Chef Interview Series – 5 Questions for:
Valérie Diaz, Chef at Les Fines Herbes, Saint Cloud (Greater Paris), France.
What is the inspiration behind the wonderful food created at Les Fines Herbes ?
The observations of everyday life and I like to saunter to the market to stay in the heart of every season; cooking with great produce!
Travels also: it’s really interesting to sneak into family kitchens around the world to find different culinary techniques beyond those gained in French cuisine and how we use local produce. All this opens my mind and expands the possibilities through tastes, colours and ingredients.
When and how did your passion for food commence ?
From early childhood…before I could walk! Being very close to my paternal grandmother, she gave me all her affection by cooking continuously for us. To be with her, talk to her and enjoy her, it was necessary to be in the kitchen. Every day, we participated in the elaboration of her innumerable dishes, that we ate together at dinner time whilst discussing cooking. Then, when I took the decision to become a chef, I had a very passionate and generous mentor who gave me incredible knowledge/skills.
I don’t get bored ever as my passion drives me! And I still delight in seeing my diners enjoying their food.
What is the best dish/recipe you have ever cooked and why ?
It’s relatively new: it’s the fish and chips consisting of monkfish and lemon marmelade. This dish was on my first menu at the opening of ‘Les Fines Herbes‘. I don’t really know how, but one morning, the idea came to me to create my version of fish and chips, completely different from what one finds in England. It was a big hit and I am still being asked for it today. We’ll have to wait a bit for the monkfish season to come back.
What is one or more highlights of your cooking career ?
First of all, I had the chance to do study at a cookery school in Avignon, where the chefs were extremely passionate. Once I graduated, I participated in the competition for the best apprentice in France, where I finished third and was then offered opportunities in great restaurants. My foundations were therefore solid and the growing desire to create my own restaurant never left me. I finally realised my dream with ‘Les Fines Herbes’ by partnering with Matthieu (co-owner and head sommelier).
Speaking of Matthieu, Les Fines Herbes has a very good wine list. What are your thoughts on wine and food matching ?
Matthieu is the best possible partner as he is able to source and perfectly match great wine with my cuisine and style of cooking. He is a wine passionate, so he is able to memorise a multitude of data for a single bottle of wine. All I do is ask him to taste each dish and off he goes seeking out that pearl which perfectly matches my dish. He can often offer several choices depending on the taste of the guest, which is simply priceless.
What would you like to ultimately achieve with Les Fines Herbes ?
Given that my/our dream has been achieved with the creation of this restaurant, possibly an alternative version. A restaurant where there is no menu whatsoever; nor any information about what to expect. Purely trust and belief in us by our customers, whereby they would only have to sit down at the table knowing they are in for a culinary surprise. Perhaps a utopian idea or a new exciting concept ? We shall see.