We had to go to school at that time until age fourteen to finish primary school. Certificate étude. I was doing fine in school. I’m saying that only in that I didn’t have to leave school. My brother didn’t, and he became an engineer. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go into the kitchen and cook.
I liked the hustle, bustle, excitement, the sweating and yelling of the kitchen. I liked it very much; my brother didn’t. The other choice I would have had maybe was to become a cabinetmaker because my father was a cabinetmaker, doing fancy furniture, which we call ébéniste in France. And I still like to work wood. I was in Claudine’s house yesterday, looking at a table I did a few years ago. Pretty rough, but it’s still there.
I like to work with my hands, and I feel that anyone involved in food has to become a craftsman first. A technician. That doesn’t mean you have talent. It just means that you are able to move very fast and do things properly in an orderly manner, in a miserly manner. Certainly if you’re a jeweler or a carpenter or a surgeon, you first and foremost have to become a technician, to have the manual dexterity to dominate that trade. If you happen to have talent, now you have the know-how in your hand; you have the means to express this and bring it to a higher level.
If you look at the reverse: I know young chefs who have a lot of talent, but they’re technically very bad. The food doesn’t come out the way it should. I can do an analogy with my painting. I’ve been painting for thirty years. I do illustrations in my books. But I have never spent, like a professional painter, five hours every day in a studio, working, working, working, so I don’t really have much technique. I start a painting and sometimes it comes out halfway good, and I’m the first one astonished. Often I get disgusted because whatever I have in my head, my hand is not able to express it the way I want. I’m not good enough technically.