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Meet the Ambassador's Chef
Ambassador's Chef Jean-Christophe Nourrisson (Photo: State Dept.)

Ambassador's Chef Jean-Christophe Nourrisson

Jean-Christophe Nourrisson has been the Ambassador's executive chef in Finland since 2004. A native of France, he has traveled extensively and worked abroad for over twenty years. His gastronomic journeys have taken him from pizzerias to five-star restaurants and from highway restaurants to castles, and he always tries to learn about different cuisines wherever he goes. The adventurous chef enjoys eating local food - you never see him eating French food in the States. An all-time favorite for a chef who started his career at a family restaurant at the age of 6, however, is a seafood shellfish dish, which is the first thing he orders whenever he voyages back home to France.

When did you first start cooking?
I was 6 and I worked in our family restaurant in Cancale, France. After school and homework I would go down to the kitchen and help my parents to put things in place, peel vegetables, cook shellfish and seafood, clean and prepare meat and poultry, and of course, wash the dishes. My first job was working as a kitchen assistant from the age of 6 to 15. During each summer holiday, my father would send me to work for two months. I would work in a pastry shop, at a butcher's, fishmonger's, baker's, or picking vegetables (the hardest job), in order to know about the food chain from its original state to the plate.

Whom are you inspired or influenced by?
Inspiration first came from my parents, from their restaurant, and above all, from the opportunity of working with very regional products of great quality according to the season - shellfish and fish in particular, which we would go and fetch from the harbor as soon as the fishermen would be back. Later Paul Bocuse, a famous French chef, has encouraged me a great deal since he was the Master chef at the time. I went to cooking school in Quimper, France, for a year and a half instead of the usual three (thanks to the family training), so I then had the opportunity to work in two kitchens: I spent nine months with Marcel Coadou, who had worked with Paul Bocuse, and then worked with Serge Lelann, former sauce head chef at the Negresco's in Nice, who taught me the art of making a sauce. The training was very hard as we were in school for one week and then we would be in a hotel's restaurant for three weeks. We had the same schedule as the chefs but above all we had the great chance to learn so much and to witness the real work itself, which was very motivating for me. The advantage was to work in teams, going from place to place, where we would be trained - something which is disappearing these days.

You have had the opportunity to travel the world and learn different recipes; do you have a favorite type of food to prepare?
I have worked abroad for twenty-two years now. I cannot say that I have a favorite food or cuisine. I've just had the opportunity to travel a lot and I have tried to learn about different cuisines of the world, which has allowed me to either reproduce it in a different way based on the raw ingredients or modify it according to fine dining rules. So I would consider myself as a chef whose cooking has benefited from a variety of culinary influences.

What has been your most memorable experience being a chef?
I have many souvenirs from each country. My culinary journey has not been typical as I have worked in all sorts of places: traditional restaurant, pizzeria, semi-gastronomic restaurant, restaurant with two Michelin stars, hotels with three, four or five stars, highway restaurants and castles. Each place left its mark, memories, and always provided something to learn. But my favorite souvenir is the following: I had just arrived in the Ivory Coast, and we had a gala dinner for 500 guests. As the second-in-command, I went to the vegetable chef to ask him to prepare three vegetables for the main course: one carved, one stuffed and one reconstituted. Having well explained what I wanted, I went back to my cooking preparations. A few hours later, I went back to him to supervise the work and check all was going well. What a surprise I got: everything was ready, he had done a job of remarkable quality (it was superb and perfect), but he had doubled the quantity I had asked. I asked him why he had made so much and the vegetable chef told me then that he did not know how to count. I remained stony-faced and did not say anything because despite his illiteracy, he had the will to do his job and do it well, and he cared. It made me think of some of the young people who had worked for me and had come from top cooking schools but had neither the passion nor the will to do their job and whose work was a thousand times inferior to that of this vegetable chef.

If you had to pick, what is your favorite four course meal to eat?
When I cook or am in a restaurant, I particularly concentrate on entrees since they come first. If you mess them up, people always wonder about the rest of the meal and what is coming next. I do not have a particularly favorite meal. I love to cook and eat anything: entrees, main courses and desserts. When eating out, I order based on the type of restaurant, the location, what is available locally, the country I am in. I have to admit, though, that when I go back to France, a seafood-shellfish dish is always what I order first.

If we saw you eating in a restaurant what would we see you ordering?
It depends where I am and in which country. It is of no interest to me to eat French if I am in the USA. It is much more interesting trying the local cuisine in the country I am in.

What is your passion outside of work?
My two daughters and cooking competitions, which I try to take part in whenever I have the time, depending on where they take place. Then I follow various sports depending on the seasons, and I read to discover the culinary traditions and techniques of the countries I have not visited yet.