SUCCESS STORY: Inside Philippe Mouchel’s Plate
Today, I would like to introduce you a successful cooker, because his life path is so inspiring! I met the French Chef Philippe Mouchel in his restaurant in Melbourne, called Philippe, a restaurant with refined French cuisine as you probably guessed. Settled in Melbourne since 1991, he made his debut with the prestigious Paul Bocuse and is a reference in Melbourne. Let’s have a plunge into Philippe Mouchel’s plate!
Eléonore Arnold: You’re a famous chef in Melbourne, but also in France and abroad; you also have a magnificent career punctuated by success. Where does this love for cooking come from, and how did you get to this point?
Philippe Mouchel: This love for cooking was passed down to me by my family, especially my father who was a cook. But I have to say that the one who really gave me the desire to go down this road was my grandmother. You know, like most French grandmothers, and I think I’m no exception, mine was an excellent cook. She inspired me a lot and gave me this love of cooking. After a somewhat chaotic school journey, at the age of 16, I got involve in an apprenticeship in the foodservice industry. I was very lucky because there was a hotel near my parents’ home in Normandy that had a Michelin star.
I was hired there as an apprentice. At the time, the apprenticeship cycles were lasting three years. So I completed my entire curriculum there, then I had the opportunity to meet the Chef from Paul Bocuse’s restaurant who offered me a job at the end of my apprenticeship contract. I was barely 20 years old when I packed my bags to go working with Paul Bocuse. This is when it all started.
Eléonore Arnold: Paul Bocuse is a monument of French gastronomic cuisine and you had the chance to share his kitchen. What do you remember about him?
Philippe Mouchel: Every time I think of him, it’s always with emotion. As you know, Paul Bocuse had 3 stars in the Michelin Guide for 40 years. He was therefore, extremely demanding. We had no right to make mistakes. It was quite complicated; we didn’t look at the hours and those who were too attached to their watches didn’t usually stay. I saw people hired in the morning and quitting in the evening. However, those years at his side allowed me to be who I am today. It was a fantastic school. We learned how to work, but he also taught us discipline, entrepreneurship, marketing and the importance of relationships in this profession. He was one of the first chefs to go abroad to promote French cuisine and French chefs. I went to Japan for the opening of a “Paul Bocuse” restaurant. I was only 21 years old at the time, with just two years of training by his side, but I jumped at the chance. I already had a taste for travelling!
Eléonore Arnold: Your talent led you to travel a lot. From Japan to Hong Kong, the United States and then Australia, you developed your latest project, the restaurant “Philippe”, in Melbourne 3 years ago now. This restaurant showcases a sophisticated French cuisine. Why did you choose Melbourne?
Philippe Mouchel: I am here today thanks to Paul Bocuse, who once again wanted to open a restaurant in Australia, especially in Melbourne. After ten years spent in Japan, I wanted to get away. So in 1991, I opened the Paul Bocuse restaurant on the 4th floor of a department store. Unfortunately, I think the offer was a bit too high-end at the time for the Australian market. It didn’t work out and the restaurant closed after seven years of existence. I felt good here and basically I never left.
" I was barely 20 years old when I packed my bags to go working with Paul Bocuse. This is when it all started."
Eléonore Arnold: What is your point of view about French gastronomy in Australia? Is the “French touch” popular?
Philippe Mouchel: As far as gastronomy is concerned, to be honest, it is fairly complicated. I think Australians love their food and are quite chauvinistic I have to admit. I’m lucky enough to have a name here, so I have a clientele, but if you look closely, there are very few gastronomic restaurants in Melbourne. You’re going to find a lot of breweries, bistros and creperies, but there are very few that offer top-notch gastronomic cuisine. I think that French gastronomy does not quite meet the expectations of Australians, at least for most of them. My clients are rather people who travel a lot and who have got to know this cuisine.
Eléonore Arnold: Do you have any upcoming projects or events that you would like to share with us?
Philippe Mouchel: Yes, I recently created the branch of the “Comité Universel du Cassoulet” [Universal Cassoulet Committee]. This committee already existed in France, Japan, Canada, Belgium and the United States, but not in Australia. So last July, I proposed three dinners in Melbourne on this French dish. For the occasion, I invited a friend of mine who is the president of the Committee in Japan. He came to cook “Cassoulet” for a week for the three dinners, which was a great success. I want to repeat the event every year during the period.
I have another project that I would like to carry out next year. I would like to open a wine bar offering a kind of tapas, refined hors d’oeuvres, something more accessible than what I currently offer in my restaurant, but I can’t tell you more, it’s still in the planning stage.
"Every time I think of him, it’s always with emotion. As you know, Paul Bocuse had 3 stars in the Michelin Guide for 40 years. He was therefore, extremely demanding. We had no right to make mistakes."
Eléonore Arnold: As the holidays approach, would you have a little advice to give us to succeed cook our Christmas meal like a “chef”?
Philippe Mouchel: For French people living in Melbourne, I would advise celebrating Christmas the Australian way with a barbecue. We’re indeed a long way from our traditional French Christmas dinner, but we have to adapt and let’s not forget that here, in December, the weather is fine, so take advantage of the opportunity to dine on the beach.
On the other hand, for French people living in France, the cooking advice I could give would be about how to cook your Christmas turkey. I recommend poaching your turkey with vegetables and putting it in the oven to brown it when it is three-quarters cooked. If you wish to roast it, be careful to roast it gently to prevent the bird from drying out and baste it well with butter. You can stuff the turkey with chestnuts or foie gras.
Pictures: Philippe Restaurant