A while back when in Alsace I was lucky enough to come across a restaurant in the lovely town of Riquewihr called Au Trotthus. After several days of the regional specialities chou croute and baeckeoffe – both extensively featured on the menus of restaurants in Riquewirh and both heavy dishes, I was thrilled that the food at Au Trotthus was genuinely great French cuisine and obviously cooked by a chef who knows his onions.
My suspicions were confirmed when Chef Philippe Aubron came out of the kitchen and introduced himself to all the guests in the restaurant and we got talking. I was astonished and not a little overawed to discover that Chef Aubron was in fact a very famous chef who’d earned a lot of Michelin stars over the years – though I can’t say that surprised me as it was without a doubt the best meal I’ve ever had.
Chef Aubron appeared on a TV show in 1996 in Japan – the Iron Chef – and his performance mesmerised the Japanese audience watching (some 45% of the population – a very popular show). He became known as the “Magician of the Herbs” and it enabled him to open a phenomenally successful French restaurant “Philippe Aubron Gion” in the middle of Kyoto, the only business in the exclusive Geisha district of Gion operated by a foreigner.
He also worked as Executive Consultant Chef at the prestigious Sandy Lane resort, Jumby Bay, Barbados – hang out of the rich and famous of the world so I don’t need to emphasise how high the standard of food was at Au Trotthus. He has earned more honours and awards over the years than I have room to mention.
Chef Aubron is a man of immense charm and Gallic flair, constantly busy, either devising new menus, new dishes, shopping for the best ingredients, training the staff but he took time out of his very busy day to talk to The Good Life France:
TGLF: What inspired you to become a chef?
When I was little I loved to help my mother to cook on Saturday afternoons. I also went to my grandmother’s – she was passionate about cooking family meals – especially on Sundays. Those Sunday dinners were very important to our family – we spent at least four hours at the table! I must admit that personally for me as a child, it was hard to sit still throughout this gargantuan meal!
TGLF: Who was the greatest influence on the way you cook?
I attended a Hotel Management School (Lycée Polyvalent Hôtelier Sainte-Anne, Saint Nazaire in Loire Atlantique) – it was far from what I had imagined (breweries or small restaurants – fried steak … etc). We learned the basics of cooking and I toiled to receive a diploma. I was so lucky to be taken on by Monsieur Roger Vergé’s “Moulin de Mougins” 3 Michelin star restaurant.
[Note from Editor: Moulin de Mougins is a celebrated restaurant in France, situated in a 16th-century mill (moulin) in the inland French Riviera town of Mougins. When I say celebrated I mean possibly one of the most famous restaurants in France under Monsieur Vergé].
There, I realized that for me, the grand kitchen was what I wanted to do. Monsieur Vergé inspired in me a passion for cuisine, and for the style he called “Cuisine de Soleil” using only ultra fresh fish, meat, I remember those cooking smells of strawberries, chocolate, mint … at that time we were 36 small chefs in the kitchen – we were wide-eyed with awe when Monsieur Vergé came into the kitchen … I dreamed of one day becoming like him…
TGLF: What motivated you to leave France to be a chef around the world?
I had a taste for travel! I went to Japan on a two year contract as a chef for a Japanese company – it was wonderful to discover other continents and Asian cuisines. I stayed in Japan for 18 years, and after the two year contract was up I opened my own restaurant and then four more!
TGLF: Where is your favourite place to cook in the world?
I do not prefer any one place in the world, each country has influenced me in some way – how I see things and what I do in my kitchen, now I think I have a chance to be a good chef! Choosing Asia was a good choice, it taught me the finesse and delicacy of flavours in my kitchen. If I had gone directly to the USA for example I am convinced that today I would not have the same sensitivity in my kitchen.
TGLF: If you had not been a chef what would you do?
A musician but not classical music! A musician for groups such as Genesis, The Rolling Stones…
TGLF: Are you easy to work for?!
I am quite easy to work for! I think about five things at the same time, for my staff it is not always easy to follow me but I am very respectful of my employees, always a bit of humour to lighten the atmosphere in the kitchen, our job is already very hard, it is not necessary to add anything.
TGLF: What is your favourite menu?
A ham sandwich, with good butter, cornichons (pickles) in a baguette which has just come out of the oven! Or a steak with a mushroom and cream sauce… and some fries… that devil cholesterol!
TGLF: What made you choose to create Au Trotthus in Riquewihr?
It was a chance meeting and then the location was irresistible – Riquewihr is one of the most visited villages in France by the French of course, but also foreigners from the four corners of the world.
TGLF: If you could invite anyone in French history to dinner – who would it be and what would you cook for them?
Well it would have to be Jacques Chirac and I’d have to meet in Japan. He was an exceptional man and a bon vivant; I think he would be happy with Tête de veau with sauce Gribiche.
Merci beaucoup to Chef Aubron for giving us this wonderful interview.
He also gave us a recipe for a dish that sounds sublime – ravioli of foie gras made with gyoza, Japanese dumpling dough, served with a cappuccino of green lentils – one for all foodies!
To make a reservation at the wonderful Au Trotthus restaurant in Riquewihr – go to the website Au Trotthus.