Jean-Luc Rocha is a Michelin-star chef of Portuguese origin, who fell in love with cooking as a child thanks to his Portuguese grandmother and who won the taste of the inspectors of the famous ‘Guia Vermelho’.
The 41-year-old chef, who also received the title ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ in 2007, always orbited Michelin stars such as Thierry Marx, Patrick Henriroux and Gilles Blandin until he was rewarded himself.
It was in 2011 that Jean-Luc Rocha won two Michelin stars in the restaurant Le Château Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac, near Bordeaux, where he had been working since 2002 and where he replaced the chef ‘Thierry Marx’ who had already given the two star house.
Since January 2017, the lusceptible chef has moved to the kitchen of Saint James Paris in the French capital, a restaurant distinguished so far with a star to which Jean-Luc Rocha would like to add a second, “no pressure”.
“If we can have two stars, that’s fine.If we can not: a star with happy people, it’s fine.If we do the job well, we’re going to have two stars.It’s not the goal, but if we can achieve that, , he explained, in a hesitant Portuguese, since he had been listening to Portuguese at home but always answered in French.
Basically, the chef considers that “it is not worth putting under pressure to reach the star” because “if we work well, the reward will come” and because the criterion “is not only the kitchen but a whole, since the place, the decoration, the team, the welcome “.
Jean-Luc Rocha, who was born in the French town of Vesoul, inherited from the Portuguese grandmother a passion for cooking because “the family has always been gathered around a table”, where there were, for example, crayfish pastes, bean or mockery from Beira Baixa.
“Each dish is a story, it is a flavor, an image, a memory, a moment of conviviality, of travel. There is always something behind. a sense and a balance.It is necessary that the person who goes to eat feel an emotion.A simple garlic fried in the oil is an emotion because for me it has a flavor and a memory, “he described.
While her grandmother conveyed to her the importance of conquering her mouths in order to seize her emotions, her grandfather and father, carpenters, gave her the precision and millimetric rigor with which she makes the compositions of each dish.
“I think it’s family: to do good, beautiful and precise. They cut trees to make furniture, I take the carrot to make a dish,” summarizes, with simplicity, the man who has “the luck” to be “coming from a family of artists “from Covilhã who arrived in France in the 1960s and who imposed the nickname Rocha in the field of artistic locksmithing and the invention of cutting-edge coatings for civil construction.
The bones of the craft are still anchored in the maternal family that has hotels in Serra da Estrela, but the possibility of working there does not motivate him at this time because “it is economically complicated” and one can not imagine “cooking only typical Portuguese food” the idea of ”having a Michelin star restaurant at 1800 meters high is highly”.
The chef does a “French and international cuisine” and does not like to ask you what your recipes have of Portuguese so as not to stick the label that only cooks Portuguese things, but throughout the conversation goes discovering that even cod crayfish does “sometimes”.
After all, their ‘author’s recipes’ have strong Portuguese roots, starting with the olive oil from their parents’ land and passing through the oysters of the Arcachon basin “which were brought to the Arcachon basin by the Portuguese” even though today the region is ” the ‘rendez-vous’ of Parisians and the entire international jet set, were originally fishing villages, mainly Portuguese. ”
“Oysters and caviar, seafood, crustaceans, the mixture of land and sea. Fish and meat, prawns and pork, what’s the problem?” – smiles the chef, adding that he likes pork to Alentejo but does not let himself be tempted by the same ingredients because “this would be reductive.”
Lobster is also one of your favorite raw materials and likes to mold it, for example, with marjoram – an aromatic half-sister herb of the oregon – but also loves ‘foie gras’ that it uses ‘all year round’, for example , with a crunchy sesame leaf on top and with melon, fig, apple or mushrooms.
Between French classicism and modernity, Jean-Luc Rocha bets on “authentic cuisine, supported by products and identifiable”, thus vowing “between land and sea”, between balance of flavors and rhythm of the seasons, something that can be seen in the tasting menu of the Saint James Paris.
After a potato velvety with oysters and caviar from Aquitaine, there is a hot ‘foie gras’ with a crunchy sheet of sesame and poppy seeds.
For dessert, highlight the grapefruit and grapefruit in cream with Timut pepper, accompanied with ice cream of lichen and lime, with thin leaves of meringue, and for Carupano chocolate in crunchy cream with pecans, cacao sauce and cream ice cream.
Today, when there are Portuguese dishes in her parents’ home “she is a true Portuguese identity” and “a pleasure”, but her grandmother still clings to the Portuguese kitchen and does not let herself be converted by her grandson: “Ao ‘foie gras’, she calls it When I bring my foie gras for Christmas and New Year holidays, she says, ‘Give me a little pate.’ ‘Grandma, it’s not pâté, it’s foie gras! “he concludes. a huge smile.