Nicolas Cégretin, a young chef between tradition and crossbreeding
We recently had the opportunity to interview Nicolas Cégretin, chef at the Mirèio, a “Provençal-inspired French Bistronomic Restaurant” located on the 9th floor of the Raffles Hotel in Makati. After having a drink on the terrace which offers a breathtaking view of the skyline, you can discover a French cuisine mixing tradition and inventiveness.
Us: How did your personal journey lead you to the kitchen?
Nicolas Cégretin: Like many students who are destined to cook, everything begins for me with a chaotic school course. In college I had just 10.5 or 11 of average. After the my course certificate, I therefore turned naturally to the next step as a technological professional mastership . It is a three-year course that combines technical courses and general courses and allows a reorientation towards the general cooking courses at the end of the mastership.
In truth, I wanted to cook since I was a kid. In school around the second classe, we are initiated to all the trades of the hotel and to all the cooking professions. In the end, we have to choose between those two trades: I chose kitchen and service and I finished 1st in the kitchen and service.
I grew up in Reunion Island (French overseas province) and so I had to go to Paris. I was able to join the Ferrandi school where, for two years, we found ourselves trained as a professional (with an alternation of 6 months of school and 6 months of training and rhythms maintained In school around the preparation of two services per day, from 7 am to 10 pm!). At the end of these two years, I was ranked last … because I am the only one who has not sacrificed my internships for the writing of my final report! What my professors have recognized, and stressed! Out of 15 students, we are now only 3 in the kitchen!
Us: But how did you come to devote your life to cooking?
Nicolas Cégretin: It is from my father that my taste and my passion for cooking comes to me. My father went to England at 18, where he cooked in a pub. He is an excellent cook. He then left for Reunion with my mother. It was there that I saw him cook and that was born this desire and this dream that I realize today.
Us: But why did you come to Manila?
Nicolas Cégretin: At the age of 20, a graduate of the Ferrandi school, I went back to Vigato, following an internship that had given satisfaction to the great chef. Following the meeting of a pastry cook in Morocco, I had the opportunity of this position of chef at Miréio, here at the Raffles in Manila. I was recruited as a chef: the recruitment on file is followed by a testing. When I arrived, I did not speak English at all. At first it was very difficult. Especially to lead my team.
Us: What is the greatest accomplishment in your career?
Nicolas Cégretin: My first achievement is to become a leader. In the restaurant that I run now, I am my only chef: I manage 15 people in the kitchen each day for 77 seats in the dining room (plus the bar and the two private lounges). But every day I learn new things: how to manage the teams (at what time to smooth the relationship, when to assume the conflict …), how to manage a budget too …
Us: How do you ensure the quality of your Menu?
Nicolas Cégretin: Quality is first of all the products that do not enter the kitchen unless I choose them: vegetables every other day, fish every day. Quality is then that of a well-managed team: check that the receipts are applied to the letter. Quality is finally the requirement of every moment: to taste and taste constantly, to correct, to adjust, to specify …
Us: Do you often change your menu?
Nicolas Cégretin: I change my overall menu about every 4 months (I keep the dishes that work, I change those that work less), and my lunch menu every month (it’s a smaller and less expensive choice: 3 starters – 3 courses – 3 desserts / a 3 course meal for 1100 pesos).
Us: What are your main sources of inspiration for composing this menu?
Nicolas Cégretin: By signing for the Miréio, I knew the imposed line: a “bistronomic French restaurant of Provençal inspiration”. So I work for and from that line of inspiration. Originally from the island of Reunion, I particularly like working fish, and I was trained in “bourgeois cuisine”: recipes from traditional foods, considered “less noble” (for example: kidneys, feet, brains …) and which require a lot of work in the kitchen, and appeal to my culinary search…
I love the cuisines of the world but I do not pretend to realize them: I know how to cook French. I obviously do not want to be inspired by the cuisines of the world that I met in my professional career (Reunion, Metropolitan France, North Africa, Asia): I mixed them but remains a French cook!
A project recipe for my next menu will be, for example, a marine clam dish which I call “Palourde Mariniere – Raz-el-anout” Also I never miss the opportunity to do a wink on my menu to all the chefs with whom I worked … like a homage to their cooking!
Us: Personally, what is your favorite dish?
Nicolas Cégretin: My favorite dish is undoubtedly, par excellence, the rougaille-sausages, a specialty dish from La Reunion! And when I’m with my friends, I love barbecues!
Us: Do you also take care of the pastry?
Nicolas Cégretin: I have a pastry chef: I help him so that his desserts fit into the line of my salty dishes. For example, I offered him a gourmet coffee and gave him the idea of a macaroon, or a madeleine. We are actually designing the dessert menu together. On the other hand, it is me who names all dishes: the salty, as the sweet. This is an important phase. I try to be precise: to indicate the main food, the method of cooking, the filling (possibly its cooking mode), the particular flavor … I seek simplicity, readability … while trying to give envy!
Us: You previously mentioned the challenge of learning how to manage a team. How do you deal with it today?
Nicolas Cégretin: Managing a team means finding the right balance between camaraderie, respect for each individual and the cold operational relationship (high-level cooking imposes a and require an attention at every moment).
But to be the chef is first of all to impose by his kitchen: to arouse an absolute confidence by what I know how to do! The authority of the chef comes from the respect that his kitchen imposed on his team.
In the management of the group, it was obviously necessary to compromise with the local culture: I do not allow music during the services, but once the service is over, the music can go back to the kitchen! The team-building is also a very important time for our teams with a big annual meeting in a spring (collective games, karaoke …) and the Christmas party (with competitions of dances, songs … by teams! That is our Raffles Olympic!
Us: Can you give us one last word for our younger readers, the students who are currently preparing their professional lives in the future?
Nicolas Cégretin: I work passionately and I can work without counting. My success is my real revenge on a school system that I did not understand and that also had difficulty understanding me. But I never stopped, if I had a message to pass to the pupils: “the school is so boring, but you must never let go!”
I did not understand that when I was in college. And I had to fight very hard afterwards. For example, I had to resume English when I arrived in the Philippines … and I could have learned it in college! With a lot of will, an unfailing demand and hard work, I manage today, in English, the cuisine of a great restaurant and in a great place…
Interview of Nicolas Cégretin:
Restaurant Open Hours: 12.00 pm.-14.30 p.m and 18.00 p.m – 22.30 p.m. Every day
Address: 9th floor, Raffles Makati, 1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue, Makati, 1224
For your reservations: 2 795 1840 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More information: on the Mireio website http://www.raffles.com/makati/dining/mireio
or on its facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages
Editorial Courtesy of: Massimo Ossola – www.lepetitjournal.com/manille