Passing on knowledge to the younger generations while associating gastro-diplomacy and solidarity
"The easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach."
Here is a beautiful story, full of humanity. This is the story that Chef Guillaume Gomez tells us.
Working at the Élysée palace for a little over two decades, Guillaume has already cooked for four different presidents of the French Republic. He is the youngest Chef to win the MOF award (Best Craftsman in France) in history at the age of 25, as well as being the president of the Cuisiniers de la République Française and co-president of Euro-Toques France. He is the one who has taken the baton for French gastronomy from the late, great Chef Paul Bocuse. Deeply committed, it is with immeasurable energy that Guillaume puts his function and aura at the service of the many organizations he supports and causes he's an advocate for. Guillaume is at the service of others more than himself, in which he displays unlimited generosity. His commitments are numerous of which include: cancer research, integration of disabled personnel, leukemia, AIDS, environmental protection, and most recently, feeding caregivers during the covid-19 crisis.
Driven by strong values of sharing, transmission and philanthropy, Guillaume created the Institute of Culinary Excellence, a scholarship program to train the unprivileged youth in the food service industry, to integrate them into professional life and then support them. Guillaume is an author of several best-selling books, for which all the proceeds are donated to charity. In his spare time (and it is hard to imagine that he has any left), he is a marathoner who's already run the New York marathon twice.
Guillaume Gomez: What talent and what humility. I had the immense privilege of meeting this deeply moving and committed man and talking about his vision and his commitments. In the following interview, he shares with us his philosophy, his involvement in the cause he supports, and his passion for transmission.
It is with great honor that I welcome Guillaume to Chefs for Impact!
By Guillaume Gomez as told to Chefs for Impact
What path led you to working at the Élysée Palace?
"I've always wanted to be a Chef. I have this picture of me from kindergarten where I'm dressed as a chef. At the time, the kitchen jobs were more of a siding where those with bad grades would try their luck. This was not the case for me, I was a pretty good student. That's probably the reason why some teachers tried to dissuade me from quitting school when I was 14 years old. But my decision was made: I’m going to culinary school and I will be a Chef. There I chose to do a dual study program because at that point, I really wanted to work. Very quickly, I discovered what cooking was and what the atmosphere of a restaurant was. Then I had the chance, in the course of my experience, to meet the right people at the right time: a passionate teacher who taught me a lot and made me discover the passion for transmission. Then it was my first employer, Jacques Le Divellec, who placed me at the Élysée Palace more than 20 years ago. When I joined the team of this 2 Michelin-starred Chef, I discovered the world of Michelin-starred gastronomy, a large brigade, a different atmosphere, a harsher universe of men who were there to work hard and move forward. I learnt a lot of things, including rigor. I met renowned Chefs, talented MOFs, well-known journalists, and celebrities from all over the world. I evolved very quickly within this restaurant where I stayed three years before joining the Elysée Palace for my military service; I was 18 years old. A completely different universe unveiled: a large brigade too, but in a very good, more familial atmosphere where people helped each other in a friendly manner. I learnt what teamwork really means. I met the most renowned chefs and I started the saga of culinary competitions, until I tried the MOF competition, the ultimate reward for a craftsman, in 2004. I find myself the winner at the age of 25, making me the youngest MOF in history. This title has allowed me to evolve quickly within the brigade, and within the profession, as I met a lot of people. But at the same time, it also made me think a lot about my career. I was only 25 years old, and I could not take part in any more competitions, as well as not understanding the sudden fame and media coverage that goes with it. I realized it is all useless if it is not to serve the greater good. Supported by the communication department of the Élysée Palace, I decided to use the social exposure to talk about the non-profit organizations and causes I am involved in.”
You put your function and your energy at the service of many organizations. Can you tell us more about that?
“Each cause is more beautiful than the next. When I see the energy and dedication displayed by these nonprofits and their volunteers, I tell myself that if I can help at my level, I will with great pleasure! So, I am involved in many causes. To name just a few: cancer research, integration of disabled staff, leukemia, AIDS, children with cancer, environmental protection, and more recently, feeding caregivers during the covid-19 crisis.
Among the projects that I support, there is one that is particularly close to my heart: The Institute of Culinary Excellence. A few years ago, as suggested by Mrs. Macron, I met the Ismail brothers, who own the OSO farm that produces organic shrimps in the north of Madagascar. The first time I visited the farm, I realized the extent of the commitment of these two entrepreneurs to the poor and isolated local community. They managed to construct a hospital, a nursery, a school, an installation of drinking water, and electricity for the villages. Touched and impressed by their initiatives, I decided to help them. Since transmission and teaching have always been important values for me, I decided to help find patrons and raise funds through various actions, in order to build a culinary school to offer education to the local youth. What was initially intended to be a sponsorship to help them launch a cooking class program, has turned into a strong partnership with a long-term vision and the construction of 3 schools in Madagascar and Mauritius! Our mission is to provide local unprivileged youth with scholarship and professional opportunities. Once graduated, the students are guaranteed a job thanks to various agreements we have made with the local hotels and restaurants. The hospitality industry in Madagascar is constantly in need of qualified personnel. We offer these children who have nothing and have never been to school, a real perspective for the future in a country where 80% of the population is unemployed. It is not even a social elevator; it is a real destiny for these children! I’m so proud to be part of this project. It's nice to think that with a little human energy you can do that. Madagascar has been an amazing journey so far!
If I lead such projects, it's to carry the values of France loud and clear: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity ... and transmission! I don't see my job any differently. My job is not only to cook food, but also to pass on values, to support agriculture, and to support the terroir and those who make it. If we want our French gastronomy to continue to be known and recognized throughout the world, it is not only by making great dishes that will succeed, but it is also by showing that Chefs are generous and take time for others.”
Is it this same desire for transmission that led you to write several books?
“I see books as an additional means of transmission. My conditions to publish these books were that they had to be printed in France on French paper and that all the profits had to go to charity. The first one was a personal recipe book, which sold 18,000 copies. Then came another book on the technique and transmission of traditional French cuisine whose preface was, for the first time in history, co-signed by Paul Bocuse and Joël Robuchon. By chance, this will be their last written work, since both of them died the year the book was published. With this book detailing all the techniques of French cuisine, there is no reason to miss a recipe unless you miss a page! It has been a great success, based on which the publisher offered me to write another version for children. A book that was awarded best children's book in the world by the World Cookbook Awards.”
What is your philosophy for a more responsible gastronomy?
“Tomorrow's gastronomy will be above all social, societal, and environmental. It must set an example, and it must ONLY be seasonal. Eating a tomato mozzarella salad in Paris in December is an economic, gustatory, and environmental nonsense!
Fortunately, tomorrow's gastronomy has already started today. Gone are the days when all the fine dining restaurants had identical menus, regardless of their geographical location or the season. The classic traditional French cuisine has already been revisited, lightened, and above all, made more responsible. Chefs have re-appropriated their terroir and thanks to social media, people have become interested in cuisine and seasonality. Consumers have become aware that a beautiful product is what makes the difference and what makes it luxury. Today's consumers are not offended to eat a vegan appetizer in a five star hotel when at the time they would have had to eat caviar or langoustines. The nobility of a product comes from its seasonality, its taste, and its terroir. Behind this product there are men and women, farmers, fishermen, and producers. It is the history of the product that makes it the value chain.
Gastronomy must be environmentally friendly. We must recycle and limit food waste by making the most of the product.
Gastronomy must be responsible. Attitudes have changed and we have become aware of many things, for example what was happening in slaughterhouses is unacceptable. It is not a question of stopping eating meat but rather choosing quality over quantity. We must give priority to people who do their job properly. These people who respect the animals, the land, and their terroir must not be in competition with people who respect nothing.
We must certainly take advantage of the media coverage of gastronomy to raise awareness, but cooking is above all about taste, and not for posting on Instagram. Food can only be good and healthy.
Eating is a political act. The consumer must be consistent and stop buying tomatoes in winter. Moreover, when you buy in season, it is when the product is the tastier and cheapest. Change comes through education, action, and transmission. For 20 years now, I have been taking part in taste weeks in schools, working with students to make them aware of the importance of eating well, and I train nearly 400 trainees every year.
Gastronomy is a chain and Chefs are only one link amongst others in that chain. Tomorrow's gastronomy is one we will all create together.”
Deep breath moment: