From the kitchen to your table – Behind the scenes of Les Fresques gourmet restaurant
As promised in my last post this time I will take you behind the scenes and into the kitchens of the Château des Vigiers gourmet restaurant Les Fresques. My visit actually started long before the restaurant opened when I met up with Ludovic Mailletas, the restaurant director early in the afternoon.
Ludovic began by telling me about the changes he had made since his arrival at the beginning of the season. There were now orchids on the tables instead of roses to bring the high ceiling down and create more intimacy, he had brought in more wines so that he can help people discover other region’s wines and also to be able to offer the perfect wine to go with the food. I questioned him a little on how he went about choosing the wines he had added to the menu to which he replied that he made it a priority to know the chefs and their food well first so that he could help add to the experience they wanted to create. He explained that he considered the chefs to be the creators of stories and he was the story teller, the wines helped him tell them better. It became very clear that all the changes he made were so that guests did not just enjoy an excellent meal but also lived a perfect dining experience.
By 3pm the wheels were already turning for that evening’s sittings. The restaurant’s tables were being set with exact precision, tablecloth folds had to be laid a certain way then ironed, glasses were being checked and polished, and a thorough inspection took place to make sure not a speck of dust was in sight.
Then came the time for me to be taken down the labyrinth of corridors that lead to the kitchens. Instead of the hustle and bustle I expected things were very calm backstage. Preparations were nearly over as the team had been working all morning to prepare ingredients, check equipment and finalize menus for the week. All that was left for me to do was to wait until the action really started that evening.
Come 7pm the restaurant and kitchens were starting to buzz with activity. The teams were there, Ludovic had his final prep meeting with the waiting staff and Didier Casaguana, the chef des cuisines, ran through the final checks with his kitchen team. At last I was going to get to see the real action! I tried not to go in with preconceived ideas, but the only opportunity I’d had to see a professional kitchen in action before was to watch shows on television which usually include a very loud chef who might also swear a lot for extra effect.
Nothing could be further from the truth in Les Fresques kitchens. The first thing that really took me by surprise was the sheer calmness that reigned. Everyone knew what they had to do and they got on with it. Frederic, the second de cuisine, Joevyn and Gaultier looked after all the savoury dishes and in a separate part of the kitchen Vincent, the pastry chef, and his apprentice Benjamin conjured up sweet creations. I suppose I really shouldn’t have been that surprised as Didier himself is a very calm person, he knows exactly what he wants and has an impressive, underlying passion for the products he works with. He explained to me that the most important thing for him is the choice of products, most being locally sourced and always seasonal. He summed himself up perfectly when he said that he “cooks from the heart but all the time staying rigorous”. I left him to carry on cooking and verifying that all orders were ready to go out and manoeuvered my way over to the dessert kitchen to see what Vincent was concocting.
Passionate, enthusiastic and creative are the words that best describe this young pastry chef. In contrast to the chefs’ toques worn by most of the others, Vincent, like Didier, wears a baseball cap and seems to bounce around the place with energy. Not happy to keep still in between preparing the desserts for the evening he also works with Didier to create new ones. I won’t let any secrets out but all I will say is that I am not usually a dessert person however the one he put together that night blew me away with its surprising mix of sensations and tastes and proved that Vincent is true to his word when he says that his aim is to create emotions and memories.
As the evening progressed it became obvious that every single person in the kitchen and the restaurant had as equal a role to play in the smooth running of events. There was no shouting and screaming; as the orders came in they were called out by Didier to which the rest of the team replied “Oui chef” in unison and then got on with their jobs. When the dishes were ready and placed on the silver trays Didier or Frederic gave them a final thumbs up and Guillaume carefully carried them through to the restaurant were Lionel or Marina would then serve the diners. Ludovic welcomed, chatted with the guests and took their orders, whilst keeping a close eye on what was happening around him. Stéphane was there to make sure people’s glasses were never empty and to show off his incredible wine pouring skills. From my corner of the room I watched as the communication between the personnel was all done by eye contact and how they seemed to disappear into the shadows when they were not needed but always with an eye on the tables so that they could be present the instant something needed doing.
Back in the kitchens the savoury and sweet smells mingled together to create heavenly scents, dishes were arranged to please the eye as well as the palette, there was no stress about getting dishes out on time as everyone knew that if they carried out their allotted task correctly then there simply wouldn’t be a problem.
After their meal several guests took advantage of the terraces to partake in a digestive drink prepared for them by William behind the bar whilst everyone backstage got on with the cleaning and tidying up ready to start the next day all over again.
At that point it was time for me to leave. I’d like to thank all the staff of Les Fresques for letting me enter into their world for the evening, it was a most enjoyable and enlightening experience.