I woke up this morning to meet with the 2 Michelin stars chef Thierry Marx and taste his soy risotto, his semi-shelled shellfish, his charcoal beef, and his conical quail to conclude with Swiss chocolate ganache. The service is finished at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva, he stands in front of me and orders a coffee.
Welcome to the Marx Planet (published by Minerva in 2006), an almost philosophical approach to cooking. His visit to our city at Café Calla du Mandarin Oriental is a long-awaited moment.
What’s the worst thing you’ve heard about your cuisine?
It’s always pretty much the same thing: “molecular” because some people, since the term is now a bit out of fashion, have not understood that molecular is a tool for understanding and especially not a style of cooking. Yesterday in a university, it was a question during my speech to try to understand the transformation mechanisms to be able to continue to evolve – and I mean evolve and not revolutionize cooking – and this is especially not a trend in the kitchen.
And the most beautiful compliment?
The compliment that makes me happy is always the following: “Your cuisine gives me emotion”. Cooking is not just about mixing ingredients together, it’s always about textures, temperatures, and the environment that we create around us. There is no room for chance: hospitality is important, and the place and the ingredients you have chosen to make these dishes must have a meaning and a history, all this means that in the end, there is emotion. Because in this century, we no longer enter a restaurant to eat, we return to feel an emotion, whatever it is. The whole difficulty of my profession lies in giving memory to the ephemeral, to something that no longer exists.
But to feel this emotion, it takes time! Do we not live precisely in a world when time is no longer taken, especially to eat? Thierry Marx explains to me that he has adapted to this accelerating world while trying, the instant of a meal, to return to an epicurean philosophy of know-how and interpersonal skills in life. He notes that “the end of the 20th century has greatly damaged our behavior at the table“, and that the 2,000 friends on Facebook are useless if we don’t have anyone to share a coffee or a meal with. Thierry Marx is not a lesson giver, I tell you again, he is a philosopher.
You opened a cooking school where students can learn the job for free, as well as the Camélia, Sur Mesure, and the Cake Shop, and, recently, you opened a bakery in the district of Saint Augustin. I believe you never get borred, do you?
I’m not bored, but I’m deliberately causing boredom. Because I think you can be very creative in boredom. You have to give yourself rest periods, which I do through meditation, music, and reading; a few hours when I leave my mind wandering. Boredom is part of the balance between the boss and the entrepreneur. If there’s not a little bit of boredom, a little bit of daydreaming, a little bit of the improbable and the impossible, projects don’t really come to life.
Were you bored when the idea of opening a bakery came out?
The idea of the bakery was born at the end of my schooling. I was walking past a bakery going to school in a busy neighborhood. There was this baker, “Meilleur ouvrier” in France and I was told that I was not good at school and since I was not good, I would go to an apprenticeship. And I saw this worker, happy with his worker status, starting to flourish, to impose a style of bread that Parisians no longer knew. He became my mentor.
Thierry Marx was trained by his mentor and learned how to make bread. After Bordeaux and Japan, the time has come for Paris to have its bakery.
Chef Thierry Marx refers to the bakery as the “first profession of gastronomy”.
I shall see you then in Paris – 51 rue de Laborde – in June for the opening. Tell me Chef Thierry Marx, do you eat at McDonalds?
I have eaten at McDonald’s very often. And I will even tell you what I ate and why: I often ate at McDonald’s an egg muffin for breakfast when I went to judo competitions or during motorcycle trips with friends because we didn’t all have the same budget. This type of restaurant has taken a place that was empty because we – cooks – have not taken it: the place that allows you to eat at a very low cost, to be able to find yourself without this pressure of necessarily having to eat. So it wasn’t the best coffee or the best egg-muffin, but I had fun surrounded by my friends at a price accessible to the whole group.
Are you then in favor of low-cost food?
I don’t hate many things in life, except low-cost. A baguette of 1.20 Swiss francs can protect an entire subsidiary from know-how and transmission. An 80-cent euro baguette from an industrial production terminal makes no sense for this planet, in its social aspect. Low cost is to be banished, it is a failure, a blow. On the other hand, working in the baking profession where there is accessibility to a low-cost product with which we can create emotions by tasting it, I believe. So I’m not afraid of the word popular because for me, popular does not rhyme with mediocre.
I have nothing against the supermarket as long as the supermarket sources products that are interesting for the planet and pay them at their fair price. I do not condemn the food industry or the large distribution and going into a scapegoat strategy is useless. The cook, to return to my profession, is part of this environment. If I don’t start saying that we must favor short circuits, go and help the producer to sell their products better, if we – cooks – do not have environmental behavior, we will simply cut the branch on which we are sitting. It’s quite easy to be done: you share a pasta dish and you just have to ask where the tomatoes that made the sauce come from, where the flour comes from, how the recipe was made, already everything soothes and all this is linked to social and economic history. And this is what is interesting in a kitchen.
For a moment, in front of Thierry Marx’s soy risotto, the emotion of this childhood at the water’s edge came to the surface … the foam of memories … the sea, the land. Other trips and discoveries were discussed during this lunch in such poetic simplicity …
Thierry Marx is at the Café Calla Mandarin Oriental until April 16th12
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