Arnaud Donckele, a 35-year-old chef who heads up the kitchens at La Vague d'Or in Saint Tropez, became the 27th French chef to obtain three Michelin stars on Monday. The winner gives us a glimpse into his reactions to the victory and a look at some of the highlights of his career to date. The key to his success? Working with and learning from some masters of the world of haute cuisine.
Relaxnews: What do these three stars mean to you?
Arnaud Donckele: This third star has brought a lot of joy to all those around me: the restaurant owner, my colleagues and everyone we represent at the restaurant.
R.: When did you find out? How did you react?
AD: Michael Ellis, the director of the Michelin Guides, called me on Saturday to break the news. I was with my wife and I burst into tears.
R: At 35, you are a young chef, the youngest to ever have obtained three Michelin stars in France. Is it fair to say that this is the culmination of your career path? AD: That would be a little premature. But let's just say that it is recognition for my work and for my team's work. These three stars are a reward for the philosophy I apply to my cooking as well as the daily efforts we all have to make, and that our wives often have to bear.
R: Was a third star one of your goals?
AD: My goal has always been to bring emotion, even love, to my dishes. If the rest -- recognition, prizes, stars -- follows, great, but if it doesn't, it isn't the end of the world. It isn't exactly a hardship though [laughs], it's the icing on the cake.
R: Over the past few days, there were a lot of rumors circulating about you joining the Michelin France three-star elite. Did you believe it would happen?
AD: Of course, I had heard the rumors. It was hard to believe, though. In such situations, what's most difficult is to stay calm and detached. If it all goes wrong, one can be extremely disappointed. It has already happened to other chefs in the past.
R: Will this new status change the way you work?
AD: I hope not and I am confident that it won't. I am going to have to focus on staying at the top of my game. The day I change, it will probably be the beginning of the end.
R: You earned your stripes with Michel Guérard, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Louis Nomicos. Which one inspired you the most?
AD: I was very lucky to work with Alain Ducasse. My relationship with Jean-Louis Nomicos is intangible. Put it this way: Guérard and Ducasse taught me how to read music whereas Nomicos showed me how to write a symphony. He taught me that it is important to write a story, to use your heart and your soul to create. I was very lucky. Just like many other things in life, you need support from the right people. When things were hard, these renowned chefs helped me to get back on track.
R: As a new three-star chef, how will you surprise your customers' taste buds this spring?
AD: I am currently working on an old recipe I want to revamp. It will be on the menu three weeks to a month after the restaurant opens on April 19 as I still want to fine-tune it. I want to reinvent snails from the region with fennel or tomato.