Ómós Digest #83: Fulgurances, Giving Youth a Voice.
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I co-hosted my first pop-up dinner over 10 years ago. It was on the 7th floor of an apartment block in the Dublin Docklands. My colleague Harry Colley and I were both aspiring 20-something chefs, into our fourth year of culinary school, caught up somewhere between the romance of La Nouvelle Cuisine and the trail-blazing Nordic Food Movement. At the time, pop-ups were not so much of a thing (not least in the Irish food circle anyway) and we were eager to show our very youthful stripes. And so, our first pop-up dinner was born, to which we rather boldly invited the Irish Times leading food critic, Catherine Cleary. (whose review you can read here).
For those watching on, the concept appeared simple (if not a little sketchy) - book yourself and a friend two seats for a dinner cooked by two up-and-coming young chefs, in an unknown location (and I’m still regarded as up-and-coming). There will be 7 courses, the seating is communal, and oh, bring your own wine. Sounds good? But, for anyone who has taken part in a pop-up, I mean actually worked at one, you will be no stranger to the behemoth task at hand. Setting the table at our unknown location meant throwing all the existing sitting room furniture into one of the bedrooms. This was followed by dusting, scrubbing and polishing the room to every inch of its life. We’d haul trestle tables up the 7 flights of royal blue carpeted stairs, followed by the chairs. Then the cooking equipment (including an enormous plate warmer belonging to Harry’s grandmother), boxes of plates, cutlery, candles, cleaning equipment, linen, napkins and glassware we had purchased from IKEA. Not to mention, the bags full of raw ingredients - which we joked would be brought back down by tonight's guests, albeit in their stomachs. By seven bells, 30 minutes before the arrival of our diners, the transformed apartment, at last, felt like a dining room. At €35 a head, this was both unconventional dining and low-budget event planning of the highest order. You were not only the cook, kitchen porter, front of house and host, but the head of public relations, delivery driver, sound technician, and by the end of it, running your own HR department. Needless to say, we were gluttons for our own punishment.
I say all this because, despite the enormity of the task, there was perhaps nothing more rewarding than seeing a bunch of guests enter a room as couples and leave as one almighty satiated gang. The dishes we served were well received (in spite of some of the cringe menu wording, like the ‘UMAMI Course’). When I look back on those times, I recall the feeling that running our own restaurant-of-sorts provided me. Notwithstanding the perils and never-ending hurdles that come with running your own business, I knew then and now, that being my own boss was definitely my destiny… I promise this is all going somewhere.
“Les seconds sont les premiers”
Is there a more perfect season than autumn in New York? The sunshine still carries warmth, the trees are impossibly golden, and Ginkgo leaves line the streets; a street-sweepers nightmare but a tourist’s dream. It’s late October and here I was in the Big Apple. My Google Maps was well and truly awash with pins, most of which encompass restaurants, bakeries, slice shops and eateries, or anywhere willing to offer me a morsel. The night before, I had eaten at Fulgurances Laundromat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The chef there at the time was Antoine Villard, the former sous chef of Septime, one of my favourite restaurants in Paris.
See our ‘New York Dining Guide’ at the bottom of the article (available in excel format).
Although by this stage, I had eaten in a number of reputable establishments, this meal was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. We were served dishes like roasted artichokes and béarnaise, with delicately crisp baby potato chips finished with chervil. Raw scallops with sea urchin and garden sorrel followed, and a shared salad served after our chicken main, which had been dressed in a light sauce made from the remnants of the chicken’s roasting pan. The complexity of the sauce, enrobing the leaves, transformed something typically light into mouthfuls of leafy indulgence. It’s worth noting, that in France a salad is almost always served following roast chicken, the fowl typically purchased from a rotisserie. It's custom to drag the salad along with crust of bread across the plate, mopping up the sacred juices. To Antoine, and any Francophile, this was an unquestionably nostalgic pairing and accorded a heightened layer to the experience. But for the locals dining that evening, ignorant to the connection, this was insignificant, for the fact of the matter was that the dish was simply delicious. This was cooking without fear, served in a warm and welcoming environment that promoted inventiveness and expression. On that night, not for the first time I am sure, Fulgurances Laundromat felt both harmonious and new all at once.
Collectively, my table and I felt privileged to have sampled Antoine’s cooking, for his time at Fulgurances was coming to an end. And unlike many restaurants who struggle to hold onto their most prized assets, this was the very concept Fulgurances endorsed. The restaurant offered promising chefs an important platform for their career. While dining out, anytime the owners fell in love with a meal, they would look for the sous-chef who was behind it, the person without whom none of it could have happened…
“We would bring sous-chefs from all over the world to our restaurant, which would serve as a stepping stone for their careers.” – Hugo Hivernat, Owner, Fulgurances.
Fulgurances started life as an art publication in Paris. With no prior hospitality experience, the owners Hugo Hivernat, Rebecca Asthalter and Sophie Coribert, decided to bite the bullet and jump head-first into the restaurant industry, opening their first restaurant, Fulgurances l’Adresse, in 2015 in Paris. Their concept “Les seconds sont les premiers” or “the sous chefs are our head chefs” directed the lens onto the sous, or those in our industry who often get little acknowledgment, despite carrying the weight of the organisation and pulling the strings behind the scenes. Hugo and his team began by approaching sous chefs of reputable restaurants throughout Paris. They invited them to cook at Fulgurances for 6 months, equipping them with a well-oiled team, both front and back of house. To date, they have welcomed chefs from David Toutain, Pujol, Septime, Noma to name a few.
In short, Fulgurances borrows all of the wonderful aspects of a pop-up whilst putting a structure and a system in place to counter the bad. The talents are given the opportunity to express themselves creatively, lead their own kitchen and learn skills they may not have had the chance to acquire in the past. From a guest's point of view, it's proven a hit. Diners regularly get to participate in something new, with the arrival of a new chef either quarterly or biannually. The nature of the Fulgurances residency programme feels explorative and empowering, especially in today's climate where the opportunity for youth to prevail seems so limited and unattainable. Fulgurances offers these chefs the ability to collaborate and broaden their reach. Over time, Fulgurances has evolved and no longer only employs sous chefs, but also young or up-and-coming chefs looking to make a mark. To truly prevail in the industry, businesses are required to become multi-faceted and, adaptable through the ability to capitalize on multiple revenue streams. Fulgurances do just that, now operating 3 restaurants, 2 of which are in Paris and 1 in New York. If that wasn’t enough, they run a food events company and continue editorial work, publishing a bilingual (French and English) magazine.
“We are doing what we enjoy most, with the help of people who get who we are.”– Hugo Hivernat, Owner, Fulgurances.
Thank you for reading this far. You may have seen over on Instagram that on March 6th I will be cooking at Fulgurances Laundromat in New York. Tickets sold out in 2 hours, not a boast, but a testament to the Fulgurances concept. It’s a one-nighter kind of thing, but there is hope we can find time to spend a greater stint with the Fulgurances team in the near future. I have decided to focus on ingredients and dishes that are rooted in Ireland’s culture and landscape. We’ll be paying homage to old traditions, along with new ideas and interpretations. To be given the opportunity to share the food and customs of our land on an international stage is a massive privilege.
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