Legendary French chef Marc Veyrat, born in 1950, hails from the picturesque Haute-Savoie region. A trailblazer in molecular gastronomy, he elevates his culinary artistry by incorporating mountain plants and herbs. With an extraordinary nine Michelin Stars to his name, Veyrat stands as the first chef to achieve a flawless 20/20 grade in the Gault et Millau guide for each of his initial two restaurants. In this insightful interview as we delve into his dynamic journey over the past few years, exploring the earthy inspirations and motivations that have defined his culinary legacy.
You are a pioneer of local product focused cuisine. Can you describe how it feels when you take a walk in the woods, in the mountains?
“It all comes from a philosophy founded over 35 years ago, it was all about local products. I am an ecologist and ahead of my time because I go out into nature and pick my plants, outside in the wild. I cross the woods, the undergrowth. This allows me to have all these unique aromas.
Here, we make a recipe based on natural undergrowth aromas. And all that is my whole philosophy. It’s the environment, no pesticides, no insecticides, no phytosanitary products.
And all this rubbish, it’s not very French, and it’s what rots our bodies. I am in the process of setting up an institute where I want chefs to be exemplary in food. To answer the question: are we responsible for what we give to our customers for their health? Yes, the leaders are responsible.
Chefs are great people. And I hope that we will be able to form a human chain to find the best products.
Yes to colour, yes to taste. But all this must be found naturally. Because the problem is that we are more and more industrialised and we have more and more bad products.
In Europe we have the Glyphosate. I’m scandalised. Europe has just passed a law saying glyphosate will be around for another 10 years. This product has caused lots of deaths. Children, parents, farmers who work with glyphosate have died. And we have it in a large proportion of French wheat. A large part of the industrial culture works with glyphosate. We continue to poison people.
Yet ironically, 35% of food goes into the trash. The solution: we stop working with glyphosate. We stop overproduction.
What is your first food memory?
Ah, the first gastronomic memory, I was 7 years old and one of my friends called me. It was a Wednesday, the day off at school. My friend said to me, come, you like cooking. My grandmother was just leaving the farm to go to the market. So, at 7 years old. I made caramel with my friends. We put some wood in the stove and I made some caramel. But since I didn’t know how to make caramel, I didn’t know that you need butter and cream. I made hard caramel. So much so that, I had a big problem. This is because we let the pans cool. And then, we couldn’t unmold the caramel. As my friend’s grandfather was a handyman, he had a small workshop on the farm. We went to get the hammers, little hammers. And we banged on the pots. So, I won’t tell you the grandmother’s mood when she got back from the market. Explosive. That was my first culinary memory. I had a sense of sharing, conviviality, of pleasing, of trying to please.
Cooking is about sharing.
Which chef has particularly influenced you?
Well, you know, I am the only French chef, the only one, self-taught. That is to say, I never learned to cook. My parents had a guest farm. I learned with my mother how to make stew for the guest farm. I have essential earthly values. I learned how to grow vegetables with my father. We sowed seeds, we grew vegetables, we milked the cows, we made reblochon. The essential part of culinary life involves the land.
I had this incredible chance. I learnt through the land.
The sense of the earth is wonderful. It is a wonderful experience. My example, the only example in my life, is the earth.
I’ll give you an example.
We used to store up to two tonnes of potatoes in the cellar. Once to make mashed potatoes. We went to get the potatoes but they were all sprouted. But because we knew the land, this didn’t cause a problem. The germ was removed. And we made the best puree in the world. Why ? Because the germ removes moisture. All that’s left is the starch in the potato. Well today, in this society, a sprouted potato gets thrown in the trash.
We thank you every day for highlighting local producers and artisans. For me, local producers, producers, farmers are the most important. The industrial system is destroying us, including in the mountains. We are overproducing dairy. You know, a cow, look on the Internet, it can only produce 18 litres of milk. Well there are still farmers who produce 25, 30 litres of milk per day. Find the error. But that being said, there are magnificent, admirable peasants everywhere in the Alps. You have to put them on a pedestal.
What ingredients could best describe your cuisine?
The undergrowth.I love the wood. I love walking in the undergrowth. These aromas of undergrowth, moss, liquenes, it’s extraordinary.
How can young people be motivated to come and work in the world of cuisine?
They simply need to be passionate about this profession. They have to want to. Desire, I always think of this phrase, the desire to want. It’s super important. This is the primary motivation. Why do I want to do this job? Because I want to do it.
I have chefs who came to me who were pizza makers and who have two stars today. So that means it’s just a question of motivation. A kid who wants it, who has eyes that sparkle, that sparkle with happiness, with passion, they’re a winner.
How do you describe your cooking?
I’m going to use a big word, but you have to understand it, it is spiritual. It starts elsewhere, it comes to the plate. It’s something else, you have to understand it.
What are your plans for 2024?
I’m opening a gourmet restaurant in Megeve, where I set up a culinary institution, with different chefs from around the world, who come to me for internships for 3-4 months, and we do research, and we work. The restaurant is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 3 days. And it’s a restaurant that has 20 seats.
There’s audiovisual, it’s crazy stuff. That is to say, you eat the first dish made from oxalis, you see on the screens, the collecting of oxalis with my students. The second dish is hogweed, you see in the tree world, picking up the hogweed. There’s no sound, there’s only visuals, it’s fantastic.
I love tradition, but I am first and foremost a creator.