Pierre Gagnaire: Tenderness, Emotions and Emulsions
A fan of Chet Baker and Cy Twombly, Pierre Gagnaire claims neither God nor Master and travels the world's cuisines to satisfy his irrepressible need to tell a unique story. Interview in his kitchens on rue Balzac.
How did you choose the career of restaurateur?
I didn't choose this profession, but I quickly understood that by taking it in a certain way, I had an extraordinary way of going towards others. I've always been more interested by men and women rather than carrot stalks. Anyway, I had no other dream and, in the end, no choice. I took over my father's restaurant before creating my own establishment in Saint-Etienne and obtaining three stars in 1993. They are above all a magnificent passport, but it is not easy to make such an establishment profitable. I was going to lose my soul if I didn't make a radical decision. So, I went to Paris in 1996 where I rented the space where we are today on rue Balzac, with the help of a friend who lent me the necessary investment.
"Cooking cannot be measured in terms of tradition or modernity. We just have to read in it the tenderness of the cook.”
How do you manage your international presence?
It all started with London at a time when many thought my machine would break under the weight of schedules, my very personal work process and “just-in-time” method. I wanted to know if I was up to the challenge. Today, Sketch is still doing very well, and we have a team of 80 cooks on site. Over the years, our international developments in Europe, Asia, the United States and the Middle East have enabled our team to consolidate a not always very profitable business model while ensuring valuable visibility for our brand. I am leaving for Shanghai and Hong Kong this afternoon.
What are your best memories to date?
I value the trust that has been built over time with my teams. It is more difficult to acquire trust in France than abroad. We are active in many restaurants around the world, so I necessarily need to let go and rely on people who share my values and know-how. I have functioned a lot as a craftsman and as a little as an artist. Working with emotions, feelings and instinct can bring joy, but can also create risks. After various adventures, I have managed to achieve a strong stability that offers the possibility of working peacefully. I am always open to collaborations - such as those with Hervé This or Chilly Gonzales - but I am essentially driven by chance and the desire to create soul in my establishments. In 50 years I do not dream of seeing my name glorified. However, I aim to make sure that my legacy does not generate a mess. I often witness people prophesizing "after me the flood".