Jerome Banctel is the head chef at the five-star La Reserve Hotel in Paris, a luxury hotel between the Champs Elysees and the president’s mansion, The Elysees Palace. Banctel was awarded two Michelinstars for the hotel's restaurant, Gabriel.
We had dinner last week at the newly opened La Pagode de Cos, a more informal restaurant highlighting flavors of the spice route. The name derives from Cos d’Estournel, the grand cru vineyard in France owned by Michel Reybier, who owns the hotel. The original Cos d’Estournel exceeded the expectations of wine connoisseurs and was exported as far as India. Louis Gaspard d’Estournel was crowned the Maharaja of Saint-Estèphe and, to show his gratitude, he had pagodas built on top of his wine cellars. Banctel celebrates India and beyond with inventive dishes such as sea bream avocado with radish and Siamese sauce tartare; scallops and lemongrass infused soup; minced beef, tapioca noodles and coriander; and pineapple caramelized with Paï Mu Tan tea. Of course we indulged in a glass of Cos d’Estour, which was sensational.
We had the chance to interview Banctel:
You were born in Brittany. What were your favorite foods growing up?
Breton buckwheat pancakes; Cotriade, a Britanny fish stew (similar to “bouillabaisse” in Provence) served with some potatoes; and seafood platter with shellfish
At what age did you decide you wanted to become a chef and what are some early memories of your culinary training?
I decided to work in cuisine at the age of 16. I remember the first time I met chef Michel KEREVER at Le Duc d’Enghien, where I began as a "commis." He made me want to strive for excellence.
When and why did you move to Paris?
I moved to Paris in 1993 in order to work at Le Crillon, an institution at that time.
You worked under some of the top chefs and restaurants in France, including Alain Senderes at Lucas Carton, Le Crillon and L’ambroisie. What are the most important things you learned from them?
At Le Crillon I learned codes related to Palace service and excellence. At l'Ambroisie I learned great French classics, such as hare from Beauce in the fashion of Antonin Carême or wild duck pie. At Le Senderens we worked a lot on wine pairings and on taste associations with the head sommelier.
You have traveled in Japan. What were some of the influences you learned there and how did you incorporate them into your cooking?
Japan has always been a dream since the first time I cooked.
I had the honor of meeting Olivier Derenne, who hunts for the best Japanese products. Our friendship became important, as my first trip to Japan was with him staying with traditional Japanese host families. We spent 17 days throughout Japan discovering its best cuisine, products and farmers.
The overall Japanese culture echoes with my personality. From their respect, discipline, exactitude, precision, ancestral know-hows, freshness of the products to their cooking methods, everything inspires me.
I rapidly started to do demonstrations for Olivier two to three times per year in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Sapporo, always discovering new techniques and fabulous products. We were the first one to import Yuzu in France and other amazing Japanese products, implementing them in French classic cuisine. My base is from the classic French cuisine, adding one touch of a Japanese product only when it helps to exalt tastes.
I know how Japanese products are used in Japan, I know their method of cooking, baking, infusing and I produce my own method from it. I don’t use their method. I use my method, I adapt it. The Japanese influence on my dishes at La Gabriel is very discreet, only in two or three dishes.
How did you become the chef at La Reserve?
I was hired by the owner himself, Michel Reybier, in 2013 – a long time before the opening to draw and to conceive the kitchen.
In 2016 you received two Michelin stars. What did that feel like and do you feel pressure to maintain the two stars?
Two in one shot was a very big surprise! But it was the reward after a full year 100 percent dedicated to achieve this objective. But my first and foremost wish is to offer to all our guest dishes that will surprise them, dishes that will please them and delight them at La Réserve Paris.
The pressure to maintain the two stars is very high, especially because it is pressure that you give to yourself. Every dish coming out of my kitchen, that will either be tasted in the Gabriel restaurant, the room-service, La Pagode de Cos or the Bar needs to correspond to the pressure I inflict on myself.
If you could prepare dinner for anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be and what would the menu be?
I would be for my dead grandfather and I would cook him an Antonin Carême Hare with fresh tagliatelles.