He has the elegance and the know-how of a great Chef. And an art that reveals itself high in contrasts. Refinement of the place, subtlety of the flavors, creativity of the recipes that surprise constantly and provide the pleasure of eating well, in addition to the joy of the meeting. As a farmer’s son, Jacques Chibois has steadfastly moved towards cooking in order to reveal the gift of nature and create moments of happiness. And since then, he has been constantly composing with his journey’s identities for a unique signature: Unexpected associations with authentic products that always talk about a special country, region and place, bringing together in conviviality and sharing.
The country boy
Jacques Chibois is a unique son and he is from Limousin. It is there, from his childhood in the countryside, that he would develop his love for nature and his innate sense of wild life. We used to walk 3 kms every day through the woods to go to school. “There were hares and foxes and I soon learned to know nature.” Crowd to the scouts of France, he became a seasoned youngster with a leader’s character, heading in instinct without compass and “astonishing all his friends from the city.” He will also live great moments of family communion with lively dishes that were prepared with care and loving, such as the good family meals when his uncle from Paris used to come for a visit or the surprising and joyful gatherings during the local festivals and the winter vigils in the isolated farms.
The old mill of his father was one of those privileged moments, for his mother, a very good cook, received on a guest table all the peasants who came to grind their corn. “She was from Périgord and made an exceptional cuisine of Dordogne. She had even learned how to make pastry to regale me.” The flaugnarde, a kind of crepe with cherries, apples or pears, donuts, stews of pig’s foot or chicken with ceps. But a disease, a sort of allergy to flour, will force his father to move and put his mill in rent (the Chef Chibois has recently bought it and refurbished it as it was originally). In Limoges, he will continue his studies and will obtain a BTS of agriculture. But at the age of 18, he will ask to become a great cook and will go into apprenticeship with Michel Fernand, in the restaurant hotel “Les Justices” in Saint-Jules-Martel. “My job started at 8am and finished at 11pm.” And he will be tested for 6 months with the most unpleasant and difficult tasks, until the Chef Michel whispered in his ear: “Young boy, you will be a great cook!” As the hotel was for sale, the young Jacques will me transfered to Michel Guérard, an acquaintance of Mr. Michel, and despite the reluctance of his parents to send him to Paris, he will be ready to move because “there was the place where a cook should be.”
Succeeding the coming up to Paris
“Paris was the chance of my life! ”Jacques Chibois will spend a total of 6 years there, continuing his apprenticeship and confirming his call with the greatest cooks. In the first place, Michel Guérard at the “Pot-au-feu” in Asnières, “a small bistro that had 2 Michelin stars at the time, lost somewhere behind the Chausson factories of trucks and coaches.” And yet, the restaurant was constantly packed out, with a booking two months in advance and the visit of famous customers like Onassis. The schedules were exhausting but the young apprentice will hold on because “I wanted to show my parents that I had chosen the right track and not finish as a banker at Crédit Agricole.” An incredible destiny for this young cook ! After a week, he will even realize that there were misunderstanding because the real acquaintance of his former boss was a namesake who worked in the Aviation Service of Air France. “This happy coincidence has changed my life and Chef Michel Guérard from Asnières will become my guiding star all my life.”
Very soon, Michel Guérard will ask him to replace the Chef of the cabaret Régi’Skaia where he also practiced as a consultant. Jacques Chibois agreed “not to disappoint him,” when he is only 19 years old and still preparing his CAP cooking courses. “I did the dishes to prepare my exam for the staff meal because no one knew that I was preparing this contest.” Six months later, he will succeed it, obtaining the mention of the best apprentice of Paris. He will leave then to the military service and become the special cook of a General 4 **** then Marshal of the chief lodgings. On his return, Jacques will go on a tour of France to perfect his craft with the greatest starred Chefs including Jean Delaveyne, Roger Vergé and Louis Outhier. Then he will return to the Chef Michel Guérard in Eugénie-les-Bains to launch the lean cooking and prepare all his television programs. He will also manage the kitchens of the new Club Régine’s in Paris, New York and London.
A great Chef in the land of olive oil
In 1981, through a colleague, he will hear about a position as Chef in a large hotel, the Gray d’Albion of the French Riviera in the South of France. He is selected and upon his arrival, the Lebanese owner, Albert Abela, will test his skills. “In an hour, I want to taste your cuisine!” Chef Chibois still remembers the menu prepared quickly and which had its own effect. “I prepared a small starter with a crunchy salad, a lemon veal and a Millefeuille of apples with a caramel sauce, that I still offer on today’s dessert menus.” Two months later, he was in charge of all the opening and closing dinners of the Cannes Film Festival, and then he will supervise the all 4 restaurants. “I had to learn management, organization and social laws, and I worked for him by giving myself body and soul, and with the utmost honesty.”
His efforts will be rewarded. The Royal Gray will be the first restaurant of the city of Cannes to obtain 2 stars in the Guide Michelin and 4 Toques Gault and Millau. Jacques Chibois will also be elected Chef of the Year for his inventive, modern and delicate cuisine. Indeed, on this Mediterranean lands, everything seems exotic to the Chef. And he will use his talent and know-how to create a new cuisine made up of associations of flavors, perfumes and colors of Provence. “What was most striking for me when I arrived in the South were the products and the style of cooking. I discovered olive oil, Mediterranean herbs, fruits and vegetables and I started putting them together because I was free and with few preconceived notions about the cultural habits of the region.” Stir-fried chanterelle mushrooms with pasta and zucchini, candied green olives for dessert and the famous olive oil ice cream that will mark all gastronomic criticisms. He will also apply all the principles of balanced cuisine, thanks to his work with dieticians at Michel Guérard. I admired him, even after I left his place. He has done so much! And I said to myself, I would be like him. That led me to this vocation.
Transmitting the taste of the Bastide
The Chef Chibois wanted to convey the culture of taste and sharing, and this is why he started looking for a place to settle. In 1996, after 5 years of research, he bought the Bastide Saint-Antoine, a Provencal house dating back to the 18th century, in the middle of a thousand-year-old olive garden. “With my wife, we wanted to have a family friendly side, in the sense that we create a party with food and especially, we do not cook for ourselves.” All is done to unite the others. Here, on the surroundings hills of Grasse, they create an art of living with great elegance and a lot of natural. While Odette, his wife, takes care of the reception of guests and the 5 ***** accommodation classified Relais & Châteaux, the Chef is in the kitchen to innovate with a delicate and sensory cuisine. Fruit of his personal experience, it marries surprisingly several inspirations, with a great respect for the soil, places and people and it updates the Provençal cuisine. “Nobody took herbs to make pastry!” The Chef creates unique recipes such as orange sorbet with basil sauce, onion and fennel jus, cold vegetable soup with mint or lobster butterfly with citrus fruits, Olive and dry coriander.
He encourages the generosity he wanted to reveal in his trade. “Give graciously, make the customer happy and treat each one in a “special” way, because so much has been received.” The Chef also wants to transmit his know-how and be the ambassador of an authentic cuisine. He is very sensitive to the cause of the disadvantaged, especially in hospitals and schools, and is fully committed to give lessons of taste to the children, f“or it is at this age that their apprenticeship is made.” Donations and great meals for causes such as Alzheimer’s disease are held in his restaurant, then recipes created to help the transfused and their family to prepare special meals and at all stages, respect food as a link between people and “a matter with unlimited creativity.”
Great finesse and will, discretion and honesty characterize the talented Chef Jacques Chibois. From its earthly roots, he has kept the simplicity and momentum that gives life and reveals the beauty of nature by the work of men and the gift of its products. One finds in his refined and digest cuisine serenity and “joie de vivre”, then surprise because he always goes to the essential by new paths and through subtle tastes. Indeed, on this Mediterranean land, the child of Limousin won his bet by offering a signature cuisine that sings the terroir and marks its difference.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on August 3, 2017, at Grasse (Provence Côte d’Azur)