“Please call me Fred,” were the first words Chef Vardon spoke when I met him at his restaurant, 39V, in the heart of Paris.
Ya, right! I doubt if anyone but his closest friends and family use such familiar language while addressing Chef, as my experience showed how deeply respected he is from everyone around him. I learned a great deal about his philosophy and worldview that manifested in everything he touched from preparing a Normandy roasting chicken (this is a great story, I’ll save for another entry) to slicing rare mushrooms for a once-a-year seasonal delicacy.
I know most of you are familiar with restaurant reviews, however, this account is anything but. My encounter in this rooftop garden above Paris is one-of-a-kind. My story is much more meaningful. This story is not about his cuisine, this story is about how Chef Vardon has a strong passion for people, and thus, for food.
When we sat down to share a sleek glass bottle of water (which opened like fine wine with a seal) Chef told me about his love for people. His desire to connect with his customers by seeing their response to his food is what he lives for. Food is a medium by which he gains pleasure. I explained that was very similar to why women cook and prepare meals for their families, to give pleasure to others and, therefore, receive a sense of reward for doing so.
He was thrilled to share that half of his cooking staff were women and that women bring a sense of nurturing to the food that he finds absolutely necessary to his craft. There is still a nuance of chauvinism in France regarding women chefs. Salute, Chef! Women rock.
Chef was also very proud that his team of 28 was like a family where they sat at the table to eat together before lunch and dinner service. Only open Monday through Friday, there are no shifts. The same group work together for both lunch and dinner and much pride and respect is infused into each position on the team. I have to admit, this group was a well-oiled machine. While averaging 100 covers a day, not once did I see any stress. No one hollered orders or appeared to be overwhelmed. This is a far cry from when I worked in a restaurant.
Another huge difference from the American experience is the lack of urgency. It takes time to painstakingly slice every item perfectly; quality always trumps quantity. I was amazed to watch as each plate was prepared.
Every plate was a work of art, unique in its presentation, unique in personality. From the delicately constructed salad, leaf by leaf laced on top of one another, to the fresh fish adorned with colorful sauces, food was an emotion, a song.
Not every moment of Chef’s life is perfection; he confessed that he makes his two sons (10 and 14) eat fast food. He argues, “You have to eat the bad stuff to appreciate quality.” To which I replied, “My friend always says, “You have to see bad Broadway theatre to appreciate a great show!”
Live the moment,