"I ENDEAVOUR TO PROTECT AND MOTIVATE NAÏS"

Beneath her fragile appearance, Naïs Pirollet is a very motivated contestant. To coach her, she chose someone who is like a clone to her "a chef who is full of vitality and energy, always committed 200% in what she undertakes", she explains. One month ahead of the Bocuse d'Or Europe (23-24 March) in Budapest, Hungary, we met up with Tabata Mey, starred chef of restaurant Les Apothicaires and cocreator of Food Traboule in Lyon.

HOW DID YOU COME TO BE NAÏS' COACH?

I was already close to the Bocuse d’Or French team, we know these chefs well as they are from Lyon, we celebrated them in our restaurants with Ludo (Ludovic Mey, her husband, ed. note). Naïs contacted me after the Bocuse d’Or France in which I was a judge, an event she won hands down with a 300-point lead over the other participants! I admire her natural style, her honesty, and ethics. I can see myself in her determination, her curiosity and commitment. We're so much alike that we clicked right away. She came looking for me, despite the fact that I have no personal experience of taking part in contests, I am not a MOF … I was simply asked to sit on the jury three times. But what she expected of me was precisely the fact that I was not 'contest formatted', she wants to channel my energy, my determination.

LUXEMBURG CHEF LEA LINSTER, WINNER IN 1989, AMANDINE CHAIGNOT AND NOÉMIE HONIAT IN FRANCE ARE SOME OF THE FEW WOMEN WHO HAVE SHONE IN THE CONTEST… YOU ARE THE ONLY WOMEN TANDEM IN THE BOCUSE D’OR EUROPE 2022. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN TERMS OF CHANGES IN MENTALITY AND THE PLACE OF WOMEN IN THE CONTEST?

This is also an area where Naïs and I are on the same page. We don't see it as a 'feminist cause' but we're aware that it is a very good thing. We're in a contest, everyone is equal. The same rules apply to everyone, the best contestant wins.

HOW DO YOU COACH NAÏS? WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN THIS GREAT ADVENTURE?

I try to shield her, while motivating her at the same time. We rationalize, analyse the situations, and move on. She is the master of her cooking and focuses on that with her commis Cole Millard who was by her side in the Bocuse d’Or France. For my part, I manage everything else with Julien Dubois who is in charge of the logistics, and Arthur Debray, who holds the position Naïs had in Tissot's team, in R&D. We get together two or four time a week at the Refuge, which is where it all happens.

WHO DO YOU TURN TO FOR THIS NEW CHALLENGE?

I exchange occasionally with Yohann Chapuis who was coach to Davy Tissot, but mostly I listen to what Naïs tells me.


YOU ARE WORKING WITH POTATOES, A STAPLES IN HUNGARIAN COOKING, AND VENISON FOR THE PLATTER TEST. HOW'S THAT COMING ALONG?

The venison platter is progressing nicely, we're nearly there with the potato preparations but we've hit a bit a bit of a snag: we're still waiting for the potatoes to arrive from Hungary so we can test our recipes with the actual product! Getting hold of the right ingredients is really difficult in the current context! We'll give it our very best given the unusual circumstances that are not ideal. We lost approximately six months to covid and are lagging behind the other teams for our preparations as a result of the victory last year etc. But, as I keep on telling Naïs, Budapest is only a steppingstone, I believe in her, we can really do it, she can go all the way. I can't wait until March 17th when we'll travel to this beautiful country that I already know thanks to Tamas Polgar, who is our assistant chef at Apothicaires and also works at our Food Traboule Comptoir, who took us to Hungary.

© Alexandra Battut

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