Pierre Jancou, Chef at Vivant Paris
Words by Anne Stark Ditmeyer Photograph by Petrina Tinslay Styling by Elodie Rambaud
We chatted with chef Pierre Jancou about how he brings his background into his good, simple food at his Paris restaurant Vivant.
Under the wings of a former oisellerie [aviary, or bird shop] whose beautiful tiled interior serves as a reminder of its past, chef Pierre Jancou brings a fresh life to the 10th arrondissement of Paris with his resto/wine bar, Vivant. In his simple cuisine, the secret to his success comes from the ingredients he uses. And with a passion for vin vivant, a wine made in the most natural way possible from organically grown grapes, his knowledge serves him well.
Where are you from?
Je suis très mélangé. I was born in Zurich. According to my passport I am Franco-Swiss. I speak French, Italian, Swiss-German, German and English. My grandmother by my birth parents was French. When I was very young, I was adopted by an Italian family, so I am Italian by culture.
When I was 18, I came to Paris. It was my dream. My real grandmother was from Paris. I arrived in 1988. I worked for an awful pizzeria and then a brasserie, but I did work at Les Bains Douches at the end of their good years. In 1991, when I turned 21, I received my inheritance and immediately invested it in La Bocca, an Italian trattoria. I did that for eight years with Aldo, who still works in the kitchen [of Vivant] today. My next project is a wine bar in the [same] neighborhood.
What is your connection to Italy?
In 1999, I sold La Bocca and moved to Italy to learn my trade from Massimo Bottura, and take cooking courses. I also received a degree in natural cooking and learned how to keep the authenticity of the food. For instance, in Italy you never mix pasta with meat. But I missed Paris. I love old Paris and the old areas of the city. My next project was La Crèmerie near Odeon, where we renovated everything. At La Crèmerie we imported all the products I had discovered in Italy—the beau produits that weren’t available in Paris. I did that for five years, but then I started to miss cooking. In 2007, I started Racine. Everyone said the restaurant wouldn’t work and it was a bad idea. It was in the Passage des Panoramas, and people would say the passage way was disgusting [at the time]. But Racine was a success, and still is. At Vivant I have my special Berkel [machine] for slicing meats and a rare espresso machine for making it the Italian way.
What is your relationship with food?
With my birth parents, it was as if I was born in a restaurant. I spent a lot of time there and it always has played an important role in my life. At one stage in my life I considered being a comedian, but I realized I am not capable of doing anything other than this. But perhaps one day I’ll have my own vineyard.
What is your connection with wine?
I became a caviste after I discovered natural wines, which are not something popular among our generation. Of particular interest were the vins vivants [alive or natural wines]. They change and evolve and must be kept at certain temperatures. You never have the same wine each year and a good grape dictates the wine. It is necessary to have a true cave [cellar] to respect the wine—part of the culture in France. These wines helped inspire the name of the restaurant, Vivant, as well the book—Vin Vivant—we published last summer. There is lots of great information on morethanorganic.com about these wines.
How do you choose your products?
I work with several founisseur [suppliers] whose speciality and passion it is. For instance, Gianni Frasi has an admiration for pepper. That pepper is like a perfume and is very important in my cooking. The salt we use is a true fleur du sel from France. Aromatic herbs are also extremely important in what I cook.
How would you describe your food?
Cuisine familiale. It is good, simple cooking. The menu changes every day depending on what we have. The hard part is the simplicity [of my cooking]. Come here to be surprised.