Spot the celebrity chef: header photos from Chef Troisgros's collection
Coming from a family with generations of tradition in the kitchen, Claude Troisgros has cooking in his DNA. But the French chef took a different path to his father and brother, following his own curiosity to Rio de Janeiro and developing a new cuisine in his adopted Brazil.
Here, Rio’s best-loved Frenchman and winner of the 2016 Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award for Latin America talks us through his lifetime of learnings.
I’m from the third generation of Troisgros chefs. Thomas, my son, is the fourth. I was born in a kitchen – I mean this, literally – I was born in 1956 in our family restaurant in Roanne, which is still open in the same place today.
My father and my uncle were the creators of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement. Since my childhood, I have ‘lived’ this movement with much intensity – it was my school, my way of life.
When I was eight years old, I signed a contract with Paul Bocuse, committing myself to be a chef. At weekends, my brothers and I worked in the kitchen, helping to clean the mushrooms, fish and poultry.
I arrived in Brazil in 1979, at the age of 23, and was employed by Rio Palace Hotel to open the restaurant Pre Catelan, whose chef was Gaston Lenôtre. At the time I was working with my father and it was an opportunity to travel and feed my adventurous spirit.
Claude and Thomas Troisgros (image: Tomas Rangel)
I fell in love with Rio de Janeiro – and with a Carioca girl. Brazil adopted me, welcomed me with open arms, and I decided to stay. Rio is the most beautiful city in the world.
At first, it was quite complicated. Brazil was at the end of a military dictatorship so imports weren’t arriving and it was hard to find good products for French cuisine. Perhaps that was my good fortune. The scarcity of products forced me to discover Brazilian fruit, vegetables and spices that I wasn’t aware of.
I started to cook with French techniques, but giving special value to Brazilian products. Without even realising it, I was creating my own style of cuisine.
At the time, Brazil was very ill-informed in terms of gastronomy. You could find local cuisine in Rio, with gastropubs serving feijoada [the national meat stew]. There were also some Italian restaurants, but French…? Nothing.
Being part of a “dynasty" of great chefs always has two sides. The downside is that expectation and pressure are very high. I can’t make mistakes because I’m a Troisgros. How many times have I heard: "Your food is good, but not like the food of your father!"
The positive side is that any move I make has immediate impact. The media and guests quickly arrive on the scene to try out whatever I’m doing.
Beet cured amberjack, acidic beet purée, crunchy quinoa, spiced mayonnaise (image: Tomas Rangel)
I first went to the Amazon 25 years ago. It was a true paradise. At the time it was difficult to bring Amazonian products to south-eastern Brazil so I used to carry them in my luggage: tucupi, flour, starches, chillis and jambu seeds to plant in my small farm.
Today, Brazil has some of the best chefs in the world. We have young chefs emerging with enough technical skill and talent to show off modern Brazilian cuisine.
My life remains the same – I work and cook every day. The only difference is that before I started appearing on TV shows, I didn’t spent so much time posing for pictures!
For over 15 years our vegetables at the restaurant have all been organic. Now, with the vision of my son Thomas, our attention is focused on sustainability and avoiding food waste. Our world is suffering and we, as chefs, must do our bit.
My cuisine is now a synergy between my generation and my son Thomas’s generation. He creates, while I give my opinion and final approval. Thomas has talent and, above all, responsibility and respect for our family tradition. Our food gives great value to flavour, and the product is always king.
I realised over time that everything my Italian grandmother told me was true: “What you are planting today is what you will get tomorrow." It is a message of wisdom. Of course, sometimes a little luck helps.
Watch Chef Troisgros's acceptance video: