Interview with Jean Louis Dumonet
You grew up at your parent’s restaurant in Paris. At what age did you start learning to cook?
Actually I spent my early years with my grandmother. The kitchen was the main room of the house, and cooking was her main occupation. At the age of 9, to help her I killed the chickens and rabbits, plumed and skinned them. At my father’s restaurant at 11, I was prepping the carrots, potatoes and leeks for the soup
Do you still make some of your father’s recipes?
Yes, his famous Boeuf Bourguignon, and Tournedos Rossini.
You have cooked all over the world – Paris, Tours, Lisbon, Bangkok, New York – how do these clients differ from each other? I have always cooked in restaurants that specialized in French cuisine and catered to a sophisticated clientele. They came to me because they were looking for good French food. In Bangkok I had a wealthy customer who brought his family once a month to teach his children what French food was and he insisted that they all speak French at dinner. The New York clients I see are sophisticated and they command respect. They know what they like and what they want.
How has cooking for Americans changed in the twenty years you have been here? Today, Americans are much more open to eating different types of foods and are more willing to try something new than they were twenty years ago.
You are President of the Master Chefs of France. What is that organization and what does it do? Its goal is “to preserve and spread the French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development”. To be accepted as a Master Chef, you must be a French Chef doing the cooking yourself and have ten years experience doing so. You must be listed in guides with good notes and you must apply. Judges are sent to your restaurant both announced and unannounced and their comments are sent with your file to a panel of at least seven chefs who review the file and make a decision.
If you could have only three herbs or spices (in addition to garlic, salt and pepper) which three would you choose? Nutmeg, Piment d'Espelette, and Sage.
If you are at home alone, no one to impress what do you make yourself to eat? I open a can of good French Sardines and then take a piece of good Comté cheese which I always have at home. And of course a glass or two of nice French wine.
If you could relive any meal of your life which would it be? At L’Oasis in the south of France in La Napoule in the 1980’s. The Chef was the great Louis Outhier, who sent me to Bangkok to replace Jean-Georges Vongerichten when he moved to New York to first open JoJo. On a trip home he invited me and my family to L’Oasis for a magnificent dinner in their beautiful garden. I was honored with my wife, Karen, my brother and my parents with a fabulous meal. It started with foie gras and truffles, St. Pierre (John Dory) with a Chateau Challon sauce, lobster with red curry, apples and mangos, and Pigeon. It was truly wonderful; my brother cried - it was so good.