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Food by VICE

Young Chefs Have Rapidly Improved the Parisian Dining Scene

As a foreigner to Paris, I've noticed a positive shift in the dining scene since I moved here five years ago and opened my restaurant, Bones. That's not to say the older crowd are entirely down with the casual fine dining thing, though.

by James Henry
Sep 11 2014, 8:32pm

Photo by James Henry

It was a sequence of events that resulted in me staying in Paris. It wasn't planned, but I was in the right place at the right time, so I went with it. The first time I moved here, it was with a French girlfriend, because I thought it could be something fun. I got a job working in a good kitchen, but I wasn't in love with what I was doing. When I came back to Paris the second time, I had negative 2,000 euros in my bank account and I had two weeks left to figure out where to eat and sleep. I was lucky enough to meet some people who happened to let me into this restaurant called Au Passage. They knew a lot about wine, but weren't totally clued in about food and asked if I could help out. It was something to do in my last two weeks in Paris. It snowballed into a full time gig, but I had no intention of running or owning my own restaurant. But then I started my own restaurant, Bones.

As a foreigner to Paris (I'm Australian), I've noticed a shift in the dining scene since I moved here five years ago, but I find it truly bizarre that a lot of people seem to make the connection between the Brooklyn and Paris dining scenes. I visited New York for the first time last year, eight months after I opened Bones. I didn't really see the whole "Brooklyn" and Paris connection, but I think that people feel comfortable if they can categorize or pigeonhole an entire style of cuisine. The fact that I'm not French, or that I'm from an English-speaking country (Australia), I'm sort of young-ish could be contributing to this. I think French people find it conceptually strange to have a bar inside a restaurant where you can order two different menus inside the restaurant: one at the bar and one inside the restaurant itself. Perhaps that is strange. I don't know.

A lot of guys around my age go on to try to recreate the environments that they worked in, but have applied a new approach, which is to take the ideas, techniques, and the skills you've learned in traditional French kitchens and apply them in a more comfortable, acceptable environment. Casual fine dining: I think it's what sets young chefs apart.

The Parisian food scene has rapidly improved, which is really healthy for Paris as a whole. Now you can get a really wonderful coffee around the city, which didn't really exist when I got here four and-a-half years ago. There's also a lot of good restaurants popping up that are focused on serving multi-course seasonal lunch. I guess the older crowd look at the French hipsters—which they refer to as 'bobos'—and accuse them of jumping too quickly to the current trends. I don't think that's good for the growth of any city. They are not excited about what's going on.

Australia has a very healthy coffee scene. It's something you take for granted once you leave. Finding a quality cup in Paris five years ago was merely impossible. Now, there's a lot of great spots like Ten Belles and Le Bal. There's also a young Australian guy named Chris who has a café called Foundation. It's starting to really take off. What you're looking for in a good cup of coffee depends on what you like, but the people who are really into it are focusing on filtered coffees that are pure and fresh. Most baristas are focusing on drip coffee. It's the mentality of the person who makes it, from their care towards properly pouring, how to grind the beans, etcetera, which is going to make a cup of coffee infinitely better. But I'm certainly no expert.

A lot of guys around my age go on to try to recreate the environments that they worked in, but have applied a new approach, which is to take the ideas, techniques, and the skills you've learned in traditional French kitchens and apply them in a more comfortable, acceptable environment. Casual fine dining: I think it's what sets young chefs apart.

At Bones, as far as the burgeoning beer scene that is starting to take place around Paris, we're working with a couple of guys—Craig Allan in particular—who are making some great craft beers. There's a brewery on the outskirts of Paris called Deck & Donohue that's making great beers. As chef, I'm trying not to nerd out too much because I get really fussy with the food and I'm very particular with my wine. Plus, if I can't go to the pub and have a shitty beer by myself, it's going to become a real problem in my non-work life.

To succeed in a restaurant you truly have to believe in what you're doing. We're lucky because with the food itself, we have a pretty wealthy source of suppliers. We go to the food market a few times a week and we have a farmer in Burgundy who raises his own lambs and delivers to us once a week. We've got incredible access to line caught fish and seafood. We have a separate poultry farmer in Burgundy and work with a family in the South of France that grows organic wheat that they mill for us that we make in-house bread from. Guarding your relationships with your vendors and maintaining those relationships, along with having the respect for the farmers is how you can grow your wealth of quality produce, I suppose. There's also a lot of craft and technique that goes into the cooking at Bones. In the end, I truly believe that the cooking can only be as good as the product you start with. I like to adapt my cooking to wherever I am. It's all about making the best of what you have, wherever you are.

We really try to focus on finding the best produce that we can find and letting it speak for itself. I cook with the intention of being seasonally local as much as possible.

But isn't everyone saying that now?

There's nothing I miss deeply about Australia now that I live in Paris, but I'm not a nostalgic kind of guy. In the next five years, I'd like to see some young cooks taking it back towards more traditional French cuisine. I understand that most chefs want to look to the future and are excited about having a personal style behind their cooking, or the intent to have original ideas, but it's also good to know where these philosophies come from. I hope classic French cuisine comes back in vogue. And this town needs more Asian food, especially late-night Chinese. We need more dim sum. I'd also like to see less of the ongoing burger trend. That's not really my cup of tea.