The worship-worthy purist Michel Bras is a man of few words, none of which are in English. So when Grub Street spoke with the famously reserved chef at Columbus Circle’s Williams-Sonoma on Tuesday night, where he was launching his new line of high-end knives and cooking tools, it wasn’t exactly a gossip fest. He did hug it out and exchange sweet French nothings with Thomas Keller for five minutes, who took the escalator down from Per Se in his impeccable kitchen whites, embracing Bras like a long-lost brother and confirming his dinner reservation there later on. In the meantime, a few fun facts (as translated by his publicist) about one of the world’s most elusive chefs.
Bras is a non-vegetarian who eats exactly like a vegetarian: “Vegetables are my life. I can’t say which New York restaurants I like, because I honestly prefer to go to Union Square Market or Chelsea Market and gather whatever vegetables I can find and come home to play with them. Vegetables are much more generous and luxurious than any protein from an animal. Sure, I eat the occasional piece of meat, but for me and my son, vegetables are the portal to the treatment of all other foods.”
His three favorite foods are kind of crazy: “First, pea pods are my favorite because picking them is wonderful. Second, because I never waste anything in cooking, I love the broccoli stem that most people throw away. The root is the best part. It’s much more tender and velvety. It’s got much more of a spirit than the broccoli flower and there’s more to work with. Lastly, I’ll say an apple core — not the apple, but the seeds inside the core. [At this point he offers us some seeds, which we try … interesting.] The palette of expression is phenomenal, and that’s the first thing you find in the garbage.”
The only New York restaurants he’s ever loved are closed: “I don’t feel comfortable saying which French restaurants I like here because I haven’t gone to any more than once recently, and it’s not fair to judge based on one tasting. I will say the best thing I’ve ever eaten in Manhattan is the apple they gave me after I finished the New York Marathon. Besides that, there was a restaurant called Arizona where they made a bread made out of blue flour, which blew me away. There was a restaurant called Food & Wine in Soho — it’s gone now, but the ambiance was most unbelievable!”
He’s totally fine with everyone ripping off his Gargouillou salad: “If people copy my salad, I couldn’t care less. It’s not a competition. As a general rule, I don’t personally borrow ideas from other chefs myself.”
Just because he’s a purist, doesn’t mean he resists indulgence: “Yes, I eat sweets! The best dessert I can ever imagine is having a piece of dark chocolate and splitting it with my wife before bed.”
Michel Bras hates TV: “I don’t watch any food shows. None whatsoever. It’s not a passion for me. All of my friends are on TV — Thomas, Jean-Georges. But I’d never do my own TV show under any circumstances. No. Never. No interest. Jamais.”