Culinary Masterminds Michel And Sébastien Bras On How They Tell Stories With The Food They Cook
The last couple of years have been uniquely provocative for Sébastien Bras and his father, whose restaurant Le Suquet in Aubrac, France was famously allowed to “return” its three Michelin stars in 2018, only to be included in the 2019 guide with a two-star rating.
But all the fuss didn’t seem to bother the father-and-son duo much when we caught up with them during a guest appearance at the revamped The Datai in Langkawi, Malaysia. They seemed more excited to talk about how they had managed to adapt their signature Gargouillou dish, which originally showcased the best of the Aubrac region’s gardens, to include herbs and vegetables that they had found in Malaysia’s rainforest and local markets. “We feel that it’s really important to use as much local produce as possible,” explained Sébastien, adding that the dish in the high season contains around 80 ingredients.
It’s easy to see how chefs like these two, who grew up with such great produce, are now such champions of indigenous vegetables. But while more chefs look to do the same, Sébastien said that he tries to steer away from what he considers to be in-fashion. “For me, this is not new at all,” he affirms. “More than 30 years ago, my father started putting [the spotlight] on vegetables—and that came so naturally because the Aubrac region where we’re from is just a huge area full of this amazing produce. I’m not jealous of anyone and happy for those who have been inspired to cook the same way, and who put such value on vegetables. But for us, it’s something that has been rooted in [the way we do things] for many years. Nature is in our essence.
Fine dining has grown to embrace a more casual setting. How important is this change to the future of modern gastronomy?
Sébastien Bras (SB) It’s important to have an enjoyable time at the table and that is something we’ve always strived to create. When my father first opened the restaurant in 1992, we didn’t change the knives and forks after each dish. None of the waiters wore bowties or fancy attire. We were already inviting guests to come in to see the kitchen. It’s something we’ve always done and still do. But I think people don’t have to be doing the same things—what’s really important is that what we have created is a real reflection of us. A lot of chefs create something that isn’t the universe in which they live—it’s a concept. We are the extreme opposite of a concept; we are what we are. The food that we cook is telling stories about where we are; it’s very personal, honest and sincere. There are only three people per square kilometre in our town and we are a two-hour drive from the nearest airport, yet we were able to fill the restaurant for lunch and dinner for the entire season.
How has the cuisine evolved since?
SB For us, cooking is a constant evolution. Everything is continuously changing; nothing ever stays the same. Even with our signature dish—the Gargouillou—the ingredients change almost daily because what we use is dependent on what’s available at the market and what we pick that day from the family garden [Michel’s home], which is 15km from the restaurant. And that’s why we are so passionate about what we do. It’s never the same from day to day; there is no monotony.
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You both love to travel and Michel, in particular, loves bringing back fruit seeds to try to grow at home. What are some of your interesting finds?
Michel Bras It’s sometimes called Malaysian or Vietnamese mint, but the proper name in Latin is polygonum. I’ve also found a type of basil, called tulsi, from India [that grows well in Aubrac] and is used a lot in Ayurvedic medicine. I also love Szechuan peppers from China, sansho peppers from Japan and lily bulb.
What advice do you guys have for the talented young chefs of today?
SB Let your heart speak. It takes time to create a single universe that’s uniquely you. You need time to travel and discover the world and find yourself. Then, make sure that your food is a reflection of that.
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