Guide Michelin about Fabien Raux Restaurant 1741 in Strasbourg “We leave the place with regret…” What great praise!
Michelin Star chef Fabien Raux takes us on his incredible journey from the beginning of his career, his time in China and Morocco, the beginning of his restaurant in Strasbourg in 1741 and what makes his current orientation so successful.
At 31 years-old, considerable international experience, your own restaurant today and the Michelin star. Starting by zero; where did your culinary career start and what motivated you to become a chef?
I was studying Business management at a university but I had to finance my studies so I worked in the kitchen of a local restaurant as a commis. After some time, I decided to change my focus of studies by enrolling in a school for hospitality, where I ultimately attained my degree.
Which culinary school did you attend?
I attended the hospitality management school of Le Touquet in the north of France. It was a very dynamic environment and I really enjoyed studying there. There, I was introduced to my first Chef, Mr Mompach who believed in me and encouraged me to participate in cooking tournaments.
Seemingly at the beginning of your cheffing career, you left France to work as Chef de cuisine at the Hyatt Regency Casablanca, Morocco. Sounds great, but how was that challenge working as a head chef for the first time?
For sure I was young but I was driven. The most difficult part was managing people in regards to keeping high standards in the kitchen. When you are chef you are also a mentor and an example, you must be able to be a leader but you are also responsible for the team evolution. I coached and I improved their competences. So one of the hardest points was finding a balance among all these elements.
How does the Moroccan kitchen inspire you still till this day?
Moroccan cuisine is very colourful, rich in flavours and generous. I can say that today I have kept this style inside of me. Moroccan cuisine is based on slow cooking methods and that’s why it is so flavorful. Today when I create a dish I want to tell a story by enhancing the flavours and merging that with a love for the products.
As Executive Chef you worked at the Jinuye by C.Dufosse in Cheng du, China, a fine dining restaurant, managed by the Michelin starred French chef, Christophe Dufosse. How was French Cuisine in China different from what one might expect in France or Europe in general?
The experience in China was the turning point of my career because I was managing a restaurant under the name of a Michelin starred chef who puts all his trust in me. I was representing French cuisine in China and working in the only gourmet restaurant in town, situated in a 5-star Hotel.
My aim was to maintain the traditions of French cuisine. I cannot say that my cuisine was very different from what I used to do in France. Therefore, I adapted some flavours and dishes to Chinese taste by using spices like Sichuan Pepper, or a few other techniques. I really enjoyed expressing myself to my clients who came to discover my vision of French cuisine.
How did Christophe Dufossé influence your cooking at that time?
Christophe Dufossé was my mentor, we worked together on recipes so even though the distance was undeniable, we discussed much about the restaurant and updating the menu.
His cooking is modern and at the same time traditional and his vision was the key element that influenced my cooking. The execution of the dishes was precise and elegant. I was able to very quickly integrate his cooking style and that’s a large part why we had such a great collaboration together.
Back in Morocco, you worked as Executive Chef at the Hotel et Resort le Naoura Barriére. From a culinary point of view, how are Casablanca and Marrakech different?
Casablanca is the heart of Morocco’s business and it is a frenetic city. In terms of cooking people like eating business menus. Marrakech has many hotels based on leisure so the menu must be different.
After all these international chef experiences, how would you describe your culinary style today?
My cuisine is modern, original and refined. I work on textures, colours and volume on a dish.
I want to convey emotions to my guests through flavours and aromas. Sometimes I like taking risks proposing something unusual: maybe a guest never imagined eating “that dish” but cooking with style can change their mind…
Rich on international experiences, you started a new challenge at the restaurant 1741 in Strasbourg, France. What was/ is the culinary set up of the 1741?
In 1741 the biggest challenge is the space. This restaurant is a world patrimony heritage site; it is as a very old house. Working in a small kitchen requires organisation and a lot of managing experience.
This restaurant really represents my cooking style in all of its aspects so I enjoy creating everyday.
We are constantly looking for excellence in every single element of the dish.
Today the restaurant is very successful, with a Michelin star and great evaluations of the Gault et Millau. What have been the toughest moments when you opened the restaurant?
When I took up my duties, the toughest moment was to build a team. Many people working at 1741 before I came, left and I need to start from 0.
I was motivated and sure that this project would be successful but I soon realized that not everyone felt at ease working in a 4 floor kitchen: steps in all the restaurant areas, kitchen, pastry, storage room and dining.
I am proud of the hard work we do everyday and I have a stable team, motivation and good ambiance, which are the keys of success.
Most Fine Dining/ Michelin restaurants decide for one interior style. Your restaurant has two: The ground floor: very classic with a modern twist; and on the second floor, the open kitchen, where three bar tables, including a large ‘table d’hôtes’, in a modern, understated setting, featuring unadorned white tables and elegantly designed black chairs. How did you adapt to the idea of the contrast? What is your experience with the open kitchen?
I like the idea of contrast because despite the limited space we create two atmospheres where guests can enjoy their dining experience.
One room is “casual” with a very sober décor, a city view on the river and the cathedral. Guests, who are coming for lunch or are looking for an alternative fine dining surrounding, find their place here.
This room gives a glance to the open kitchen and it is interesting for guests who appreciate the art of cooking. They observe how we make their dishes. I enjoy sharing this moment with my guests.
The other rooms are more “boudoir” that means couches, lounge area. They are classy and cozy spaces decorated with high-ended materials, Hermes tapestry and tableware.
The Gault et Millau described “Fabien Raux integrates very well in this selected setting a brilliant cuisine, inspired by the region and the season”. Which menu describes it best?
Our degustation menu describes it best. We start with the appetizers in 3 small pieces that represent 3 Alsatian dishes: La choucroute, la tarte flambee and le bibelskas. We continue with starters, composed of smoked eel from the Rhin and the other with goose liver a speciality from Alsace.
What are the traditional Alsace specialities and how do you interpret them?
Alsace is a region rich in gastronomy, there are many specialities. I created an aperitif as a journey at the heart of Alsatians gastronomy, it is composed of 3 dishes that we have revisited in form and texture but the authentic taste remains the same.
Strasbourg is known for its rich culinary tradition. What makes it so unique?
Alsace is one of the richest regions in terms of wine labels but also in terms of products: charcuterie (cold cuts) game, river fish etc. I believe that all these elements have always inspired Strasbourg’s chefs to a point that at some time, Strasbourg gained 2 restaurants with 3 Michelin stars.
Under seasonal aspects, what do you offer during the winter months?
I love cooking game, in Alsace there is a lot of forests and hunting. I prepare deer meat in winter and this winter I choose the lièvre à la royale which is for me the most iconic dish of French cuisine.
Can you share one of your latest creations with us?
We have developed an appetizer with veal head which is a traditional Alsatian dish. We have revisited the ravigote sauce in siphon to bring more lightness.
The Michelin guide has a great description/ last sentence about you and your restaurant: “We leave the place with regret…” What a great praise!
It’s an honour. Our restaurant has many small rooms with 3 or 4 tables, with my restaurant manager Mr. Wagner we take care of our guests, we give them the feeling that they are at home and at the end of the dinner if they leave the restaurant with regret, means that we did a good job.
You are a passionate traveler; and your cooking lives from your rich international experience. Are you somehow “afraid” to become too settled and lose inspiration?
I am not afraid of that because I still travel during my spare time and when I travel I always look for new techniques and products to enrich my cooking knowledge.
From your experience abroad, your brought back the taste of long-cooked dishes: What does it mean/ which dish describes it best?
I have always liked the tagine cooking style which for me is very tasty. I still use it for our pigeon dish where we serve the thigh separately cooked this way.
Thank you Fabien.
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