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A wander down Paris’s Rue du Nil takes us to a gastronomic haven – one with a renowned Chef and Sommelier who came to Waterford Distillery to create a special bottling with us for La Maison Du Whisky in France. That bottling was Micro Cuvée: Rue Du Nil, which launched at Whisky Live Paris. Being equally into provenance and authenticity, and viewing whisky as agricultural produce rather than a manufactured product, we sat down for a conversation with the Michelin-starred flavour chasers.

Frenchie
CHEF GRÉGORY MARCHAND AND AURÉLIEN MASSÉ

 

Amble down the weathered, rickety cobbles of Paris’s narrow, gently bustling Rue du Nil, past the little outdoor tables of sunny-day gourmands chattering over coffee and madeleines, and a little way along you will be met by gleaming brass letters beaming, from a broad window, the anomalous Saxon word ‘Frenchie’. To press your nose to the glass is to peer in on a world of rustic exposed brick, copper, polished wood and the impeccable busyness of Michelin star service. A beautiful laboratory of gastronomic alchemy where Chef Grégory Marchand transmutes humble ingredients into plated gold.

This is the nerve centre of the Rue du Nil; the street now its own thriving ecosystem of gustatory curiosity; suppliers, chefs, cultivators of ingredients all orbiting the flagship restaurant at its heart. We are fascinated not only by natural flavour, but by fellow seekers of it. The flavours they are chasing. The ingredients they are using. Their motives for the search, and the ways in which they are making the most of those flavours. So it makes abundant sense to sit down with fellow gastronomes over a dram. And who better to chat to than the chef and sommelier of a Michelin-starred Parisian restaurant?

We recently welcomed Frenchie’s Grégory and sommelier Aurélien Massé to Waterford. In our world, whisky being agricultural, we first took them out to the barley fields, before sifting through our pantry at Ballygarran in search of biodynamic whisky to put together a very special recipe: a Frenchie Micro Cuvée: Rue Du Nil, exclusive to Frenchie customers and those of La Maison du Whisky.

Whilst it slowly marries, we thought we’d catch up with Grégory and Aurélien on their own quest for natural flavour.

Tell us about the journey that’s led to Frenchie as it is now?

“I opened Frenchie in 2009 with an idea in my head of a little neighbourhood restaurant where I would like to go – and go back. I followed my suitcase for ten years from Scotland to London, to Hong Kong, to Marbella, to New York. So I travelled a little bit, cooking, and before that I learned French cooking at school for four years. So my cooking today is French with an open eye on the world. And the name ‘Frenchie’ – French in English – translates our DNA quite well.”

 

Who and what are your major influences?

“My major influences are rooted in France, obviously with a big Anglo-Saxon influence through my time in London and New York. Mediterranean cuisine is a big influence
as well, from Italy to Spain; all those flavours and ingredients. To be honest my main inspiration comes from the product – the ingredient. A lot of vegetables. It’s kind of a vegetable-forward cuisine as well; we have our own organic farm, we’re partners in an organic farm just outside Paris. I guess those are my different influences.”

 

GRÉGORY MARCHAND

 

How important is the provenance of ingredients?

As we always say, ‘you cannot polish a turd’. So we don’t even ask this question – it’s just part of what we do. Sourcing product of good quality, that makes ecological sense. This is something that we do without even thinking about it. Seasonality, respect for the soil, respect for the people – all these things are very important to us.

 

What are your thought processes behind creating a new dish?

There are a few different things behind the creative process. First it’s the product, obviously, then it’s your life and cooking experience. After that it can come from anything really – from books, through accidents – but I think the most important inspiration is your own journey. We work very closely with all our chefs and we’re lucky enough to work with people from all over the world, so that’s a great source of inspiration as well. Someone might do something for staff food and you think, ‘God, we should definitely take that and work with it to put it on the menu.’ I think inspiration is just keeping your eyes open and looking at everything as though it could be something.

 

Going back to ingredients, we see ‘biodynamic’ and ‘organic’ far more commonly these days – do you see more interest in these concepts from diners?

Oh yes, of course. But I suppose there’s ‘organic’ and ‘organic’ as well. What’s important to us is the taste, and there’s a lot of shitty organic product! But sometimes you work with a small producer that doesn’t have the label because they can’t afford it, but they’ve been working at it for years and the product is amazing. Organic is important to us, and the farm we have is organic – it’s inspired by permaculture. I guess the term ‘organic’ becomes more and more common because it’s what people want, but we cannot be fooled by it, because there’s good and bad organic. What’s important for us is to make sense and to know the people who are working with the soil – to have a relationship with them and to keep taste as the main factor.

 

Outside of the restaurant what does a perfect meal look like at home and how does a busy chef relax?

I guess first it’s people – it’s friends, family. I do love cooking at home. Generosity, fun, always with good wine or spirits. But company is the most important. I like simplicity. There’s a word I love – ‘simplexity’ – the complexity of doing simple things. This is something we use a lot. It’s not easy to do simple!

 

You mentioned Scotland earlier – how did you get into whisky initially?

Whisky, since I was quite young, was like cigars. It’s a real product – I loved the storytelling behind it; it’s something I was always very interested in even though I didn’t really like it. Even today, with the cigars, I always try to take puffs and to get interested, but I find them very difficult to enjoy! With whisky the same process happened – even though I now really enjoy whisky! With whisky and with all spirits really, as long as there’s a story behind it and as long as there are people behind it, I’m very curious. So I’ve always been interested. I don’t drink much spirit really, but I do like a good sip.

 

How did you find the experience of putting the Micro Cuvée together? What sort of thing were you looking to create and what were your thought processes behind it?

Well that’s everything I’ve been talking about. I loved being able to come and meet the people; Ned, Mark, the whole team. And to meet the grower as well and go in the fields with them and have lunch. I think the human part of this is the most important. If you do that right the product has to be good. I loved the process of visiting the whole distillery, to try a lot of different things. To be honest it was good that Ned was there, because if you’re not used to trying all this whisky from the cask it can be totally overwhelming for an untrained palate like ours! So the process was very enjoyable.

 

What have the changes been to the culinary scene in France as a result of the pandemic?

I guess people are eager to go out and have a good time. Obviously we’re facing huge staffing problems like everywhere, but that’s more from a business point of view. Tourism is back, we have a lot of foreign people coming back to Paris. Paris is a beautiful city, very touristy. It’s great to have all these people coming from all over the world. It’s kind of what I want because that’s what I’ve done – travelled – so it’s great to welcome a lot of people of different background, different culture, different tastes. It’s great to be able to welcome them with a meal.

 

And finally, what’s next on the horizon for you and Frenchie?

Well there are a few projects that it’s too early to talk about! But we want to carry on, now we’re starting to get our head out of water after the pandemic. Covid was very disruptive, lots of things changed, so we needed time to adapt and make the right decisions – social decisions, how we can create better working environments to attract the best people and keep them. A lot on ecology as well, with the farm. And all these things take time to settle down. We have a few projects in sight for next autumn, but nothing’s confirmed. But we definitely want to carry on the same way – creating great restaurants with great food and creating sense for our lives and the lives of the people working with us. I think today you need to ask yourselves the question ‘why am I doing this?’ Because everyone is looking for sense in life, especially after the pandemic.

France, perhaps better than any other country, understands that the drink, as much as the food, is a cornerstone of the dining experience. The perfectly chosen wine; the spirit that ends the evening on a perfect note. Not peripheral, indeed central to gastronomic pleasure; to the feeling of the occasion.

At Frenchie, Sommelier Aurélien Massé conducts the orchestral wine list, a composition every bit as considered and carefully cultivated as the menu. We stole a few minutes of his time to natter about perfect pairings, the ingredients of drinks and the trends that are catching his eye.

 

Aurélien, what was it that first fascinated you about wine and drinks?

That’s a difficult question. Easy and difficult at the same time. Since I was 20 years old, when I did wine school, it has been maybe my second love – after my wife! I decided to continue with wine not only as my passion, but as my work. I think I really found my way when I started my work at Frenchie, because Grég left me doing exactly what I want to do for every wine list. So I could continue my passion in wine. And if you want to be a good sommelier now, it’s not only wine – it’s all drinks. So spirits, sake, beers and stuff like that.

 

How important is it that the drinks served at a restaurant reflect the philosophies of the food?

The reflection of the restaurant usually is whether people are thinking ‘the food is lovely’. But I think that the complete experience is the food, the wine, the service, the atmosphere. And I think the wine is pretty important because that’s going to help you enjoy the menu you’re going to get. For me, it’s difficult to understand when people only drink water during the dinner. It misses something. I can’t say it’s the most important ingredient, but if you want to have the full experience the wine is going to help you appreciate the menu as well, because sometimes the pairing is so important. You might really dislike the wine, but when you try it with the food you then understand why we chose that.

 

When you’re putting a wine or spirits list together, what are your main considerations?

Main consideration is we have to like it. And we have to want to promote it. All our winemakers really care about the viticulture. It can be a natural wine, biodynamic wine, an agriculture biologique or whatever, but I think the most important thing is the philosophy – how the winemaker is working. If they’re thinking about what’s good for the soil, what’s good for all the rest, you don’t have to have the logo on the label. It’s more than that. It’s more than just giving you the marketing stuff. So that’s how we want to pick the wine for the list.

 

And that influences your pairings of drinks with food?

Exactly. Because now we have a proper farm for vegetables, so we really take care of all the produce we’re cooking – how it’s growing, stuff like that. For me, if Grég’s working that way, I have to work that way. That’s the basic thing. There’s also a really big difference between classic wine and biodynamic or organic wine. There’s a kind of energy to it.

 

We’ve talked about the provenance of grapes – as a sommelier how much provenance do you see in spirits? Do you wish there was more?

The provenance for spirits is pretty new I think. What Waterford is doing is pretty new – to have a biodynamic [whisky]. We try to work with a lot of spirits of France because although it’s good and interesting to work with organic farms, if the produce is coming 10,000km from where you are, there’s no sense. It’s too difficult to work only with local produce for spirits, but all of ours come from Europe.

 

When you were creating the Waterford Micro Cuvée were there any influences, pairings, flavours that were in your mind?

Waterford proposed we should do a biodynamic cuvée without any prompting from Grég. Even before we tasted it we knew that was exactly the kind of cuvée we would like. And after tasting, it was just normal to choose that cuvée. Because it was different; it was something we like and something we want to promote.

 

Tell us about the culture of spirits drinking in France – are you finding the same curiosity around ingredients and process?

The culture of spirits is pretty old in France. We like to drink Cognac or Armagnac, though gin is pretty new. Whisky is pretty established; I don’t think French people were always drinking the best, though you can get first-class whisky. It’s started to change a lot now people are more interested in spirits – and in pairing with spirits as well. When we created the menu with Waterford they originally asked us to do pairings with whisky throughout and I said, ‘Well we can do pairing with wine, but with whisky all the way through it’s going to be a bit complicated. We can finish with it with the dessert, because you have to put something pretty strong in front of the whisky.’ I think what we created is going to be really nice. It’s difficult to have a full pairing with whisky because by the end of the dinner you’ll be losing your sense of taste, for sure. There has to be a balance.

 

Things like biodynamics, organics, natural wines – how interested are the customers at Frenchie?

People have been getting that way for about ten years now and I don’t think it’s going to change. Because you can see how the climate is changing. People really care about how winemakers are working and they don’t want to drink wine when they don’t know how it’s created. It costs more money for sure, but maybe people are thinking ‘drink less, but drink better’. In Paris people are really, really clear about that.

 

What trends in the drinks industry – wine and spirits – are particularly interesting you at the moment?

Wine and spirits are really big industries. I’m not going to be able to taste everything in my life. But what I’m looking for right now are new processes of wine making – spirits as well. People who are changing the rules, changing the way you’re drinking. There are so many possibilities right now – we have the technology to produce wine a better way, without many chemicals. To discover and use everything we can without all the chemicals – that’s something interesting to me. A better way to produce wine.

 

And finally, what are your own go-to drinks at the moment, and your perfect food pairings with them?

We have a pre-dessert at the restaurant at the moment with strawberry and I really like to pair it with a skin-contact wine from Alsace. It’s a Gewurztraminer, which is a difficult grape – I like to say it’s an ‘in your face’ grape. You have so much flavour and aroma, and it’s often a little bit sweet. But as a skin contact it goes in a dry direction. It gives you a little bit of tannin and all the flavour. So you have something really dry with a bit of tannin. I really love that with dessert. Because you don’t have any sugar in the wine pairing it leaves you with a really clean palate.

EDITORIAL