This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.
As all foodies are aware tradition has long been very strong in the world of French cuisine.
When planning my most recent trip to Paris I sought recommendations for highly respected traditional restaurants and more particularly those who are leading change. I sought those chefs who are respecting the fundamentals of French cuisine and also adding individual interpretation to their menus. I compiled a diverse list including ‘Violon d’ingres’ by Christian Constant in the 7ème to ‘Spring’ by Daniel Rose in the 1er arrondissement.
Simultaneously I was seeking, aspirational, inspiring, and/or interesting people to interview for MyFrenchLife™.
I was surprised to find the name Chris Wright amongst the suggestions I received. This was a name with which I was not familiar at the time. However I had heard of ‘Le Timbre’ (the postage stamp), a petit Paris restaurant in the 6ème just south west of the Luxembourg gardens. The restaurant has a very good reputation.
Chris – the owner and the chef – originates from Manchester. The fact that a chef from Manchester was getting positive press and lots of repeat business in inner Paris attracted my attention. So a reservation was made for ‘Mon Mari et Moi’!
I was only able to obtain a reservation (the last available) for the first sitting in the evening … very early indeed! We had decided to share an aperitif prior to our meal. As we walked in the sunshine through Les Jardins Luxembourg to Le Timbre, I decided to approach Chris about an interview prior to our dinner.
The front door was open. Chris was in his kitchen, just 4 steps ahead of me. He was on the phone to customers and simultaneously ‘prepping’ for the early sitting. We chatted very briefly. Chris agreed to be interviewed and we made arrangements for the interview to take place the very next morning. Yeh great! Gulp, no time to ‘prep’!
I whipped around the corner to enjoy my aperitif and co-ordinate the MyFrenchLife™ Paris interview team for our breakfast meeting and interview ‘prep’ at 9 the next morning.
I have more to share about my delightful experiences at Le Timbre and the chef from Manchester who broke all the clichés about men NOT being able to multi-task!
What brought you to Paris?
I came there on holiday. I had spent the winter in the Alps, and to get back to England I had to go through Paris. I stopped there for a few days…and I’m still there!
Were you already a Chef then?
Not at all! I worked in a restaurant in Montpanasse for three years and when I opened here I wasn’t in the kitchen but my chef left and I was a having tough time finding a new chef, so I got into it.
How about your first encounter with gastronomy?
It was in France through summer jobs. What I like the most is the atmosphere around a table in France, with friends, family…This jovial side. I had friends in the Cantal region who were about a dozen to gather around the same table. I found this amazing. It was this conviviality that I wanted to find again in this restaurant.
Is this why you have an open kitchen and a fairly intimate space?
No, I didn’t have enough money to get something bigger! Really, the size of the room would have been the same anyway. The open kitchen was inspired by a few restaurants in St. Germain-des-Pres. Like Bistrot d’Henri, on the rue Guisarde: it’s very compact.
“What I like the most is the atmosphere around a table in France, with friends, family…This jovial side.”
You’re self-taught. How would you describe your experience with learning to cook?
Can I use swear words? (laughs) Tough. I’ve been doing this for 8 years…and I haven’t worked in other kitchens, with another chef…makes you isolated. I can read all the books I want – it’s by watching another chef, see how they do it, that one really progresses.
And things are good with your patrons?
I think so, but you’d better ask them.
Who are your patrons?
I have two sittings in the evening: the first is always almost entirely Anglophone, and then after about 9pm, there are more French people and Italians, Spanish…
You’re in the kitchen, on the phone, at the door. You’re everywhere. How to you keep with this rhythm?
Actually I’m only 25, I just look a little older.
Do you have any free time?
We have two days off every week, so it’s ok. I have a little house in the Cantal region which is a place I adore, so I try to spend a little time there. Otherwise I bike.
Is this how a chef can stay slim?
You just have to be on the phone and at the door.
There you go.
How do the French respond to a British chef here given British food’s reputation? Are they suspicious?
I think that now there are no more suspicions about that. British cuisine has generally improved, especially with all the cooking shows and the magazines.
Looking at your menu I see the foundations are very traditionally French, with some British touches. It reminded me that if we go back to generations ago, both cuisines have many things in common….?
Yes…I think it’s more about the culture, a way to serve food and to eat which is different, but to begin with both cuisines are similar.
I borrow a lot from fond holiday memories. It’s a little bit of nostalgia of good times spent and recreating those good times.
And what are the main differences?
It’s hard to say because I learned the job here, so I don’t see the differences that clearly. I think British cuisine is more influenced by the whole world, whereas French cuisine, with all that is in France, remained very French.
How do you decide on your menus?
I borrow a lot from fond holiday memories. It’s a little bit of nostalgia of good times spent and recreating those good times. Then we vary a lot with the seasons and the produce we get. Right now we have a very good boudin from the Pyrénées, a Bigord pig. In a few weeks we’ll have mostly game: wild ducks, pheasants…we’ll go into things like that until Christmas. Then we’ll have scallops in December. And then in January it’ll be something else.
And finally, your list of favourite things…
Oh dear! In the kitchen?
Not just in the kitchen…favourite area in Paris?
Right now I live in the 14ème and it’s a very, very nice area. Otherwise I like eating in the 1er arrondissement. And of course the 6ème, it’s the area used to live in and where I’ve worked for 10 years.
What are your favorite areas in France?
It’s the Cantal region without a doubt. For the landscape, all the food here, like the cheese. Then the South West around Bergerac, Perigord, Dordogne. I’m also trying to bike a little in the Lot Valley every year.
Favourite chef, dead or alive?
It’s my friend Cyrille at the restaurant Le Cerisier, who’s from Ariege, and honestly without him I wouldn’t have learnt how to cook. Then I ate at Michel Bras at Laguiole, and it was very nice. I also followed Michel Troigros’s cuisine a lot….and finally La Mere Brazier, a brasserie in Lyon where I ate not so long ago and now it’s run by a Mere and that restaurant really was fantastic. It’d been a long time that I’d liked a restaurant that much. Everything is very, very good.
Favourite French dish?
Sausage, aligot …non…(silence)
Too many to pick from?
Yes! (laughs) …saved!
Favourite English dish?
It’s just that I’ve spent more time here than there now.
Favourite French word?
It’s probably not polite. Better ask my waitress.
Are there places (galleries, concert places, etc) where you like to spend some free time?
I usually stay at home.
And where would you celebrate something special?
If it’s for a friends’ gathering it’s a Sunday lunch at the Comptoir de Lyon, or at L’Assiette in the 14ème.
How did you adapt to Paris, restaurant industry aside?
Aside? There’s nothing aside from the industry, what are you talking about? (laughs)
A typical day in your life?
I get here around 8am or 8:30. Sometimes I go to the market beforehand, otherwise I have everything delivered. Then, it’s prepping until 11:30am…or 5 to noon. Then we serve lunch until 3pm. We finish around 3 or 3:30pm. I take a little nap. And we start again around 5 or 5:30, until 12:30 in the morning. Then I sleep a little, and 30 minutes of internet.
Have we forgotten something?
I don’t want to bother you with the tour de France.
Ah yes of course, cycling! You also like the Tour de France?
Oh yes, the Tour de France! If I could make a cuisine around the Tour de France, with each region of the Tour…and this year they’re cycling through the Cantal region so…better not want to come eat here in July during the Tour !
A huge thanks to Chris Wright for this interview. This interview was conducted by Anne-Sophie Martin – My French Life Editorial Contributor – Paris, London, New York, working with Judy MacMahon – My French Life Fondatrice, and Christophe – My French Life photographer.
Have you eaten at Le Timbre, or any of the other great restaurants mentioned here? Tell us about your experience!