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Interview with Franck Putelat: "Doing the work well"

I come from a traditional family, settled in Mignovillard, a small village in the heart of the Jura, with a population of 500 at that time. There was absolutely nothing then that marked me out for cooking.

~~ The story ~~

I come from a traditional family, settled in Mignovillard, a small village in the heart of the Jura, with a population of 500 at that time. There was absolutely nothing then that marked me out for cooking. I had a great pal, Sylvain, and we swore we would buy the village pub together and have a great time with everybody. We were 8 years old.
My parents were cheesemakers, with such working hours... how to describe it... from 5 in the morning till 9 at night, 7 days a week. My mother never told me, "Make a pie, you'll be a cook!" It was neither a vocation nor an inborn talent. However I do remember that for family gatherings, all the children had to set the table, make the decoration and help my mother in the kitchen. On the menu, we would have roasted guinea fowl, pickled cabbage, pastries... the meals would start at about 2pm and go on till evening!
These were the only family moments I spent with my parents.

~~ First chance, first encounter ~~

A bit later, together with my friend Sylvain, we'd planned to meet up at the hotel training school in Poligny, but I wasn't accepted.
You remain humane in the kitchen if you meet the right people. Well, I had that chance. When I was 14, I met my apprenticeship supervisor, René Conrod from the Hôtel de France in Crotenay. I was all alone with him all day in his restaurant and in his home, in the tiny room set aside for the apprentice. I polished the copper pans with a salt paste, I did the washing up. It was 24 hours a day, simply impossible to envisage today.
René Conrod's values, which he passed on by example and practice, were patience, preparation, humility and respect for the sequence of steps. The teenager I was at that time, that's to say, bottom of the class, ready for a fight, rebellious and timid, I passed my professional certificate in cooking (CAP) at the age of 16.

~~ Learning to count ~~

At a gastronomy trade fair, I met Pierre Carpentier, Michelin-starred chef from the Auberge de Chavannes. The second important chance in my life. The greatest craftsman in the Jura. I asked to join him and he told me to go back to school with these words: "You have to learn to count. Knowing how to cook isn't enough." Following his advice, I was accepted on an alternating work-and-study course, studying on my days off for my master's certificate and spending Mondays with him preparing for the exam, which I passed in only one year. I had learned to count!

~~ Knowing how to surround yourself with good people ~~

In '92, with the Gulf Crisis, Michelin-starred restaurants were in difficulty. I started at Georges Blanc's, as chef de partie for meat. 6 months later, I became sous-chef. He told me at that time: "It's your chance now!" Just as I had discovered with René Conrod, Georges Blanc worked in a humane way ... but with 80 cooks! He passed on to me another fundamental reality of my craft: know how to to surround yourself with good people.
I stayed there for 5 happy years.

~~ Pressure ~~

I remember the first time I was at Paul Bocuse's. In fact everyone remembers. It's huge... and everything is absolutely perfect!!!
Ever since I opened my restaurant in 2006, got the first star in 2007 and the second in 2012, when people come for a meal at my place, they're looking for something of the impulsive and passionate Franck Putelat. I've always wanted it to be a experience for them, to have them say with their eyes shining, "Wow, you're crazy, it's brilliant!" It has to be a great moment. But nobody truly realises the work put in to make it happen... and to reproduce it every day...
There was a time when I was utterly lost, I no longer knew who I was. I was like the Carcassonnais who walks by the Citadel and doesn't even give it a glance.

~~ My identity, my dish ~~

Today, when I arrive at the restaurant every morning on my bike, I quietly look at the Citadel. I take the time to do it, even if a few seconds. Those who know and put up with me every day might only half-believe me, but yes, I do look at it. It is magnificent. It helps me put a bit of distance to my day, the daily pressure and stress. It will always be there, always beautiful. I accept who I am more easily and I acknowledge with a smile when clients tell me I'm crazy. Yes, the Tarbouriech tartare, the bouillabaisse and duck foie gras, that's my identity. I function according to my desires and fancies. What's in the dish is me : I look for encounters and I provoke reactions.

~~ Just "doing the work well" ~~

Since the opening of the Brasserie à 4 Temps in 2016, the congratulations and thanks that I read on its Facebook page touch me as much as when clients atLe Parc come to greet me at the end of a meal. And I won't mention the criticism, which is really awful!
This recognition is never for me personally, as my teachers and my training have taught me. The idea is that being the best is a plural affair, as my staff also make me aware of every day.

A few weeks ago, Pierre from the Brasserie, sent me this text-message at the end of the dinner service:

- "Chef, we had more than 100 covers this eveningi"
I congratulated him at once:
- "Well done, you're a champ!'
A few minutes later I had another text-message from him:
- "Don't exagerate, Chef, it's a team sport"
This time I replied:
- "Well done, you've understood perfectly!"
At that moment, I realised I had done a good job.

Franck Putelat

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