier. The experience added a valuable new twist to his repertoire: ‘I began to use olive oil. It might not sound like a big deal, but, before cooking in Spain, I’d worked with a lot of heavy ingredients: butter, cream, very typically French. Olive oil added something else to my food.’ On his return to France two years later, M. Frechon arrived at the legendary La Tour d’Argent under Manuel Martinez and then moved on to Le Crillon, a paragon of Parisian good taste since 1758. It was there that he attained the MOF. Soon after, he opened his own restaurant, La Verrière de Eric Frechon then, four years later, he moved back to Le Bristol, where he’s been ever since. One, two, then three Michelin stars followed, topped off in 2009 by the ultimate accolade when M. Frechon was personally decorated with the Order of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by then President Nicolas Sar- kozy. Surely this must have been the proudest moment of his career? ‘There are lots of things I’m proud of. The most important thing is to be able to see where you are in relation to your peers. Awards can be a measure of this, but, really, 68 Country Life Travel, Winter 2014/2015 it’s about being happy with your cooking and sharing this with your customers.’ At Epicure, you can experi- ence M. Frechon’s work first hand, but the waiting list and the prices mean this has been reserved for the lucky few. Now, however, with the opening of a new venture, Lazare, in Paris’s Gare Saint-Lazare, those with more modest means can eat three courses of albeit simpler food for about £45. Epicure: 00 33 1 53 43 43 40 ; restaurants-et-bars/epicure Restaurant Lazare Paris: 00 33 1 44 90 80 80; http://lazare- Frechon’sfavourites Dish Hare cooked in its own juices, with blood to thicken the sauce Wine For everyday drinking, Morgon from Marcel Lapierre’s vineyard and, for special occa- sions, Château Pétrus Best dining experience Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Louis XV, at the Hôtel De Paris in Monte Carlo Region Normandy for the vegetables, livestock and seafood One of the secrets of Eric Frechon’s success is his drive to try new things and new techniques