Interview.- This Wednesday, June 15, Louise Bourrat won the 13the edition of the Top Chef competition. The first woman to report it for almost ten years, she won over the jury and the audience with her strong personality and creative cuisine.
Last January, it was behind the scenes of the legendary Parisian palace of George V, that Louise Bourrat and the Belgian candidate Arnaud Delvenne met one last time to report the final of “Top Chef”. Proudly wearing the colors of Hélène Darroze’s team, the 27-year-old chef has been able to stand out during the eighteen weeks of the competition with her bold and inventive cuisine, but also with her ambitious character, which led to victory.
Settled in Lisbon, her motherland, she is in charge of the stoves at Le Boubou’s family restaurant, where in the kitchen, most of the women are wearing aprons. We questioned her the day after her victory.
Madame Figaro.- You are the first woman to report “Top Chef” after 10 years. What does this mean for you?
Louise Bourrat.- I think it will take time before I realize what happened to me. It’s a lot of pride and a great honor, but obviously it comes with its share of pressure: the leaders before us, like Stephanie Le Quellec, are very important in the middle. It’s also super galvanizing for the future, it’s proof that it’s going to be auspicious!
What role did Hélène Darroze play in this competition?
Hélène Darroze was a very important moral support. My intuition, from the beginning of the competition, was to go to his team, although I changed my mind a thousand times. I wanted to work with all the leaders, who each have different things to bring to the candidates. Eventually, my reason guided me to the simple fact that when I started surrounding myself with women in the kitchen, it calmed me down a lot and played a very positive role in my well-being. We both have a kitchen that is completely different, but I was in a new and stressful environment, and I thought I needed something familiar, comforting.
During the competition, you postponed Anne-Sophie Pic’s single-product test and then Dominique Crenn’s shell test. Why is it so important to have the recognition of women leaders?
It is not necessarily important that women recognize the quality of my work, cooking is very subjective and the goal is for everyone to enjoy it. On the other hand, I think my cuisine echoed these chefs because we have a similar approach to gastronomy. For me, a man’s kitchen is mostly in the performance, then a woman’s kitchen is in the “pleasure”.
What is a feminine kitchen for you?
Strangely, a kitchen is said to be feminine when it is delicate, clean, but I disagree. In my opinion, men make a cuisine that is mostly in aesthetics, precision, prowess, then that of women is in power, especially in terms of taste. I don’t want to be too general, but that’s what I find in the kitchen of the female chefs I hang out with.
Your brigade, at Boubou’s, is made up mostly of women. Why did you make that choice? How are the interactions different?
At first this was not necessarily a choice. Upon returning from the first confinement, only the girls returned to work. All the responsibilities that were given to the boys, we took them hand in hand, together, and we got there. The atmosphere was so much nicer, because of that solidarity, that state of mind that wasn’t individualistic at all. We felt so valued that it galvanized us, and we felt able to place mountains.
You have worked for many restaurants, starred or not. As a woman, have you ever suffered in brigades?
Yes, I almost stopped cooking because of that, when I was passionate about it as a child. At the beginning of my career, I was an intern or clerk in addition to being a woman. So I wasn’t serious about it at all. It was when I moved to the UK that things changed. I was respected, my words were taken into account; I discovered a new mode of management that was much more inclusive, and I evolved in the right direction, thankfully! But we must know that there is no virulence only towards women: trainees suffer, so do clerks … In the name of excellence, the cooks inflict this torment on themselves.
What scenario do you hope to see in the world of gastronomy in the future? A more feminist perspective?
We must know that the sector is already in full transition, because we can no longer recruit. No one wants to work in the catering industry anymore, which is very understandable: wages are too low, hours too long, having a work-life balance is difficult. There is far too much stress, which leads to addiction problems. So today we are raising wages, which is already a very good thing. So we have no choice but to move the script to something more positive and inclusive.
A feminist in gastronomy, is this a difficult position to assume?
Not at all. Feminism is something very positive, if anything against men. The goal is women: to value them, to help them and to tell them that they can do it. In life, you have to go for what you want, and it’s a discourse that is valid for everyone.
Don’t be afraid and go with all the humility, strength, courage and vulnerability you have.
A message for young women who will become chefs?
I think women tend to move forward with more humility, to apologize for being there. But the problem is, it’s a place we don’t get if we don’t look for it. My advice would be not to be afraid. You have to go with all the humility, strength, courage and vulnerability that you have, and that applies to both women and men. You have to push, but with curiosity, love and empathy. Of course, being a successful woman is not obvious, it is not what is expected of us and you have to have your head on your shoulders. The younger ones will face it, but it is necessary for the good cause.
Your plans for the future?
My life is in Portugal and I am very happy there. I want to keep working in my restaurant, to satisfy my customers. I also want to continue this new style of management, which started at the age of two, in carrying the banner, and little by little, changing the codes. I also want to enjoy life! I’m ambitious but I don’t lose sight of what matters: simple things. I want to cook, see my friends, go to the beach. I just want to enjoy it.