He appears behind an apple tree, after the lunch service, all smiles. We hadn’t remembered that it was so wide under the gilding of the Plaza Athénée. The country air, the ups and downs of the dazzling nature of the Domaine de Primard, in Bueil (Eure), where he now deploys his cuisine, suit Romain Meder’s complexion and morale better than the city charms of the palace. from Avenue Montaigne. Seeing him evolve in the garden of the bistro Octave and in his future gourmet restaurant, Les Chemins, which will open to the public on Thursday, we say to ourselves that his change of scenery is a small evil for a great good.
His world changed when, in the spring of 2021, he was dismissed by the Plaza Athénée at the same time as his mentor Alain Ducasse. A small earthquake which the gastronomic landerneau reveled in: the most starred chef in the world was replaced by Jean Imbert, 39, former Top Chef candidate and friend of the stars. In the shadow of Ducasse, Romain Meder, craftsman of naturalness, this concept which takes top-of-the-range vegetable cuisine very far, also packed up his knives, after eight years of good service with three stars. A cocoon difficult to leave:I was already thinking about what the post-Plaza might be like, but fate chose for me, he confides. There was a period of mourning: without warning, my toys had been confiscated, my house of cards destroyed. Then time passes and we finally tell ourselves that it’s good, that a new chapter will be able to open.»
I take a leap into the unknown because, outside of Paris, I am not known
Still with Ducasse, he opened Sapid (Paris 10th), a vegetal and affordable restaurant and participated in a residency “six-handed» at the Quai Branly museum with the Spanish cook Albert Adria. But the chef from Franche-Comté has always had a desire for the countryside and, despite the pouring rain that fell on the day of his visit, he guessed the potential of Primard. The former bourgeois residence of actress Catherine Deneuve has become a prestigious hotel, and the new owners, Frédéric Biousse and Guillaume Foucher (les Domaines de Fontenille), offer her to take over from Éric Frechon in the kitchen.
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Total emancipation will therefore be for later:One day I will have to jump into the void and become the owner of my restaurant. But there, in nature in bloom, I am in my element. It was the logical continuation of my journey: the common thread of my work is market gardening and the wild.With Gérard, the Domaine’s gardener, he is getting the vegetable garden back on track. It is he who sets the pace for the bistro Octave and especially Les Chemins, this gastronomic restaurant finally rediscovered. “It’s going to be boring because I continue to cook like before, he warns, laughing. I completely assume naturalness because I have always had it in me.»
New plant current
Romain Meder has worked in cafés and palaces alike, in France, Doha, Mauritius… At the Plaza, his cuisine looked like a research laboratory: a lover of unusual products and virtuoso techniques, he never struggled to invent, with Alain Ducasse, a new plant trend. But he is also passionate about simple ingredients and knows how to retain his gesture when the product is sufficient on its own.
His cuisine takes on its full dimension today, one hour from Paris, in this environment in tune: the green setting envelops a menu of character, which is based on the vegetable-cereal-fish trilogy. There are essential markers – chickpeas, monkfish liver in a linen tartlet, lobster and its impeccable juice, wild herbs (kiwano, tansy, pelargonium) – and unprecedented flashes: a chewable zucchini that we as if frozen in a wine of melon and Espelette pepper; a pike broth with XO-ginger sauce and burnt lemon paste; an oyster sausage with cucumber, seaweed tartar, a mole sauce with pumpkin seeds and Mertensia maritima leaves; a mini beetroot brioche with a sauce of beet stew and tapenade…
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Vegetables are always in the spotlight and his cuisine has stripped away the useless. He flees from perfection, which he sums up in a “spoon theory“good for him:”A dish without asperities is boring. For example, we made a starter of beans, burrata and toum at the bistro. [une sauce libanaise] which was interesting, but boring! The first spoon is very good, the second, good and the third, we get bored! You have to give the customer the desire to play, to explore the dish.» To the jostled gourmets, who are surprised by the size of the pieces of beets, he says: «For me, the beetroot is like a piece of meat that needs to be chewy. Its earthy side is its character!»
Keep your identity
His team, amazing, the shoulder in this atypical high gastronomy: there is the enthusiastic head waiter, Alexandre Montré; the head sommelier, Louis Muller, who shares the love of “board game»: beer on cheese, ice cider on rhubarb, sherry wine on chocolate… The pastry chef Iris Fumey, with a chocolate dessert, coffee and crispy lentils, also leaves you speechless. Despite everything, Romain Meder still retains the horses of his creativity. He has cravings for a beer dessert in his head and has alreadyamused» to create calf’s feet noodles…
If he has never returned to the Plaza since 2021 (“it would be like seeing your ex again with your new boyfriend!“), he salutes Jean Imbert for having had “intelligenceto offer a bourgeois cuisine unlike his own:That way we can’t be compared.“Not enough, however, to soothe his anxieties before the opening of the Paths:”I don’t want to tell myself that they are waiting for me around the corner at the Michelin. I’m worrying, but I know that above all you have to know how to keep your identity: if I listened to the opinions on what to serve here, there would be a burger à la carte! I’m taking a leap into the unknown because, outside of Paris, I’m not known. My obsession is to know if my work corresponds well to the place, if people will come for my cooking.We bet that gourmets, tired of a standardized luxury gastronomy, will be able to borrow its ingenious Chemins de traverse.