More than twenty years later, Marc Veyrat is back on stage at San Sebastian Gastronomika to talk about the transubstantiation of the landscape. Veyrat, one of France's most original, creative and famous chefs - he runs La Maison des Bois** - is also famous as the first chef to take the Michelin Guide to court two years ago, when they took away one of his three stars.
“I'm more interested in the content than the container; their relationship", said Marc Veyrat at the beginning of his talk. A talk which touched on a number of issues, but mostly on his life at the farm he set up at the restaurant in 2013. “My parents were farmers, so was I, I learned to cook at home, and I never went to one of the big names. I wanted to reconstruct my parents' farm, and take back the rural environment. We have cows, we make cheese, butter, we have a wood oven ... When we talk about preserving the environment, people are overwhelmed by our surroundings ..." he told the congress.
He went on to say that, even though there is much talk these days about natural and essential products in which he firmly believes, he is sure that they are not used everywhere. He feels that what is important is not to surprise people with a recipe, but to feed the soul. “We have to go back to basics, find the truth, the identity of the product. Overproduction and globalisation are a great concern nowadays. For example, an animal can only produce two litres of milk, but now we make them produce up to 20 litres with fodder from Brazil or Argentina. We have to fight against that for our children and our grandchildren”. In this regard, Veyrat told the congress that he is involved with an association which works with sick children. They show them the animals, plants, and contact with nature. “We have to take nature to the plate because it's the best pharmacy”, he said as he expressed his admiration for how the very youngest argue and reflect.
One of Veyrat's work interests is the upgrading of forgotten plants, and in this he works alongside two herbalists. He mentioned that they have now catalogued as many as 50 undiscovered plants. This discovery enterprise is also available to diners who visit his restaurant, because they can walk around the farm before their meal, see the surroundings, and then see them again later on their plates.
One of the issues he remarked on during the talk was the lack of staff. As in Spain, there is a worrying need for catering professionals. “We have a big problem, because we have a shortage of 100,000 employees in the catering industry. It's a national catastrophe. The problem is education and training. My youngest daughter studied in a very prestigious school, and when she arrived at the restaurant I realised she couldn't do anything. So I sent her to work with Ducasse”, he said. Another reason for the lack of professional staff is that there is no transmission of the passion for cooking. “It's a tough, difficult job ... no lies should be told, but it's a beautiful profession, and we're purveyors of happiness. It's us who have to find a solution for that. Students go out, they want free time, and we have to adapt to that".
At his own restaurant, there are more people in his team than there are diners' places, because the farm also means a lot of work. Even so, Veyrat said they close on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays - "we work very hard, and the crew has to rest".
On the mandatory subject of Michelin, he said that even though stars are important, young people are losing interest in them. “Ducasse was replaced by Jean Imbert at Plaza Athénée, and when he was asked about it, he said he wasn't interested in them, and didn't want them. That is an evolution, Top Chef is what works, and that is the be all and end all. Nobody's looking for chefs with Michelin stars any more, just the Top Chefs. It's a compulsory evolution caused by television and Internet”. As to what the stars mean to him now, he says: “The only stars are the stars in my customers' eyes, and those stars don't come from Michelin”.