Of all the enticing smells that float in a starred kitchen, there is one that starred chef Jean-François Piège loves above all: cooking rice.
“When it’s on the staff lunch menu and we prepare it in the open kitchen of the Grand Restaurant, it fills the house with this incredible fragrance,” he says, explaining that being surrounded by it brought “the same feeling of fulfillment and the same emotion as a well-executed dish.
That’s why it became the secret ingredient in the Violet Leaf & Bergamot candle he developed with Jo Malone London, the result of a two-year project he jokingly describes as one where he “n’t had nothing else to do but tell a story” with a British flavor. the global head of fragrances for the Céline Roux brand and the perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui.
The titular ingredients are equally appetizing for Trap. Bergamot nods to his love for Earl Gray tea served at London’s Claridges Hotel, while violet leaf notes nod to the south-west city of Toulouse from France, where it is a delicacy transformed into confectionery, liqueur or even perfume. It is also the birthplace of his wife, Élodie.
“It’s my way of appearing a bit in there,” she jokes.
But if the name of the French chef is well anchored in the culinary world, the “Piège brand” is a universe that he shares equally with Elodie Piège, former communications officer who became general manager of the Piège group, with five restaurants and two others where he is a consultant cook.
Neither of them ever imagined becoming restaurateurs, successful restaurateurs. She studied business oriented towards the world of finance, before joining the communication department of the five-star hotel Martinez in Cannes.
He had imagined himself as a gardener as a child, before his passion for gastronomy took over, instilled by his grandmother’s cooking, and he began an apprenticeship that eventually led him to work with the famous Chef Alain Ducasse. Even then, he “was more interested in knowing how to cook a langoustine than whether my name would be on the door,” he says.
The couple met at the Crillon in 2006 when she joined its press and public relations department after working at Claridge’s. Piège, already a starred chef and considered one of the most promising of his generation, ran his restaurant Les Ambassadeurs, where he had won two additional stars.
They spent a lot of time together because what Piège imagined was the only striking element of a mythical but aging hotel without a swimming pool, explains Élodie Piège.
Having bonded over the desire to create unique experiences, their working relationship quickly blossomed into romance. The couple married in 2010, a year after Piège left the hotel to work with another hotelier.
In 2014, the couple set off on their own with the opening of Clover, an 18-seat bistro that Élodie Piège names in English, promising to take the concept out of their Parisian comfort zone.
From its inception, Clover was intended as an umbrella moniker that would be less of a franchise and more of a series of restaurants that would meet its audience in the middle, putting a Trap twist on what they love.
Like a plant-centric menu, which saw the first restaurant rebrand as “Clover Green” in 2018, while its charcoal grill and rotisserie-focused sister establishment was dubbed Clover Grill.
The next one, named Clover Bellavita, will open in this luxury mall in Taipei, Taiwan, and is expected to explore fine dining. Its opening is scheduled for the end of the year, but they have not been able to plan the final stages due to the travel restrictions still in place.
Not being able to visit is something of a sore point as the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the couple particularly hard, not least because the ability to move around is key to their thought process.
“Our work is made of meetings, sharing, experiences and entrepreneurship”, they agree, convinced that gastronomy is perhaps a very technical field but that it needs external influences to be really interesting. .
“Synergies happen when you go out of office. [People] must be chosen according to their talents and not their industry”, specifies Élodie Piège. Hence the choice of the design duo M/M for their visual identity and the logo of the Jo Malone London candle, or to call on more famous photographers in fashion or art for their projects.
If his dishes are delicious, the stories behind them are even more so.
Take the dessert entitled “In a corner of the garden”. The chef recalls how, after using a group of ceramic mushrooms made by French lifestyle brand Astier de Villatte grouped together at the end of a service, he was struck by the idea that they looked like something thing “in the corner of the garden”, now the name of the dessert he serves. He is currently working on more ceramics, which may be available for purchase.
Similarly, at the opening of Mimosa, he tells how he arrived in Saint-Tropez for one of his first jobs outside of mealtimes and managed to convince a restaurateur to whip up something for his group of young people. apprentices – a version is now running the menu, named after this person.
“Sometimes the idea doesn’t come from me per se, it’s the context that brings it to me,” says the chef. “My job today is to find a story, an environment and successfully translate it into reality.”
This is undoubtedly the reason for the close ties he has with fashion, a world he describes as full of audacity, able to take you on paths that you could not explore in a restaurant and accepting a lot of things but never of approximation.
Although he is reluctant to name drop, Élodie Piège reveals that her husband has an enviable collection of kitchen coats imagined by each of the designers he has worked with.
At the heart of their projects is the idea that a restaurant is made of things that leave an imprint. “It’s 50% what you eat and 50% what you find there – see, touch, feel,” she says, recalling countless hours spent scouring the markets for silverware or buying extra suitcases to bring home exquisite striped glasses found on vacation.
This is how Jo Malone London’s products entered Clover, worn by Élodie Piège. The chef was immediately won over by these products, which are used in all their restaurants.
“I liked the idea that when you wash your hands there, you keep the smell of the place on your hands,” he says, explaining that the smell comforted him and made him receptive to the emotion.
But this first candle has another purpose.
The couple see it as a way to ensure that even those who can’t visit one of their restaurants can take home a slice of the Trap experience.
Demystifying gastronomy and reaching out to all walks of life is something of a signature for the chef, who began breaking that mold during his tenure at the Crillon by offering high-end versions of popular dishes like couscous and TV dinners as an antidote to his own admiration for the hotel. golden decor.
It’s also one of the reasons he signed on as a judge for cooking talent shows like “Top Chef,” where he ended up doing a ten-year stint despite early criticism from some who thought he had brought down fine dining by participating in Television Entertainment.
The author of a dozen cookbooks, he doesn’t see cooking as the preserve of the privileged few, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge in easy-to-follow instructions or even exploring specific topics like fat-free recipes, following his journey weight loss staff.
His next book, titled “Zéro Viande, Zéro Poisson” (or no meat, no fish in English) and which will be released next week in France, revisits French classics with a vegetarian lens. Demonstration that vegetables are not doomed to be only a garnish and that animal proteins are not entirely necessary, this also corresponds to his awareness of the double glove of a reasoned consumption and the increase in the Cost of life.
“The hardest part, and the real meaning, of being a restaurateur is getting people to come back,” says Piège.
“If there had only been the kitchen, I would have left a long time ago,” jokes Elodie Piège.
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