Stéphane Jego greets customers like they were old friends, even when they’re not. His unflagging good mood is an essential ingredient of his celebrated restaurant in Paris, Chez l’Ami Jean — Our Friend Jean. » The oldest Basque restaurant of Paris
You may have already heard his name. The international press fell in love with this very gifted and funny Chef that is Jego.
Now, everyone wants to eat at Chez l’Ami Jean. From Francis Ford Coppola to any gourmet.
And no need to have the former’s bank account to have the privilege to seat where other famous personalities sat to taste Stéphane Jégo’s culinary fantasies.
Yet you won’t see Stéphane Jégo’s restaurant listed on the famous Guide Michelin, the Bible for anyone who wants to know where the best places to eat in France are.
“I was fired from Michelin last year because I tried to punch the boss’ in his face. He was disrespectful, I threw him out of my restaurant”
You don’t mess about with the passionate Stéphane Jego. More seriously, Mr Jego has always tried to distance himself from the French gastronomy’s conventions. Michelin probably takes a dim view of this rebellion.
It started two decades ago when he was Yves Camdeborge’s assistant at La Régalade.
You may have seen Yves Camdeborge on television if you have spent a few days in France recently. The producers of Masterchef, a new television show where unknown people confront themselves behind the stove, took him to be one the three members of the jury.
Mr Camdeborge gained his reputation as a Chef with his new of kind of thinking cookery. No more rules, no more pomposity. Everyone can eat gastronomic food worthy of a three star restaurant in a bistro for a reasonable price.
Success rapidly came. Known as “gastro-bistro”, this trend has been followed by many other Chefs. But it’s not until two gastronomic journalists from Liberation created the Fooding, its successor, that they really gained visibility.
The idea with Fooding (composed of two English words, food and feeling) was to shake up the frozen world of French gastronomy. All its conventions and its pretentiousness are useless. All that matters in food is what we feel.
It is totally in line with what Yves Camdeborge initiated and Stéphane Jego, among others, is perpetuating. The bases of the recipes remain but then it’s all about imagination, diversity and paradoxes.
“People from Fooding were the only ones to understand what we were doing”, says Stéphane Jégo. Not like the “old dinosaurs” as he calls them “who don’t imagine eating a preserved duck in a bistro.
For Stéphane Jego, the place where you eat doesn’t matter. You can be sitting on a public bench and still savour caviar.
Nonetheless Mr Jego takes particularly care of his restaurant. He wants it to be a “place of life”, “a moment of sharing”.
One word regularly comes out of his mouth to explain what Fooding is: “decompartmentalize”. And it is what he’s trying to do materially within his restaurant. He is currently reshaping the configuration of the old Basque bistro, “decompartmentalizing” it, right in the spirit of the Fooding.
Despite all the success and all the money he gained, he will never open a second restaurant. “There is only one Stéphane Jego, there is only one Chez l’Ami Jean and my team is unique. It would be a mistake”. Instead he prefers to make his own and unique restaurant live.
At the end of December, he had already created “the gastronomic space” with its round table and its white tablecloth, its Baccarat chandelier and its Bernardaud crockery especially designed for the place. With no surprise, he placed it next to the tiny bar where pieces of smoked ham are hung on the ceiling. Opposites are made to coexist.
Now he’s waiting for the big oak tree table he ordered. He will remove all the little tables and place this huge and long table in the middle of the restaurant. Different customers will share the same table at the same time, like in a farm. Conviviality is the key word to understand Fooding.
Fooding seems to be a success story. Yet, between what we can experience with people like Stéphane Jégo and what we perceive of it in the media, there is quite a contradiction.
Let’s take an example. Fooding has just celebrated its ten years in the beautiful Parisian Parc des Buttes Chaumont. It was the place to be. You could meet Joey Starr, Arielle Dombasle, Frédéric Mitterrand, Louis Bertignac … but only if you had an invitation.
Another example: go to lefooding.com. You’ll see a bunch of famous people on its first page telling what their favourite restaurants are.
Admittedly, Fooding’s success has been its undoing. The trend has becomed a mark. Yves Camdeborge being at Masterchef can also prove that.
Last year one of the founders, Emmanuel Rubin, decided to quit the Fooding, upset by what it was becoming.
“It’s logical that they bank on the marketing side to assure its development” says Stéphane Jego, who knows how to make the difference between the stage and the backstage. Fooding is supposed to be popular, not elitist.
Hence, he received at Chez l’Ami Jean famous personalities to make other renowned restaurants blush. But no autographs on the walls. “What for?” asks Stéphane Jego, amazed.