Often called the “Picasso of French cuisine,” chef Pierre Gagnaire is the creative genius behind an impressive 11 restaurants around the globe, from London’s Sketch to Tokyo’s Pierre Gagnaire. His most recent, Les Solistes by Pierre Gagnaire, is an elegant white and marble 80-seat gem tucked on the first floor of the posh new Waldorf Astoria Berlin. We sat down with the 63-year-old chef on a recent trip to Berlin to chat about his latest location, his hectic travel schedule and what’s going on in the restaurant industry.
Tell us about Les Solistes. How did you come to open a restaurant in Berlin?
With [this Waldorf Astoria partnership], it was a perfect opportunity to be in the city — today a very important town for the couture, for the energy, for the story. My mission, like all the other restaurants, is to be a part of the city, not to just stay one or two or three years, but to stay and become a real place where you will find the quality and experience, and you feel comfortable. I want to offer a real service in this town.
When I talk about our restaurant, yes it’s a restaurant with the guide and the food critic — OK, that’s very important; it’s the key to the success — but the other thing is the human story. It’s very interesting when you build a restaurant. You don’t work alone. You have a team. You share an experience, you share your story, you share your past. That, for me, is important; it’s very emotional. And I find energy here in this town.
What is the concept of the restaurant?
The concept is just quality, it’s enough. It’s not a concept; it’s a human story. And we try to understand the city, the product and the spirit, and use my sensibility, my experience and my ways to see the job is done right and it’s not a show. Everywhere in the world, when a restaurant opens, it is to become part of a city, to add something to the city, not to bring a show, but to add a little value to the city.
And what about the menu? How do you work with head chef Roel Lintermans to create it?
The menu is always made in the restaurant itself. So, when I arrived from France on Tuesday morning, we created the fall menu. Every dish is inspired in the restaurant itself, not copied and pasted from other restaurants. It’s really in the moment.
I always write in French. For me, it’s very important to describe with many details the dish; it’s very important to be very precise. For music, English is perfect; for the food, English is a disaster. In French, you can be very precise, with the way the food was cooked, with the product, with the punctuation. That is the art of my work. I’ve spent so much time on that, and once that is ready, it’s easy for me. After that, it’s their job. I’m lucky because I have very good relationships with my team. It’s very important that you have someone you know, who you are confident with, who knows your sensibility.
What do you like about Berlin?
The markets are very interesting and not expensive — that is the big surprise. I find the city very quiet. When you arrive from another country, it’s very slow. It’s very nice. I always sleep well.
Where have you been eating in Berlin on your visit?
We ate yesterday at Grosz. I’ve also been to Facil and Margaux already. We try different locations to see what is going on, but at the moment, we are still very much focused on what is going on here because we just opened, of course.
The ’60s was a disaster for the food in France, to be honest. It was a bad time. It was just before the revolution — with peace and love and all that — and the food was very old. We are doing a menu with the spirit but we’re trying to avoid too much cream and too much butter, but it’s the spirit of this time. This time was very elegant, so we feel that also in the food. It’s a very classic menu but with my touch.
With 11 restaurants around the world, you must be on the road a lot. How do you keep it up?
Of course, there is a lot of traveling; but every time when I go somewhere it’s for five days or 10 days because it’s important to get the feeling of the restaurant and the city, and make the connection with the staff. I think it’s the key to our success. I’m not a teenager; I’m at the end of my professional life, and I take time to know the people. On my contract [with Waldorf Astoria], it’s twice a year with three days, but it’s not possible — it’s not enough. I must stay with the people; they must know me and I must know them.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
I love all the places. When I leave my home, it’s always very difficult because it’s tiring; but when I arrive and when I leave, it’s like I feel like I leave a family. In each city there are things you begin to know. I want to know [Berlin]; now I am beginning to know London. Recently we went to a jazz concert [in Berlin], it was very good. Why? Because we felt the performer was happy to be in the city. And I’m happy to be in this city [of Berlin].
For more information about the restaurant, this video interview produced by Waldorf Astoria Berlin, in French with English subtitles, gives an inside look at Les Solistes.
Photos Courtesy of Jacques Gavard and Les Solistes