CHRISTOPHE BACQUIÉ


Christophe Baquié grew up in Corsica in Lumio, in the Balagne region, not far from Calvi, in the family-owned hotel-restaurant. He went to Hotellery School at ‘Île Rousse’ to learn about table service, but that wasn’t his calling. He moved to the kitchen without any set ideas regarding where that would lead him. A client in the trade, passing through Lumio, told him to send his curriculum vitae to the Méridien Montparnasse in Paris in the 1990’s.There, he was assigned to a gastronomic restaurant, ‘The Montparnasse 25’, and he discovered a rather hard universe, which was confirmed by a second job in Paris at ‘The Prestige’, a gastronomic restaurant at the horse tracks in Vincennes.

In 1992, he went to work for Louis Outier and Stéphane Raimbault at ‘L’Oasis’ in Mandelieu. That is where he had his first trigger: a reputable establishment, a brigade of fifteen people, high-level gastronomy, sharing, and a nice atmosphere. Between Stéphane Raimbault, the demanding technician, and Louis Outier, a paternalistic and authoritative individual, Christophe found his place and discovered the joy of working with the finest products.

For two seasons, he returned briefly to Corsica, to the family-owned restaurant and worked 20-hour days: “I was the chef but without having big enough shoulders; I duplicated what I had learned.” He went back to Paris, met new chefs, and then started working at the Ministry of Defense mess hall. That’s when his second trigger event occurred: “There were only cooks who had worked at prestigious establishments there; these were brigades of anthology!” Whenever the minister had guests, the brigade had a free hand: a dream for all of those cooks who shared their ideas and put them into practice. He kept learning even outside of the mess hall by picking up extra jobs or by working with colleagues to prepare for contests.

The sight of his first blue-white-red collar affirmed his conviction to become a great chef: “Me too, one day, I will be one of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (most skilled craftsmen in France)!”

Upon finishing his military service, Christophe decided to stay in Paris. He began working at ‘Prunier’, under the management of Chef Gabriel Biscay: “I had never known such a technical chef, whose professional knowledge was so impressive; to a large degree, I certainly owe the title of ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ that I obtained a few years later, to him.”

In 1997, back to Corsica at ‘La Villa’, a Relais & Châteaux class restaurant in Calvi,Where he became head chef in 2000 and where, little by little, he affirmed himself alone: “You have to be free in your head, without influences; everything you have learned is a mental library and now you have to write your own book.” In 2002, he obtained a Michelin star, followed by a second one in 2007, something which had never happened in Corsica.
In the meantime, in 2004, he obtained the title as one of the finest craftsmen in France, ‘Meilleurs Ouvriers de France’, which was his third trigger.

In 2009, the desire for a new challenge led Christophe to the ‘Hôtel du Castellet’, an exceptional setting in the heart of the Provence region; he shares the management with Alexandra, his wife, who manages the prestigious and refined hotel complex. This new challenge, that they took on together, was quick to bear fruit, and the ‘Hôtel du Castellet’, a Relais & Châteaux venue, has today become a mandatory stopping point in Provence. The restaurant was awarded two stars in 2010, then joined the Great Tables of the World in 2011 and obtained 4 chef’s hats from Gault and Millau.

And Christophe hasn’t stopped there; alongside Olivier Roelinger, he is involved in the Relais & Châteaux movement, especially concerning the Great Chefs; he is also involved in Seaweb, for which he is the ambassador in the Var region for the preservation of sea resources; and he strives to mobilize restaurant professionals to procure sustainable produce from the sea by choosing species that are not endangered and that are harvested using techniques that protect the environment. Christophe Bacquié has always felt very concerned by these issues: “I think that we as chefs have an important role to play. Through the selection of the species that we put on the menu, we communicate a message to our clients. After that, everyone has a role to play at their level: today, we are making all of our staff more aware of their role on a daily basis, especially concerning our kitchen and dining service teams. Regarding the dining service team, they are a real vector of information and communication given to our clientele.”
As early as November 2009, Christophe signed the Relais & Châteaux charter regarding sustainable procurement.

Towards a philosophy of cuisine

A moment of exchange: In 2006, on the occasion of an event in Corsica, Christophe hosted Emmanuel Renaut, Head Chef and owner of the ‘Flocon de Sel’ in Mégève, ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ in 2004 (the same year as Christophe). At that time, Christophe admits that he decorated his dishes with superfluous elements and wasn’t so meticulous concerning the preparation of his fish.

Emmanuel, acting as a friend and in total simplicity, pointed out at a dinner: “What you are doing is not bad, but the day that you focus on the dish and not the appearances, you’ll progress much more quickly.” The very next day in the kitchen, Christophe told his team, “From now on, we are going to do real cuisine and stop messing around.” That was the fourth trigger event and the beginning of a strong and rare friendship, and daily exchanges on life.
That year, Emmanuel was best man for Christophe at his wedding with Alexandra.

“Everything in the plate must serve a purpose. What has changed a lot in my cuisine is the balance of saveurs. I was cataloged as a ‘very technical’ chef even if I don’t believe that I am. Techniques are present during the preparation but they are discreet in the plate to the advantage of the products and the taste. Upon discovering a new dish, the senses are aroused. First, there is what you see; if it is not attractive, your brain cannot move to what is ‘good’. Then, there are the aromas, finally, the taste. The taste, in its great simplicity, comes mostly from the excellence of the products: between a line-caught sea bass, and one raised off shore with flours, the result during cooking is absolutely not the same. With experience, I think I am essentially a chef for Mediterranean products.

“I had two dreams: obtaining the title of ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ and being awarded two Michelin stars. By the age of 35, I had both. I read a quotation that states: “Life cannot be counted in breaths, but rather by the moments that take your breath away” and so: if I stop there, if I don’t have any more dreams, or goals in the kitchen, I won’t progress any further! You have to try to go far, not in competition but in emotion, in sharing, the encounters and the images that you convey every day; I have had the good fortune of meeting great Chefs who have transmitted their technique and know-how, but especially opened up their ‘hearts’ to me. With maturity, I have developed my own sensitivity and, I am, in turn, transmitting mine.

I can say that I am driven by that! My leitmotiv is: start over every day, question yourself and make sure that every evening, our dishes are even better than the night before. For me, it is forbidden to think that I have come to the end of perfecting a dish, even if it has met with success. What philosophy am I going to give to my recipes? Keep to the basics of what is good and tell yourself: now, let’s go to the essentials.”

Christophe, the captain of the Bacquié team!

For the chef, high-level gastronomy is comparable to top-level sports. Like in rugby, you need engagement, passion and teamwork. Like in cycling, you can’t fear going beyond your limits, but it also means time for yourself, that isn’t polluted by daily life, that allows you to think. The preparations put into place upstream, that’s the training; the service is the match, a sprint: “During service hours, the team has to be totally engaged to serve clients, to satisfy them; that’s the purpose of our entire day’s work.”

The stories behind new dishes and their preparation are systematically presented to the dining room teams. Everyone tastes them to be able to appreciate the compositions, and to not simply go through the list of dishes in an abstract way.

Our apprentices and trainees are also associated to this vision and, at the end of their internship, they have the surprise of going to dinner in the dining room with the clients, served by their colleagues: “When I see them, with a big smile at the end of the meal, I tell them: you see why we work so hard and why it is difficult. This meal is the result of your investment in our establishment and I hope that it will give you the desire to go farther.”
My philosophy: Transmitting, valuing work well done, founding the values of fine cuisine… cuisine is an art that tightens the links between people. Today, conviviality, sharing, bringing people and families together and pleasure are the key words for a successful evening at my table.

Cheese, a gastronomic choice

Whereas many restaurants tend to minimize the place given to cheese, Christophe has chosen to do exactly the opposite: “I really wanted to create something with wine and cheese.” He had the idea of creating a cheese cellar in the restaurant dining room. Totally encased in glass and temperature controlled, the cheese platter no longer moves around; in collaboration with Josiane Déal, Master Cheese Craftsman, you can discover more than
70 varieties of cheese. The guests are invited to enter the cellar to prepare their plates of cheese: “When the guests enter into the cellar, there is true communion between them and the person in charge of the service, who is passionate about this presentation and has a real desire to share their passion.”

Milestones

2018 Obtained three Michelin Stars – ‘Hôtel & Spa du Castellet’
2017 Knighted in the Order of Agricultural Merit
2017 Elected Best Hotel Restaurant in Europe – ‘Villégiature’ Prize
2016 Named ‘chef of the year’ by the Gastronomy and Wine Trophies in Lyon
2016 Rated 18.5 and 4 chef’s hats by Gault and Millau
2012 Awared the trophy for Great Chefs by Relais & Châteaux
2011 Became a member of the Great Tables in the World
2010 Obtained two Michelin Stars – ‘Hôtel & Spa du Castellet’
2007 Obtained two Michelin Stars – ‘Hôtel La Villa’
2004 Named ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ – in cuisine
2002 Obtained his first Michelin Star