Former winner of “Top Chef”, Jean Imbert takes control of the kitchens of the Plaza Athénée in Paris

the essential
Jean Imbert, the cook who won “Top Chef” on M6 in 2012, succeeds Alain Ducasse in the kitchens of the Plaza Athénée in Paris. Not everyone in the kitchen world has a media chef’s itinerary.

Between criticism, mockery and curiosity, chef Jean Imbert without stars, but friend of the stars, unveils on Wednesday his “first moments of cooking” at the Parisian palace Plaza Athénée, which caused an earthquake in haute cuisine with this appointment. The 40-year-old chef who succeeds Alain Ducasse, the most starred chef in the world, is providing his first service at the brasserie at the Relais Plaza hotel, while the gourmet restaurant will not open until 2022.

Winner of the popular show “Top Chef” in 2012 and very comfortable on Instagram where he appears alongside Kylian Mbappé, Marion Cotillard or Dua Lipa, he remained discreet about his vision for the Plaza. Solicited, he did not respond to requests for an interview.

Several three-star chefs interviewed appreciate it, but there is no shortage of virulent critics, who accuse it of lacking experience and of serving heavy, expensive and “all-purpose” cuisine.

A more uninhibited cuisine

Hélène Darroze confided this summer that she had been “surprised” by this “180 degree change of course” at the Plaza, which for her is part of the movement of a “more uninhibited” cuisine. “These chefs ask themselves a lot less questions, are more intuitive. That doesn’t shock me. The plates are more uninhibited, less worked, but the taste is there”.

“The experience can be very beautiful even without a star. It is quite daring, quite cheeky and can attract a younger clientele who are looking for something else. I am sure it will succeed in doing it”, maintains Glenn Viel, the youngest French chef with three Michelin stars.

“He is a man who has a lot of taste, a good palate and who knows the raw materials well”, declares Christian Le Squer, chef of another palace, the George V, who had trained him for the final of ” Top chef”. For Arnaud Donckele, 3 stars in Saint-Tropez who has just opened a restaurant integrated into the luxury hotel Cheval Blanc à la Samaritaine, “he is very talented, well supported. We will be surprised to see that he will be doing very well. far into the French classic as trendy as it is “.

“Neither the CV nor the experience”

But the rise of a leader “from the reality TV” cringe. “It’s an earthquake, he suddenly broke all the codes. For the first time, we bring into a palace a chef who is not starred, who has not proven himself with others great chefs. At best this surprises, at worst worried “, summarizes Franck Pinay-Rabaroust, founder of the media specializing in gastronomy Atabula.

“Bling-bling”, he has “neither the CV nor the necessary experience for such a place”, insists François-Régis Gaudry, respected food critic who is ironic about his “extra-culinary” talents to take a picture with celebrities or set up partnerships with brands.

Jocelyn Herland, former chef of Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London (3 stars) and at the Meurice in Paris (2 stars), has joined Jean Imbert’s team. “They have already made a first correction”, comments Georges Blanc, 3 stars in Ain (center-east). “One brings the image and next to a technician to express a sensitivity close to the stars”. A situation “not worthy of the high hotel industry”, protests the critic of the Figaro Emmanuel Rubin who denounces a chef “that you never see in the kitchen and who poses disguised as an apron for the occasion”.

End of the race for the stars?

“It would be interesting to see what they can do in this box. I prefer to be curious before judging,” said Hélène Pietrini, general manager of the gastronomic ranking la Liste, former head of the 50 Best. For the three-starred chef Guy Savoy, the decision of the Plaza “is part of the process of de-energizing Parisian palaces” after the Prince of Wales and the Shangri-La have closed their starred restaurants, and the Ritz “which has practically stopped the race. to the stars “.

Faced with “very personalized” starred establishments where the chef comes to discuss with the guests at the end of the meal, “it is difficult” to bring this added value to a palace, underlines Georges Blanc. Especially since the Covid has pushed the management of luxury hotels to “think about reducing the sails”, he concludes.