Jeremy Page, Executive Chef, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon London
Jeremy Page is the executive chef of the Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, London. In addition to working for the most Michelin-starred chef in Europe, Jeremy also trained with Jean-Marie Gautier M.O.F. and Vincent Arnould M.O.F.
The Staff Canteen spoke to Jeremy about his culinary journey from “le Périgord Noir” to Covent Garden and the unique fusion food-style at L’Atelier.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a chef?
If you asked my mum she’d say probably age four, but for myself, I realised it more than anything else probably about 14. I entered catering school after when I was 15 as an apprentice in pastry and then I moved back to the chefs training a few years after, aged 18. It was a good influence though, pastry. Cooking gets rid of all the stress and I just feel happy doing it and I still do!
Did growing up in France influence your food style?
Absolutely. I grew up in the south-west of France where we had the best produce; you can’t not be influenced. Eating is one of the best things in life. It’s very important there, absolutely.
Any specific produce from that region that you like working with?
Well, of course, it’s not very nice to say but foie gras must be one of them, even after everything that’s known and said, but yes that would be one because that’s a real speciality of the south-west of France. Of course, we’ve got the black truffles. Because I grew up in “Le Périgord Noir”. It’s not specific to just those two products, I love cooking whatever comes up. As long as you’ve got quality produce, it’s always interesting.
What was it like working with Jean-Marie Gautier?
When I was a pastry chef and when I moved on to being in the kitchen, Jean-Marie Gautier was the person who allowed me to get there; it’s not easy.
Every lunch I had to cook for him [Jean Marie Gautier]. That was scary, especially because he has the M.O.F – the blue, white and red colours. It’s the highest competition maybe in the world to get that ‘colour’ as they call it, he knows all his basics and he really helped me.
Was he very critical of your food?
Absolutely, because I had to get it right. I had to learn, I had to use my books and I was working even at night, trying to learn everything. It wasn’t easy. It was a hard time but once again, I was 18 so I had plenty of energy so it’s okay. You can sleep for four hours and it’s not much of a problem. The chefs are putting the energy in for you though and you have to give it back.
What was it like working at Vieux Logis?
With Vincent Arnould, he’s another M.O.F. as well. From Vincent, I discovered a different cuisine, freer, more fun. Also Michelin-starred as well but put much more joy into the kitchen than when I worked at the l’Hôtel Du Palais, Biarritz with Jean where we had a briefing every morning and every evening. You had to stand up against the wall and you all had to go and see the chef every morning. Very, very military organisation. It was good to see both sides and by being less military, there’s more creativity.
How did you get the job in Saint Germain?
A good question. Two connections – the two chefs I just talked about got me in there to get the job. I always said I’d never go up to Paris because I didn’t want to. I’m kind of a country guy and I didn’t want to go to a big town and the Parisians don’t have the best reputation so I really didn’t want to go up there! But I went there because it’s the place to be and it’s the place to learn for a young chef and you’re going to Joël Robuchon who was, and still is, the most Michelin-starred chef in the world. It was very exciting.
What was the interview/trial process for that role?
I had an interview and on that day M. Joël Robuchon was there too. This was more than 10 years ago now. I didn’t have much money so had to take the train up for six hours. I travelled in one day, there and back, not much fun just for an interview. I came in wearing a suit in about 30 degrees in June because you have to wear a suit! I remember waiting in the restaurant and someone said: “In a few minutes, M. Robuchon is going to come down”, and I remember waiting 10 minutes and that was 10 long minutes. Then I met Joël Robuchon and I did the interview. I had to go there, to get out of my boundaries and my comfort zone, I knew that was the thing to do. I think I started the next month and it was a good experience.
Why London? What influenced that move?
Well I mounted my way up the ladder and the last four years I was the head chef over there, Axel Manes was the executive and after a while, I got a bit fed up. Because when you work for ten years in the same place, you have a bit more freedom because you’re allowed to create. You’re allowed the total freedom with the total responsibility and the stress that comes with it. Yes, you’re allowed the total freedom. There were a few other things that happened in Paris. The last year I was there, 2015, a few terrorists. I’ve got two young children so really wanted to stay out of there. It is worrying having to explain to a six-year-old what happened. The chefs said you’ve got a chance in London, grab it. So, I did – it was hard to start with but was good fun.
What are your daily responsibilities in your role?
There’s a lot – too many! I have to check up on the sous chef and the chefs, make sure that they place their orders properly. I have to see the accountant and those awful parts of the job. You’re also responsible for all the staff, co-managing the building as well is part of my responsibility, changing the menus… It’s massive, it’s non-stop! Things break down when people can’t get things done, restoring the place as well. This is what we’re doing this year. We’ve got a few changes coming on. Buying and purchasing, that’s something that happens in the kitchen nearly 24 hours a day and you have to control all that.
Do you have an active role in recruitment as well?
I tend to give that to the head chef because if you’ve got a head chef you have to consider that it’s part of his team. It’s his team as well, not just my team. I’ve been more responsible with the whole building, looking after everyone more than just the kitchen. Of course, I’m close to the kitchen but it’s mostly his team. He takes care of them so he is responsible for them, but of course, I work with them all day, spending 15 hours with them all.
How does the menu work? Does Joel Robuchon have an input?
M. Robuchon has his input. He’s got his classics that we put on and take off for others of his classics, that turns around from time to time. Then there’s his classics that you can’t take off, but that would be 25-30% of the menu. Then all the rest of it, the 70-75% that’s left is up to us so that’s good fun but you’ve got this kind of line that you always follow. We don’t go out of it. That’s our role as executive chefs around the world for Joel Robuchon.
Do you and the head chef work together devising the menus?
Absolutely, we’re married nearly. I spend more time with him than my wife. We’ve been working six years together. He used to be my sous chef.
Do you have a particular favourite dish on the menu?
No, that’s like asking which child you prefer! Some of them are more difficult, except you can get rid of them and don’t have to wait until they’re 18. As I said they’re M. Robuchon’s classics and you have my classics that come on season by season, and change all the time. There are of course the bestsellers, but I’ve got a very bad memory for that. You’d have to ask front of house for the list!
Is there anything you are trying that’s very new and out-there menu-wise?
There’s always something new and we do controversial, that’s part of L’Atelier. L’Atelier is based on a Spanish tapas bar mixed with a sushi bar more or less, the décor anyway. We serve things that look slightly Spanish, slightly Asian, some of the French cuisine – it’s a whole mix of all that. The best products are taken from everywhere and used in our way. Sometimes it will be as simple as possible because sometimes you don’t want to ruin the product. It’s just the best produce you can get from everywhere. That’s the idea.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
On holiday! Definitely not early retirement, I’m addicted to cooking. I don’t think many chefs will be able to make the millions to retire early, only the exceptional ones of us can and when they have it, they don’t do it anyway, they just keep on going! Robuchon, Ducasse, they never stop. They’re way past the age to retire and they keep on going on because they’re addicts as well. Hopefully, I’ll still be cooking!
Brittany or Switzerland. By the seaside or a beautiful lake. That would be amazing. For the food? I’m turning more and more towards local – that’s the right way things should be done. Basically, we are still doing that but less and less considering the impact on the environment. We are responsible as chefs to promote that kind of thing, to eat locally and eat things that come from everywhere.
Dream brigade –
I would take all the people I’ve been working with for the last 16 years. I could say: “Come back and work with me!” but they’ve all got careers and they’re moving on so I’m very happy for them. But the people I’ve been working with would be my dream brigade for sure. I can’t name them; they know who they are.