Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday Food for Thought: Chef Geoffroy Maillard - La Table d'Eugene

Chef Geoffroy Maillard - photo: Yetunde Oshodi

I have been keeping a little secret. Ok, well not much of a secret since I share it with so many people passing through Paris.

If you ask me what my favorite French restaurant is in Paris, I generally have one answer ready to go on the tip of my tongue - La Table d'Eugène. Why? Because I haven't had a bad meal yet. And frankly that is exceptional. This small elegant bistro located in Montmartre, Paris' 18th district is a gem not to be missed. A sort of (at this stage), not so well kept local secret. I've recommended it to Doni. I've recommended it to countless guests and I'm happy to say that they've all come away with a great food memory.

I've chatted with the chef dozens of times and he knows me by name now - lucky me. But it took several visits before I finally asked if I could pop into this kitchen that was sending out such delicious food. Boy was I in for a surprise when I walked into the tiniest restaurant kitchen I have seen to date. How could it be possible? Many a talented chef would tell you that the key to success in the kitchen is 70% organization and 30% talent, passion & patience. I couldn't agree more. 35 year-old Geoffroy Maillard is definitely talented & passionate and the staff would most certainly have to be organized. And as he sits posed and calm before me during our little interview, I can only presume that he is also patient - well as patient as an ambitious chef could be.

Open since July 2008, La Table d'Eugene which can be classified as a bistro gastronomique, a term coined by chef Christian Constant denotes, according to Chef Maillard, gastronomic cuisine served in a bistro setting at a price justly placed between a bistro and a gastronomic restaurant. And don't think that means you don't get all the bells and whistles. Here the food is what wows you more than the tablecloths and fancy setting. Low key, relaxed, sometimes surprising and always delicious.

The New York Times named the restaurant in April of 2011, as one of the four Paris restaurants worth a metro ride. Tripadvisor is full of great reviews from happy diners and you need to call ahead to be sure to get a table (but not quite in the extreme manner of some establishments). With a CV that is more than impressive: Taille Vent, Hotel Bristol, Le Vernet & Plaza Athéné, Chef Maillard and his sous-chef and business partner, François Vaudeschamps are turning heads and making our palettes sing. So it seemed to me that it was ample time to get to know the chef behind the cuisine, and so I present you chef Geoffroy Maillard of La Table d'Eugene.

Chefs Maillard & Vadeschamps from left to right

What are your culinary inspirations?
A product at times, an emotion, a voyage. Many things at the same time. [but the key is] products in season. Chef Maillard insists on pairing products together while respecting the season.

How often does the menu change and do you develop the menu with your team?
The menu changes about 10 times a year, a minimum of twice in every season. Not everything changes - some of the classics remain (and we are pleased to hear that).

In this restaurant with its small intimate team (I've been told they are all coincidentally born in the month of August - enter the roar of the mighty lions), [menu] changes are made with the team. They share ideas and everyone works on the same product to determine who comes out on top in the successful preparation of the dish and thus who will be in charge of that menu item.

Photo credit: Alain Gelberger

As many chefs are influenced by the voyages to other lands and cultures I asked: Working full-time in your own restaurant can be quite time consuming, do you find time to travel? And are you inspired by international cuisine?

I try to travel but only really to get away, really away. Near a pool preferably. His favorite travel destination in France is Corsica. He would love to go to Asia as he loves Thai food but he finds that he is most inspired by Rungis as re-producing what he finds traveling would be difficult when products are harder to find. You don't have the original taste and he doesn't like to do anything half way.

I think it is always interesting to know where chefs do their food shopping. It tells you a lot about their tastes and gives you a hint of what they expect in terms of quality. Where do you do your personal shopping?

Photo credit: Yetunde Oshodi
Marche Aligre (in the 11th), Le Marché couvert de St Ouen (just outside of Paris).  I love the first one but have yet to discover the second, so will add that to my list.

Speaking of shopping I wanted to get some advise from Chef Maillard for great food shops in Paris and he named, La Grande Epicerie (Bon Marche), Lafayette Gourmet (in the Gallery Lafayette), and for material Dhillerin

Chefs are very often influenced by their childhood memories of food (very often from the female influences in their lives I found),  so it seems only natural to ask them about their favorite dish. Chef Maillard tells me it comes from one of his aunts. A Pot au feu avec des chouquettes au foie gras. It was she who gave him his very first cookbook which he has till this day, "les recettes de nos mères" a cookbook from the mothers of the Tour de France bikers.

Photo credit: Alain Gelberger
When I asked Chef Maillard about what he would pick as his last supper and last drink should he ever have to make that choice, I was surprised but the simplicity of the food item chosen - the egg. But this is not just any egg: des oeufs au plat à la truffe avec un morceau de lard - Fried eggs sunny side up with truffles and a piece of lard. And for his last drink: Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru "Lavaux Saint-Jacques" from the Louis Jadot wine house. Not too shabby.

I always find the stories of fellow business owners to be inspiring but taking the step to self-employment is not an easy task. There are always advantages and disadvantages to working for yourself. For Chef Maillard, the advantage to now running his own restaurant is that he does what he likes without the restrictions. He has more contact with his clientele. In a Palace [hotel], you are far from the chef. Now he gets to meet the people he feeds. And he does indeed. You will see him pop out from time to time to chat with various customers in the room. A touch that I think is wonderful and I hope will endure.

The disadvantage or rather the challenges that he faces on a daily basis is constantly questioning himself in order to please his clients. He wants everyone happy when they leave and one unsatisfied customer can have him doing a bit of soul searching so to speak.

Where all the magic happens! Photo: Yetunde Oshodi

Any favorite restaurants in Paris? And what do you cook at home?
Most places are closed on my days off. But I like:

Le Grand Pan - Paris 15
L'agapé Substance - Paris 6
La Cave à Jojo - Paris 18 in rue des Trois Frères

As for cooking at home, I cook whatever I find at the Market on Sunday morning or he likes to eat at Catherine's. Catherine is his restaurant floor manager and as I hear it, she is an excellent cook. 

What will you surprise us with next?
Chef Maillard is longing for a larger space which he tells me is in the works, as he is in search of a setting that will be A la hauteur de la cuisine (on level with the cuisine).

Photo credit: Alain Gelberger

I next decided to delve into "la question qui fâche" (the sensitive question) of Michelin. Why have you not been recognized yet? Now if you have had time to chat with Chef Maillard (in French), you would find out very quickly that he has a quest that he is not ready to relinquish. He like many French chefs are looking for stars. After all he & his sous-chef have worked in Michelin starred restaurants. So why not his restaurant up in lights?

There isn't the service that Michelin is waiting for and maybe its not quite expensive enough to be taken seriously, he tells me. The size of the restaurant has come up a few times as well in this regard. Most Michelin starred restaurants I've had the opportunity to dine in were large with few tables and more wait staff than you could possibly imagine. I certainly hope that chef Maillard gets his stars but hope that this approachable quality of his will last long after.

A tarte au citron made just for me! Photo: Yetunde Oshodi
Why in Montmartre? I loved his response to this question which to some (who live here), may seem absurd and to others who customarily don't venture further into Montmartre beyond Sacre Coeur, it seems logical. His answer: Pourquoi pas! Why not! Why not indeed.

As we ended the interview and got to the photo taking session, I got to be a fly on the wall overhearing him discussing asparagus with his sous-chef François. They were placing an order directly from a farmer who would hand pick the asparagus and ship it to them overnight. Now that is fresh! Just goes to show how seriously chef Maillard takes his food. No nonsense, in season and the best of the best.

Chef Maillard, Catherine, Chef Vaudeschamps - Photo: Yetunde Oshodi

La Table d'Eugene
18 rue Eugene Sue
Paris 75018
Tel: +33 1 42 55 61 64
Closed: Sunday and Monday. Hours: 12:00-14:30 and 19:00-22:30
Price: 36€-50€
Metro: Jules Joffrin (line 12)

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