Bertrand is the Chef at Septime, a neo-bistro in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris. Septime hardly needs an introduction. Because you’ve probably already seen it on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Or maybe you caught Bertrand and his partner in crime, Théo Pourriat, at that Le Grand Fooding event in Brooklyn a couple years ago. Or if you’re really ahead of the curve, you read about Septime in the NY Times back in 2011, before the Michelin star, when the buzz was still just a buzz and not yet a global clamor.*
To say Septime is game-changing would not be an overstatement. Heck, it literally changed the course of my life – more on that later. But there’s something bold and unique about their style. They manage to serve incredibly fresh products in sophisticated ways, but in an atmosphere that lacks pretense and stuffiness. A waiter might crouch next to your table as he goes over the menu with you and recommends wines to go with your lunch.
And that’s the point. Bertrand wanted to take influences from cooking with French masters such as Alain Passard and from his travels in Asia and translate them into eating experiences that most anyone can enjoy (and, eh hem, afford). The setting, conceived by Bertrand and Theo, matches the elegant yet edgy food they serve.
I strolled into Septime after class in the Fall of 2011. I was in Paris to learn European Law at Université Panthéon-Assas, but I dedicated an equal amount of study to Parisian restaurants via local sites like Le Fooding and Paris By Mouth. By the end of a three-course lunch at Septime (to the tune of 26 euros before wine) I was high–on the food, the ambiance, and a couple glasses of rosé–and scribbling down my number on a napkin to offer my services. I had to learn what was happening in that tiny, open kitchen. Followed by a couple more persistent emails, I returned to Septime three months later as a kitchen intern, or stagiaire.
In two weeks, I learned those behind-the-scenes things that a restaurant customer, who sees beautiful food and a cool atmosphere, could never intuit. First, the hard work and insane f*cking stamina that fuels a restaurant like Septime. It was not uncommon to see cooks napping on the upstairs office floor between shifts, but not because they had to be there, because they felt privileged to have the opportunity to be there and didn’t want to miss a beat. I learned that attention to every detail, from the butter that goes on the bread to the size of each herb, separates good eating experiences from unforgettable ones. I learned that a restaurant could serve Michelin-star food without adhering to strict kitchen hierarchies. The Chef can be hugely demanding of his team and still sit down to share family meals with them every day and finish leftover magnums of wine with them at the end of a long night.
Bertrand agreed to do the B2S questionnaire and I was totally freaking out excited. I can’t wait to visit his newest place, Clamato, and any other projects he rolls out. Hablamos!
Coffee or tea?
Beer or wine?
Describe your typical breakfast.
Kouign-amann (a specialty from Brittany) with coffee and fresh orange juice.
What is your earliest food-related memory?
I would have to say it was Christmas Eve dinner : a wonderful jugged hare.**
Describe your ideal sandwich.
It would certainly be a sandwich made by Delphine ( Chez Aline, 85, rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris) : Banka trout and red cabbage in a milk roll.
Where would you travel to eat?
Name 5 people you would like to have at a dinner party.
My kitchen team. I cook with them every day but we never have the time to really enjoy a dinner together.
What are you in the mood to eat right now?
* See also David Lebovitz’s rave review from 2011.
** Jugged hare, or civet de lièvre, is a whole hare cut into pieces, marinated and cooked with red wine and juniper berries in a tall jug that stands in a pan of water. It is traditionally served with the hare’s blood (or the blood is added right at the very end of the cooking process) and port wine.