Gérald Passedat’s cuisine has always been a reflection of the Mediterranean Sea and all the incredible treasures it offers, highlighting over 70 species of fish, some forgotten or little known, brought directly to the restaurant by local fishermen. I sit down with the 60-year-old chef of three Michelin-star restaurant Le Petit Nice and Le Môle Passedat in Marseille and Brasserie Lutetia at the legendary Hotel Lutetia on Paris’ Left Bank to discuss his culinary influences and growing up in a family of chefs.
Tell me about your childhood in Marseille.
When you’re a child of the catering and hotel trade, you’re often left on your own. I watched everything that was happening around me, and it was both magical and frustrating. There were always a lot of people around. In parallel, I had the pleasure of going into the kitchen, not to work but to watch and taste what was being done. And that’s also what forged my character, being alone during the week, and then on the weekend, I often went to visit my relatives. We had a farm near Marseille. My uncle was a fisherman, and my grandfather, grandmother and aunts cooked really well.
When did you start to cook?
At 12 years old. I was cooking for fun. My parents brought me to see Alain Chapel, who is a great chef, and that’s where I had a revelation, when I thought to myself, “One day, I want to have three stars in the Michelin Guide.” I wasn’t very good at school and was an unruly child. Then at the age of 14 or 15, I decided I wanted to try Hotel School in Nice, and I enjoyed it. I liked it because I had the opportunity to be alone, free, without my parents. At the time, becoming a cook didn’t have a good reputation because you had to become a doctor or lawyer. After Hotel School, I trained at lots of restaurants with different chefs. At Michel Guérard, I learned about lightness and the importance of making dishes digestible. Jean and Pierre Troisgros taught me about sauces and jus, as well as the importance of resting times. At the Parisian palace hotels, I learned rigour.
What lessons did you learn from your parents and grandparents?
Respect of the product, the sea, the force of nature. Humility and hard work are necessary to arrive at what one wants. Work is really part of life. And then the rest, the vision of things, they opened my mind to cooking. I was also lucky enough to be part of a family of gourmands. That’s very important. Afterwards, they taught me little by little to forge my palate, to try the cuisine of this or that restaurateur or chef because at home we ate very well frankly, but then we went to see elsewhere. We did a tour of the great restaurants to sharpen the palate, as young people do now with their parents.
Coming from such an impressive culinary lineage, how did you establish your own identity at Le Petit Nice?
At the beginning, very slowly, with a lot of humility and respect, I looked at what was being done during my father’s time, and then I looked at what we were doing. We were doing haute cuisine, with poultry, beef and so on, but it wasn’t really what this place expressed. It wasn’t what the Mediterranean offered us. I always thought that cooking must be territorial, that it must be influenced by where we are located, so that people who come from all over the world can understand the terroir of where we are. Little by little, I changed the entire menu, cooking only fish and crustaceans. It wasn’t overnight. It took probably a good 10 years. That’s how long it takes if you want to do something well thought out. My customers didn’t follow me at the beginning. It was very complicated, but it’s a long-term process.
Describe your signature style.
I establish codes focused around the Mediterranean, around forgotten fish, the cuisine of little, that’s pared down and simple. That’s really my trademark. But my food can’t be explained – it’s eaten, tasted, felt and lived.
What have been the biggest challenges?
There have been plenty. Already trying to get three Michelin stars is a very big challenge. It’s the most unpredictable, it’s passion, nothing is ever certain. You can’t take it for granted; it’s something that you have to keep seeking all the time. Obtaining three stars is exceedingly difficult, but you must not think about trying to get them, and maintaining them is all the more difficult because life is not always how you want it to be. You have to know how to take a step back, surround yourself with the right people and anticipate. It’s complicated, but it’s my profession, so it’s enjoyable.
Do you hope to earn Michelin stars for Brasserie Lutetia?
No, frankly. In Paris, I don’t have the pretension to obtain Michelin stars. That’s not the idea. It’s a brasserie run by a three Michelin-star chef. There, the desire is to create a different kind of brasserie, one focused on the Mediterranean in Paris. At the same time, I love this place, the Left Bank, the Hotel Lutetia – it’s beautiful, it appeals to me.