Jean-Marc Notelet, chef of Caïus
Jean-Marc Notelet played host to the Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte press lunch on 28th August 2014, in his restaurant Caïus, named after his great grandfather. As he put together a menu infused with spices, his flavours of choice, he was meticulous in his approach to the spicing of the dishes so as not to overpower the Champagne. This is exactly the kind of challenge relished by this adventurous chef.
How did you acquire your love of cooking? What is your background?
My family are originally from the north of France. My grandparents were excellent cooks. It was a wealth of experience, a privilege. My career is somewhat unusual. I have a degree from the Avesnes-sur-Helpe School of Hospitality and I took a 4-year course in food chemistry in Brussels. I have worked at several of the restaurant industry’s top establishments, like Boyer in Reims and Marc Meneau in Vézelay. I was part of the team at Fouquet’s, but not in the kitchen, I was involved in purchasing management. After that, I worked for 4 years as a personal chef for private clients and large-scale events. I have cooked in some unbelievable places, under some exceptional and extreme conditions. Every one of these experiences has given me so much in its own way. After all that, I decided to open my own restaurant.
I am fascinated by history, travel and exploration. When you are working with an ingredient, it is important to know its history, how it has been grown, where it comes from, this is often more rewarding than looking for a recipe. When I opened this bistro in 1996, I decided that if I confined myself to the traditional cuisine that I loved eating and cooking, I was very quickly going to get bored. As I have always been intrigued by spices, I started thinking and decided to bring spices into traditional cooking techniques. It requires precision, and can’t be haphazard. The most subtle combinations are the best; you take just two products and you find the perfect combination. However, I don’t use spices everywhere, I keep coming back to my staple classic repertoire. You don’t want the flavours to be too “controversial” in every dish.
You hosted the Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte press lunch on 28th August 2014. Was the Champagne easy to match with the dishes?
Champagne isn’t the most difficult wine to match with food, but at the same time, it is a complex process. Champagne is delicate so you always have to have a light touch. You can take a simple approach because you know that there are certain flavour combinations that work with Champagne. But by going with these tried and tested combinations, you risk becoming a bit safe. For me, it’s important to get away from the conventional food and wine pairings with Champagne, and that is what I find really interesting. In my experience of working with spices, the great challenge is to use them in a nuanced way, without overpowering the Champagne. We made our famous baked tomatoes with wild pepper, a lovely, rich extra virgin olive oil and saffron syrup, served with Palmes d’Or Brut, which I thought was a great match.
As a chef, are you always looking for ‘the perfect flavour combination’? What does that mean to you?
For me, there is no perfect combination because the problem with that is neither the product nor the chef is the determining factor; it’s the customer. Our palates are all different. It’s not for you to say whether a flavour combination is going to be perfect for everyone. For that to be the case, people would all have to have the same tastes, adhering to some kind of flavour guru and I don’t believe in that. That’s not to say that we can’t put flavours together, but it’s not for us to impose them, rather to suggest them.
6 rue d'Armaille
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A very British Coup
An extraordinary and spicy career
The most sparkling time of the year...