Victor Mercier, the conscious omnivore
At what age did you get a taste for cooking?
Victor Mercier: My father worked for Gault&Millau. I lived in a family of epicureans. There was a show on France 3 called La tête dans les Étoiles where they took young people to great restaurants. Then Cyril Lignac’s show Oui Chef arrived, I was 14.
What advice would you give a young man who wants to become a chef?
Victor Mercier: It’s a job that you can’t half do. It’s the sacrifice of a life, you have to work every day, but it’s also a lot of fun. Don’t jump the gun.
In 2018, were you a Top Chef finalist?
Victor Mercier: I often say “Without Top Chef, no F.I.E.F!” I already wanted to get started, I was looking for funding. Just after Top Chef, the banker told me, “It’s now or never!”
Is Paris the best gastronomic scene in the world?
Victor Mercier: We’ve never eaten better in Paris. It’s almost too much, I don’t even know which restaurant to choose. I am of the sign of Libra: for me, it is very hard to choose. In Paris, you can eat everything, including starry foreign cuisines. It is a unique diversity.
They say that you make a cuisine of authors.
Victor Mercier: I think I’m still a follower. Passard said, “You start cooking when you’re 40.” I try to please as many people as possible. My clients sometimes say to me, “We travelled, but in France.” That is the greatest compliment I can get. Many food critics say they are tired of tasting menus. But I, my thing, are the unique menus to extend! We even have a menu in 10 times! It requires to be smaller, so more impactful. This is the beautiful kitchen: two or three elements, cooking and precision.
What do you think of plain wines?
Victor Mercier: We tried, but we quickly stopped. These wines are not stable enough to be served in restaurants. It’s all well and good to let nature take its course, but a wine with practically no intervention from the winemaker is rarely good!
What about vegan fashion?
Victor Mercier: We offer them to those who ask us. But to sublimate a product, it’s hard to compete with a much reduced poultry or meat juice, isn’t it? I still find it hard to believe that a vegan dish can compete with a pretty lobster with a very aromatic reduction of heads and shells!
F.I.E.F. means Made Here In France. Is it political?
Victor Mercier: We’re still living on a model inherited from the post-war era, it’s a whole system to change. Without trucks in Paris, we wouldn’t last more than two days! And I find it abnormal that we give preference to exporting before feeding our own people. This is a subject that is close to my heart, but that I wanted to depoliticize completely. I learned to shut up and work. If people want to discuss this when they’re in my house, that’s fine. At first, we made a speech about it, but now we’re doing our job as restaurateur: restoring people! I had published a manifesto on this, but politicians whose ideas I do not share tried to get back to me. So I said to myself, “Shut up and cook!”
Do you have a signature dish?
Victor Mercier: I don’t really have one. There is a danger in having one, which is that we can no longer remove it from the map. I try not to lock myself in this trap and move to try to create. And since the star was awarded, we have slowed down a bit on this point, because to innovate too much we fear to go beyond the criteria of the Michelin. That’s the other side of the coin.
Who are your mentors?
Victor Mercier: I like to say that I am an indirect heir to Alain Passard and Michel Bras, because I worked with two of their students, Antonin Bonnet and Pascal Barbot. They have really given me a lot. This transmission is essential because we never invent much. I still feel like a follower. When this is no longer the case, it may be time to have a signature dish!
How would you like your kitchen to be remembered when you retire?
Victor Mercier: I hope we will say that she was courageous, that there was intent, with bias and the desire to do well.