At Les Sources de Cheverny, chef Frédéric Calmels has found a new challenge but also a way to satisfy a desire for nature. Former right-hand man of Jérôme Banctel at the restaurant La Réserve, passed by the kitchens of Michel Troisgros or Alain Senderens, the native of Recoules-Prévinquières magnifies the riches of the Loire region to design the menus of the inn and the Favori, the gourmet table freshly awarded a michelin star. Meet.
The consecration did not take long. Less than a year after taking over the helm of the restaurant Des Sources de Cheverny, a high-end hotel concept located in the gardens of Château de Breuil in the Loire Valley, Aveyron chef Frédéric Calmels has just won his first Michelin star.
At the helm of Favori, a gastronomic restaurant that gives pride of place to the culinary heritage of the Loire, the native of Recoules-Prévinquières joins the constellation of starred chefs from Aveyron where, for some of them, he trained.
Before joining the project led by Alice and Jérôme Tourbier, who came, after 20 years of success at Les Sources de Caudalie, to transpose their vision to the heart of the Loire Valley, on the border of the gardens of France and the forest of Sologne, Frédéric Calmels had already won a gourmet Bib with the Auberge, the complex’s other “catering point” dedicated to calm and well-being.
A suprise ? “Not completely, recognizes the native of Recoules-Prévinquières who, on the plate, serves a cuisine where the “Ligerian garden”, the plant, finds all its letters of nobility. We have worked rigorously and intensely to be able to be visited by the guide. Each service was dedicated to this… but we were betting more on a reward in 2023. It’s here, a year earlier than expected. Let’s not sulk our pleasure.”
Pleasure but not excessive euphoria for a conductor who resolutely knows the music. Passed by the hotel school of Saint-Chely D’Apcher, “a school of rigor” validates the person concerned, Christophe Calmels then cut his teeth in prestigious establishments such as the restaurant Senderens, La Table du Lancaster with Michel Troisgros, or even La Tour d’Argent.
He then spent six years alongside Jérôme Banctel. First, as sous-chef of the restaurant Le Gabriel de La Réserve Paris, then Le Loti de La Réserve in Geneva. “A beautiful professional but also personal meeting, recognizes the Aveyronnais who “wanted to move on and leave Paris”. Meeting.
How and when did cooking impose itself on you?
Nothing was premeditated (laughs). I had never really thought about that. My father is a farmer. When I was young, I worked a lot with him on the farm. Very early on, I had the chance to be in the presence of good, natural products. To appreciate the happiness of the table, good little dishes. My mother cooked very well. Then one day, I told myself that I was going to become a cook. I went to school, I did internships with Michel Truchon in Villefranche-de-Rouergue then with Michel Bras. These first experiences reinforced my choice by giving me the desire to go further.
You then moved on to prestigious kitchens. With Michel Senderens, Michel Troisgros, Jérôme Banctel. What do you remember from these experiences?
Excellent memories, a real requirement and a constant source of inspiration. From Michel Troisgros, I remember his cuisine based on acidity enhanced with a small dash of vinegar, lemon, a slightly sour dairy product. From Alain Senderens, his way of building a plate, of approaching a tasting by being very specific about food and wine pairings. Being able to taste a dish almost in one bite. This is also why my cooking is fairly centered on the plate. It is legible, simple.
From Jérôme Banctel, his technique, his rigor in everything and the certainty that to last in this profession, you have to be regular, rigorous. These three chefs, quite innovative in this sense, also allowed me to make a few incursions into Asia. Michel Troisgros was the first French chef to work with fresh yuzu for example, Alain Sanderens the first to bring ginger into his kitchen in the 70s and 80s. These influences can be found in my cooking.
A kitchen where plants are king
This is the primary intention. To offer plant-based cuisine embellished with spices, herbaceous touches and wild plants. Work on the duality between the garden side and controlled market gardening of the Loire and the slightly wilder side of the Sologne forest. But I can assure you, I also like meat and fish. I’m not a vegetarian yet (laughs).
Do you also want to return to a seasonality of products?
By coming here, the idea was indeed to apprehend the profession differently than in Paris where you can have everything when you want. I wanted to get closer to the land, to the producers, to live a little more to the rhythm of the seasons. To adapt to them. Watching the vegetables grow, drawing up a harvest schedule with the market gardeners which may be compromised by a lack of water or a late frost… I am discovering all this territory. The Loire which has many beautiful things to show off and not just its vineyards. It’s all super interesting.
And Aveyron in all this?
On the inn part, centered on cooking over the fireplace, I offer grilled Aveyron lamb sausage, for example. I also cook with flambadou capuchins. A few nods to the department. I would have been very happy to offer an aligot with a Loire cheese, but no one does that here yet. Maybe in the long term, we will manage to develop something with a local producer.
More prosaically, how did you structure your house?
With a brigade structured precisely on two restaurants, Le Favori and the Auberge. But like many, we are always looking for new collaborators, new talents. As such, I take advantage of it: if young people from Aveyron want to join a process alongside me in the kitchen, in the dining room or in other hotel trades, they are welcome.