In today’s episode, we speak with Francois de Melogue, a chef, recipe developer, cookbook author, photographer, and mentor for revered chefs like Beau MacMillan.
With over 30 years of cross-cultural culinary experience, working in acclaimed kitchens such as The Bakery in Chicago, Old Drovers Inn, as well as opening an award-winning restaurant Pili Pili in his hometown of Chicago, Francois shares exclusive details about his climb to success. This includes how he bounced back from major setbacks—like a motorcycle accident that nearly ended his culinary career.
Listen as Francois de Melogue talks about restaurant entrepreneurship, the meaning behind “people eat results,” and why resiliency and mentorship are critical to success.
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Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I’m speaking with Francois de Melogue, a “jack of trades” reformed chef, recipe developer, cookbook author, and photographer. Chef Francois comes to the table with over 30 years of cross-cultural culinary experience and quite an impressive history.
After graduating top of his class from the notable New England Culinary Institute, he began his career in a number of highly acclaimed kitchens across the country. This includes The Bakery in Chicago, Old Drovers Inn, and Joel Robuchon Gastronomie in Paris.
He also opened award-winning Pili Pili in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois—rated in the Top Ten new restaurants in the World by “Food and Wine” magazine in 2003.
Join me today as I chat with Chef Francois about becoming a proper gourmand, how he overcame major career setbacks and advice for the next generation of chefs and cooks.
And there he is! Good morning. How are you, Chef?
Francois de Melogue: Hi. I’m fantastic. I hope you’re doing well as well.
Kirk Bachmann: I am. If I was any better, I’d be you. This is the highlight of my week, possibly my year. I am really, really excited to chat with you today.
I’ve got to jump right in because your set looks a little sexier than mine. We’re going to talk about photography in a minute, but fill us in on what’s over your right shoulder there. Are you ready to do some photography today?
Francois de Melogue: I have light studio lights, my tripod, different backgrounds. And then over on the other side, I have my overhead camera for taking top-down shots.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. Tell us about the setting. You’re in Vermont right now, right?
Francois de Melogue: Yeah. When covid hit, I moved out to Vermont.
Kirk Bachmann: About as far east as you could.
Francois de Melogue: Right, exactly. They told me the cold would stop the spread of covid.
Kirk Bachmann: So you insulated yourself. I love it.
Francois de Melogue: That’s it. I’ve always loved Vermont. It was a good opportunity for my wife and I to uproot and move out east.
Kirk Bachmann: Fantastic. This is going to be fun today because we’re both Chicago chefs, Chicago people. Those are special people, so I look forward to rehashing that. I would be remiss if I did not thank Chef Beau MacMillan. It was such an interesting chat when we got to know Chef Beau and how passionately and thoughtfully and kindly he spoke of your friendship and the training and advice that he received from you. Feel free to jump in and talk about Beau. Any special memories about Beau? And for our audience, Beau MacMillan of the Sanctuary and Arizona and so, so much more – also larger than life, as you are.
Francois de Melogue: And first off, I have to clarify something. Beau gets paid $50 every time he mentions my name.
Kirk Bachmann: Well, he’s a wealthy man!
Francois de Melogue: I know, exactly! It’s getting expensive. No. Beau is an amazing person. Beau started working for me as a prep cook and dishwasher. I think he was probably about 17 years old. As green as can be. I believe people have a destiny. Beau was always destined to be this great culinary force of nature. But I feel like I got to imprint him just a little bit.
Kirk Bachmann: I can see some of the reflection for sure. Let me say, too, that I was looking at some of your work online last night with my wife. We’re going to talk about all of this, but you’re an artist. You’re a chef. You create magic on the plate, but your photography is absolutely stunning, and your Instagram site is unbelievable. Before we dive into the history, how does a chef transform themselves into becoming a photographer?
Francois de Melogue: The funny thing is, when I was a little kid, when I was 11, I bought my first camera. At 12, I bought a Canon AE-1. My stepfather took classes from Ansel Adams.
Kirk Bachmann: No!
Francois de Melogue: I was a little teeny kid, and I was really influenced by him. It got me into photography at a young age. Because of my French roots, which I know we’re going to talk about later, cooking was my main call. I believe they are both art forms. Just like Jacques Pepin is an artist, a phenomenal artist. I think it just was the natural continuation of my career as I got older to lose the restaurant side, do the writing of cookbooks, and then photography.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it. Let’s not wait so long with the background. You grew up in Chicago. I detect a little bit of a Chicago accent, which I love. We’ll practice saying hot dog in a little bit. Tell us, did the family come over from France in the ‘60s or so? Tell us about your family a little bit.
Francois de Melogue: Sure. Both my parents came over in the ‘50s. My mother came from a restaurant family. It’s funny because my mother never lost France. Even though she lived in America for more of her life, there was just this strong French connection of going shopping every single day. Forget that we have giant refrigerators here.
Kirk Bachmann: The only place in the world that does, too, by the way.
Francois de Melogue: Yeah. I know. It’s an interesting concept when I go back to France. I really grew up on the fence between French culture and American culture. It was really my mother’s influence on me growing up. I have a million stories I could tell you.
My stepfather was an eye surgeon. A doctor was retiring, and the doctor was not really well liked, so they gave him a live turkey as a gag gift. Now, my mother being a French woman, very thrifty, nothing goes to garbage, she took the turkey home. Here we are in our apartment in Chicago with a live turkey. It lived long enough for my mother to get the courage to kill it.
Kirk Bachmann: Unreal. Unreal.
Francois de Melogue: And a funny story actually about that: My mother was holding the turkey’s neck on a cutting board. She had this giant Chinese cleaver. She went up to swing, swung down, and the turkey saw what was about to happen, and moved its head over. My mom ended up cutting off the top of her finger.
Kirk Bachmann: Karma.
Francois de Melogue: Kicked the turkey out the door, and it was last seen running across the south side.
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable.
That was a great time, ‘50s and ‘60s. My folks came over from Germany in the early ‘60s. A lot of immigrants, a lot of great food in Chicago, although they didn’t get the credit for it in those early days. Lots of meat and potatoes. But it sounds like foie gras was probably on the table quite a bit in your household.
Francois de Melogue: Not so much foie gras. The funny thing in Chicago at that time, my mom cooked sweet breads or liver. The cuts of meat that weren’t really popular in our country yet. She would have to ride her bike off into the ghetto to buy these cuts at some of the African American markets because they weren’t sold in the mainstream grocery stories. It’s really interesting to think how different it is now.
Kirk Bachmann: And some of those traditions stay with immigrants when they come. I went to school with liverwurst sandwiches and Black Forest torte while my friends had baloney sandwiches and Hunt’s Snack Pack. So at the time, you didn’t realize, “Wow! I’m different.” But boy, I wouldn’t change anything for that. I would leave the flat that we lived in, go down to the bakery, say hi to my dad and all the bakers, and walk through the front and get my lunch on the way out. Off I went to school. It’s kind of what we did back then.
Francois de Melogue: You knew you were different when you tried to trade your school lunch of the liverwurst sandwich to the kid next to you, and he’s like, “What?!”
Kirk Bachmann: Well, the Black Forest torte was popular, I’ll say that.
I want to come back to Beau in a second. As soon as we got on, you made a comment about Marco Pierre White, and so many chefs do. So many guests do. I just wanted to give you an opportunity. I’ll tell you a quick story, but you go first on the impact of Marco Pierre White, who’s right back here, always looking over my shoulder.
Francois de Melogue: Marco Pierre White was the man for a long period in kitchen life. We kept a copy of “White Heat” sitting in the kitchen, just poring over all his recipes, obviously, but it was more his approach to life and his philosophy. Really, he paved the way for people like Anthony Bourdain, in my opinion. Certainly being outspoken about food and culture.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s great. Last week we chatted with James Porter, who’s another degree of you, right, having worked with Beau for a lot of years. I told a quick story. It was about a decade ago, now. I was walking down the street in Dublin with my wife. It was her birthday. I had no idea that he had a restaurant in Dublin. I was just telling her – my wife, Gretchen – the story of “White Heat” and Marco Pierre White and getting the Michelin stars and then giving them back, and the way he behaved in the kitchen, and all that kind of stuff. Lo and behold, we get to the end of the block, I look over to the left, and there it is. “Marco Pierre White Steakhouse.” Unbelievable.
We didn’t get in that night, but we got in the next night. That photo is actually the menu. That’s the menu that everyone gets, and they were happy to give me a signed one. He wasn’t there. I just had to acknowledge that. It’s either motorcycles, music, or Marco Pierre White for every chef guest that I have on the show.
But let’s come back to Beau because it connects to your background. Talk a little bit about how you took him under your wing. I think that was at the Tea Room, the Crane Brook Tea Room.
Francois de Melogue: The Crane Brook Tea Room.
Kirk Bachmann: Tell us a little bit about that.
Francois de Melogue: When Beau came on, super green, still in high school, didn’t really know anything about cooking. I feel like it’s a chef’s responsibility to mentor young kids that come in the kitchen. You’re locking into an agreement when you hire somebody who you know has no experience. It’s not like hiring some guy who has worked the line for 20 years for Daniel Boulud in New York City and you’re expecting him to perform.
For the young people coming into the kitchens, it’s our responsibility to mentor them, to take them under your wing and teach them and guide them. Like I said, I honestly believe this. Beau would have been who he is today without me. I just think I helped him learn the cooking side and get there quicker. Beau’s an awesome guy. Love him.
Kirk Bachmann: Well said. You’re very humble.
Let’s talk a little bit about where you are now, too, because that’s also fascinating. Maple syrup capital of the world. It’s actually St. Albans, Vermont. Right?
Francois de Melogue: Yep.
Kirk Bachmann: So geography-wise, where is that in Vermont?
Francois de Melogue: I’m 16 miles from the Canadian border. Here’s another interesting fact: St. Albans was the butter capital of the world in the 1850s.
Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something?
Francois de Melogue: More butter was produced here than anywhere else in the world, which blew my mind.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. So what’s the culinary scene like there? Any must-sees? Any restaurants? Anyone else hiding up there that we don’t know about?
Francois de Melogue: My favorite set of restaurants are a restaurant group. I don’t know the name of the group, but they have Hen of the Woods up here, Ducks Ponds, Prohibition Pig. Awesome restaurant group. They really do food right.
But I think the real beauty is nowadays, we’re living in a time…When you and I were young, you were either a French restaurant or you weren’t. Everybody wanted to be in the upscale French restaurants. That was the only direction to go. We live in this awesome time right now where there are all kinds of restaurants. They’re not just Michelin-starred. They’re little holes in the walls. As I’ve gotten older, that’s what I really like finding: the little spots, not the big famous spots.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Folks that are sourcing locally but not putting it in the newspaper everyday; it’s just what they do.
Francois de Melogue: Exactly.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Let’s talk a little bit about you. We talked a little bit about your upbringing and where your folks came from, but what was it like for you, Chef Francois, growing up in a free-spirited kitchen? Were you at the counter a lot?
Francois de Melogue: Yeah, I was. Totally. I was telling you earlier about how my mom would ride her bicycle into the ghetto. It’s funny, because she’s a little teeny French lady, under 100 pounds. Thick French accent, and had no fear whatsoever. She loaded me and my sister on the back of her bike, and off to do her grocery shopping. That same kind of fearless style translated into the kitchen at home.
She was very rebellious, which made it great. She didn’t feel bound to follow a recipe perfectly. A lot was intuition. It’s really what we do in kitchens now. You make your menu based on what you have, what’s fresh in season, what the farmers are growing, the ranchers are raising. Rather than you have this set menu you want to do. You want to have watermelon in February even though it’s not the season.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Did your mom’s rebellious nature and her intentionality in the kitchen become part of who you were or her you are still today as a cook, as an artist?
Francois de Melogue: I think it’s a good thing for people to learn. You know. Being a chef, everybody who is attending your school, at some point, is going to face themselves in a kitchen where something doesn’t go right. The meat for the main course of a catering event didn’t come. You’ve got to punt in the fourth quarter. That style of adapting to your situation is so needed in the restaurant business.
Sure, you have your intention. Here’s what you want to do. But we all know things happen, and you have to adapt to it.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. The reason I bring it up, to self-reflect a little bit. My father came over in the ‘60s, like I said, as a master pastry chef. He made his Meisterbrief in Dusseldorf before he came over. That was the goal. Always with the intention to go back to Germany eventually. The reason I bring it up is we had a restaurant in the mountains of Colorado in the ‘80s and ‘90s. His style, as you can imagine as a pastry chef, was very organized. He was working three, four, five days ahead. I was a lot more whimsical on the other side of the line. I didn’t want to commit to a menu. My dad wanted a printed menu. “It’s got to be static. I’ve got to organize it. I’ve got to order everything.” I was a lot more free back then. We kept a line between us; that’s how we had a healthy relationship.
My father would come in and just quiz me on things like, “What are you going to do if we lose power?” “What are we going to do today if the gas goes out? How are you going to take care of the guests?” And I never thought about that stuff. I’m glad that he asked those questions, because I think about those things today when I have students in the building.
Our parents are so influential. When you decided, Chef, to go to school to formalize, were you nudged by your family, or was that something that was just in the DNA? “I’m going to go culinary school and I’m going to do this for a career.”
Francois de Melogue: I’m going to answer that two ways. My father was the opposite of my mother. My father was very aristocratic, very proper. You didn’t become a cook because at that time that was a working man’s job. My father did not want me to go to cooking school. I remember looking at “Gourmet” magazine, and in the back, NECI – New England Culinary – had an ad for it.
I ended up getting a scholarship to NECI. I definitely wanted to pursue the education at a cooking school.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. A lot of our listeners from and with Escoffier, a lot of students, will listen to our chat. Not to put you on the spot, but I’d love for you to be able to chat, if you wish, of how culinary school impacted you. Not just your career, but this idea of going, meeting new people in a new place. Because you were in Chicago at the time, and then you relocated over to NECI to go to school. How did that experience, specifically of culinary school, impact your life?
Francois de Melogue: Profoundly. Profoundly. In life, you could go two ways. You could do an apprenticeship in a kitchen, and that’s certainly a noble way to do it. Or you can go to school, and you kind of get your career. If you put your nose into the books, really study, learn how to use your knives, all the things that you’re going to learn in cooking school, you’re going to get to where you want to go faster. Not only that, you’re surrounded by people who are very passionate about the cooking world. You’re going to get doors opened for you in your career down the road.
Louis Szathmary, who I went to work for at The Bakery restaurant at a super young age as his executive chef. He came to NECI and lectured. Hearing Louis speak to me, I forged a friendship with him. I started writing him letters. I actually went and did six weeks of free work at his restaurant, a stage with him, because I was so amazed by him. I would have never met Louis had I not been going to cooking school.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that story. Let’s run with that a little bit, again. We’re going to be selfish here because we’re both from Chicago. You can’t really talk about the history of food and a larger-than-life chef presence than Chef Louis, and the Bakery restaurant. I think it was open for almost 30 years, tiny little place, serving some of the most continental cuisine in the world. At one point, it was one of the most destination restaurants in the world. What was it like?
You admired Chef Louis. You understood where he came from, from Hungary, and all the work that went into his success. Your icon comes to the school, and then you’re in the kitchen. Is it a different story when you’re pumping it out behind the line?
Francois de Melogue: No, it was even better. First of all, Louis had the largest cookbook collection in the world. Before we talk about the cooking side, whenever I had a free minute, I could go upstairs and crack open 200-year-old cookbooks and just have this wealth of knowledge. Not to mention that Louis himself, one of the most intelligent chefs I ever worked for, retained a lot of this knowledge. For me, he was the bridge to the older level of cooking that came in the early 1900s. He was like a living connection to that. Kind of like Paul Bocuse started with the La Mere Brazier, the world’s first Michelin-starred chef with two three-star restaurants for 66 years. A woman.
Kirk Bachmann: I love this conversation. You’re a historian and a storyteller. Keep going.
Francois de Melogue: When we talked before, I told you the French concept of le feu sacre, or the sacred fire. That’s where one generation of chefs teaches the next generation of chefs the basics, gives them the foundations to which they build on. It’s a French idea of the history and the knowledge of cooking going from one generation to another through one kitchen in history to another. You can look back at the lineage and see where today’s great chefs came from back in history.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it. Perfect place for me to jump in. This is an Escoffier cookbook, and there are many. “Le Guide,” the greatest, the first. True story, Chef. About a week ago, I get an email from someone on the east coast in the Connecticut area who happened to be in a bookstore and found this Escoffier bookstore. This one happens to have been written in 1941. She’s not a chef. Has no interest in going to culinary school, but she saw the book and thought it needed to be home. She found me on the website, sent me the pictures. I followed up and got the book.
I love what you’re saying about generations. You have a large cookbook collection as well, right?
Francois de Melogue: Yep. I have over 2000, probably about 3000 menus.
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable. Yeah, the menus drive my wife crazy. I have to hide them in the house now, or bring them to my office. It’s an experience. It’s a memory. I’ve got menus all over the walls, on the floor, Spago. The Little Nell in Aspen, Charlie Trotter, one of his originals. Chicago, another Chicago chef.
I have to bring this up, not to put you on the spot, but I found this quote only. This is you. You said, “My goal is to share my passion for French home cooking and how the French like to eat.” Chef Louis, your first mentor, taught you that “people do not eat methods, they only eat results.” I’ve never heard it put that way. Talk a little bit about that.
Francois de Melogue: Let me start with Louis’s quote. Louis had a very particular way of roasting a beef tenderloin. Remember, Louis’s restaurants were very continental, very old-school European classic stuff a lot of chefs would laugh at today. I’ll argue, it still is very relevant and great tasting.
Kirk Bachmann: Classic.
Francois de Melogue: He would wrap the beef in aluminum foil. He would put a little gelatin on the outside when he did that. I’d question him about it. He goes, “If Escoffier had aluminum foil, he would have used it, too.”
That line about “people don’t eat methods.” We get so caught up in how something is done, and we forget the result. If it doesn’t taste good at the end, who cares how you made it. I don’t care. How it tastes in the end. There’s no way you’re going to get to the end and have it taste good without good methods. That goes without saying.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s all connected. What I love about that, too, Chef, is that it has the customer in mind. It’s really about the experience that the customer has at the table. The food has to taste good, as pretty as it is.
I wanted to talk a little bit about you [working] with Joel Robuchon. Can you talk a little bit about that? Another incredible name in French cuisine.
Francois de Melogue: In my Marco Pierre White era of hero worship, pictures of Marco in the kitchen, Joel Robuchon was the other huge inspiration. What I loved about Joel Robuchon was he started out in very humble restaurants. I think he worked in truck stops. Routiers, they call them in France. Before going up into the chef of the century by some people’s account. I was chef of a Relais & Chateau in New York. Back at the time, I think, there were only 22 or 24 Relais in the country. Part of the program with Relais & Chateau was you could go stage or work for any other Relais.
My boss, Alice Pitcher, knew that I loved Joel Robuchon. I’m going to France on vacation, and the day before she goes, “I’ve got a surprise for you.”
She goes, “You’re not going on vacation. You’re actually going to work for Joel Robuchon.” Here comes a couple weeks of 20-hour days. They were only open 5 days a week, but the absolute most profound experience in my life in a kitchen.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Not many people can claim that. I love it. Definitely Chef of the Century by many people’s assertions. 100 percent.
For you specifically, you went on to open your first restaurant in the early ‘90s. You said that you got a Harvard education running a business. At the time, did you feel prepared to open a restaurant, to start a business, to impact the families that worked for you? And would you have done anything differently, or did you follow your intuition and you’d do it all the same again?
Francois de Melogue: No. One thing NECI taught me was how to cook extremely well. I think the business side of the curriculum was lacking. I was there the second year they opened. I know that’s something that they were working on and expanding.
I think nothing truly prepares you for owning your own business as owning your own business. Here I was, very headstrong like a lot of young chefs in the world. Very headstrong, thought I knew everything. Went in there, was going to take the world hostage or whatever. I was going to rule the world. It was actually the same year Charlie Trotter opened his restaurant. I remember being in Charlie’s kitchen before he opened, which was a couple months before mine.
Kirk Bachmann: Wow. I’ve got chills hearing that. That’s neat.
Francois de Melogue: I walked in the day they were prepping duck confit. I was like, “Wow! That’s yummy. I could dive into that thing of duck fat.”
When you realize when you own your own restaurant, or anybody opening their own business, you’re also now the accountant. Not only as chef you’re working 18 hour days, 16 hour days, now add on accountant, bookkeeper, repairman, HR.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s a lot. You don’t have to go into detail, but any trials and tribulations that you can share? Any challenges in those early days?
Francois de Melogue: Yes. Three months into the restaurant, I was out riding my motorcycle, actually.
Kirk Bachmann: See, Chef, motorcycle, music. I love it.
Francois de Melogue: Then I had a semi hit me on the Dan Ryan.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh. On the Dan Ryan? Oh my gosh! So probably going 75, 80 miles an hour.
Francois de Melogue: He was going about that fast. I was going about 50 because I was just about to get off the highway to go into Hyde Park. Got side-swiped. Hit and run, left for dead on the side of the road.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh.
Francois de Melogue: I won’t go into all of that, but I was out of my restaurant for six months. The hard part, then, came. No critic in Chicago wanted to write about our restaurant. Nobody thought we could survive the owner/chef getting hit by a truck and being out of the restaurant for six months. We got absolutely no play in the press whatsoever, which really sucked. It hurt because I felt like we were doing really cool stuff. We had a very loyal clientele. It made the whole struggle feel like pushing this giant rock up a mountain the whole time.
Sadly, that was our demise. Two years into it, we closed. But I learned a lot because the thing in life: you get knocked down. It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up again.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I’m so glad that you’re sitting with us today, and you survived that and learned some things. So after that accident, you opened another restaurant, the French restaurant, Pili Pili.
Serendipitous story to share. Super quick. Our Vice President of Academic Affairs here at Escoffier. You’ve touched so many people throughout your career. She grew up in Chicago as well. Father was a fireman. She worked at your restaurant with Fred Ramos back in the day. They both went on to work with Michael Foley at Printer’s Row. You remember when Printer’s Row was always in the newspaper, always in the magazines? Talk about getting press. Michael Foley. I want to say Fred worked for you, right.
Francois de Melogue: No, actually. When I was leaving Pili Pili, Fred was coming over to replace me. That was after. It was another side, when Michael Foley was closing Printer’s Row. That had been a Chicago institution forever.
Kirk Bachmann: Forever. Did your beliefs around – sorry to bring this up, it’s just fascinating to me. Did your beliefs around the restaurant business, specifically critics, change a little bit through that experience that you had.
Francois de Melogue: Yeah. I got really negative about it. I think critics should be critical, but they also have to help businesses. They are part of the life cycle of a restaurant. When Pili Pili started, we were the darlings of the media. I was in London newspapers, Japanese newspapers, all the Chicago ones. We were on TV every month.
Kirk Bachmann: Were you a little cautious?
Francois de Melogue: A little bit. If you hold grudges in life, you’re going to be this angry guy in the kitchen.
Kirk Bachmann: That’s not good.
Francois de Melogue: In life, too. Be angry. Critics shouldn’t be one of them. The one thing I find kind of interesting, though, about a lot of critics – please, critics, don’t hate on me for this one – but for a lot of critics in this country, the entry to that career is an English degree rather than a history of culinary things.
I had some very prominent critics come into Pili and write a story about some dish I made. They got the history completely wrong. In the “Chicago Tribune” or the “Chicago Sun Times.” It would eat me alive because I was very interested in that aspect of it.
I remember one time we had a critic come in. Everybody knows what the critics look like, even though they try to hide it, assume names, fake credit cards, these kinds of things. In the critic’s meal, I tucked in a little note, like a little love note or like you do for your kid. “I love you, son,” in the sandwich. I was like, “Hey, you got the history on this dish wrong. I just wanted to say.”
Kirk Bachmann: Just a little nudge. That could be in a movie. That’s super clever.
Let’s speed up a little bit to today. Here you are in Vermont. You look fabulous. You’ve got your little studio there. What’s your passion? Talk about your passion today? I hope that you talk about your photography because it’s absolutely beautiful.
Francois de Melogue: A couple passions. Writing cookbooks. I’ve written two cookbooks so far.
Kirk Bachmann: I have “French Cooking” at home. I don’t have as many cookbooks as you. I want to say 500. My wife periodically makes me either take them to the library or donate them here to the school. I do have yours still on the shelf at home.
Francois de Melogue: Awesome. Thank you.
Kirk Bachmann: Is that still a passion? Do you still like writing?
Francois de Melogue: Yes, I do. My dream in my life is to write a cookbook about the south of France, about Provence, where my mom is from.
Kirk Bachmann: Oh, I love that.
Francois de Melogue: One of the beautiful things about this time is that it’s not just French cooking that’s important anymore. It’s cooking from Ghana. It’s Jamaican cooking. It’s the different ethnicities of Chinese food. Everybody’s culture matters. African American culture. Everybody’s culture matters. I think it’s beautiful that people can tell their story. I want to tell my story. It’s my mother’s Provencal roots. That is something I want to work on, among a couple other books I’m currently working on.
Then, like you said, I’ve been doing photography. Ever since I left the kitchen, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to stay related to food somehow. It’s what drives me. My photography, not only do I like doing landscape photography, which pleases me. It’s like making a beautiful dish in a restaurant that you’re really proud of and putting it out for people to look at and to consume. But I also did a project of photographing different maple houses or sugaring operations in Vermont. I want to incorporate all of this into histories.
I want to give back to the food world and to people. All these different food ways and the different parts of culture as related to food, back to people. Especially students at schools like yours.
Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Just a quick note, too. The south of France. Boy, so absolutely beautiful, particularly Nice. Once a year, because of course that’s the home of Escoffier as well – actually ten kilometers away in Villeneuve-Loubet. Just outside of Nice is where Escoffier grew up. We actually have a museum there in that area. Once a year, we take a handful of students and employees down there just to meet with Michel Escoffier, who is the great-grandson of Escoffier, who still curates his museum and all of that. I totally agree. The weather, the food, the personalities of the people. It’s like a different world. As they say,”nee-cheh.” It’s kind of Italy, it’s kind of south of France. It’s kind of its own “nee-cheh.” Just a beautiful place. Do you go often?
Francois de Melogue: Yeah, I’m actually going in a week.
Kirk Bachmann: No. Oh, I love it.
Francois de Melogue: But that museum. I almost got arrested there. Are you kidding? All the pictures and the menus?!
Kirk Bachmann: It’s unbelievable. Right?
Francois de Melogue: There was only one security guard at the door. I thought I could just grab stuff and just run!
Kirk Bachmann: If you do make it there, you have to let me know so I can let Michel know. He would love to meet with you. They’ve done some additional [work.] When was the last time you were there?
Francois de Melogue: I was at the museum three years ago. Right before covid.
Kirk Bachmann: Since covid, there’s a nice beautiful courtyard where you can have a little peach Melba and a glass of champagne. They’ve redone. There are four floors now. It’s absolutely spectacular. It’s an entire day. It takes that long to get through everything that they’ve curated there. It’s absolutely fabulous. I’m so glad that you said that. Unless you’ve been there, it’s so hard to understand. They created a little garden as well, dedicated to Escoffier and his family as you walk into the museum. It’s just spectacular. I’m going to send you some pictures.
I wanted to talk a little bit about mentorship. Again, coming full circle back to Beau. Because mentorship is so important – it’s important to our students and the next generation, and I know it holds a special place in your heart. In your words, not to put you on the spot, Chef, but how can we pass the torch of knowledge from one generation to the next? When you and I went to culinary school, knowledge was kept in the toque. You had to go. Now, knowledge is everywhere. It’s everywhere.
But any words of advice? At Escoffier, we just launched a beautiful new food entrepreneurship program. It’s a program designed to help young culinarians open a restaurant like you did, or to create a startup, or to create a bakery. Something for themselves. Is there any advice from mentorship through what to keep and eye one, what to focus on if you want to be an aspiring food entrepreneur?
Francois de Melogue: The quick answer is: soak up everything. Be like a sponge wherever you are. Don’t just sit back and take a job as an externship, internship, or one of your early jobs in your career and just sit in the kitchen and just work. Ask the chef. It’s also your responsibility to challenge the chef a bit. Show him that you love cooking. Show him that you want to be there. You’ve got to push for that as well.
I would say also, that I think about Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker. He had a concept of role-modeling people. You’ve got Marco Pierre White, Joel Robuchon, Louis Szathmary, all these people in my life that I role-modeled. I studied everything I could about Marco Pierre White. I had every single one of his books. I read them 50 million times. I tried to be Marco Pierre White. I tried to learn his style through his dishes. You don’t have to be necessarily in Marco’s kitchen – of course, that would help – but you can take the books that he wrote and get that knowledge. Be thirsty, always thirsty, for more knowledge.
Kirk Bachmann: Lots of TikTok moments today on the call. I absolutely love it. Thirsty for knowledge, pun intended.
Chef, we’re getting close to the end, but before I let you go, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. In your mind – and I think I know where you’re going to go – what is the ultimate dish? Could be a memory or an actual dish? Putting you on the spot again.
Francois de Melogue: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone back to simpler food. I go back to the food of my roots. When I was seven, I had two pet rabbits. They were kept in a cage by my family’s restaurant. No kid thinks about this, right? One day, I go to play with them, and they were gone. My grandfather and the chef of our restaurant was sitting there looking really solemnly. They told me they had escaped and gone for the better life, run off into the field, and now they’re eating farmers’ vegetables.
That day, we had chicken for lunch. We had that big French meal. My grandfather had me sit down next to him. Many courses. The principal plate of that menu was a chicken dish with really long legs. I remember I was eating about halfway through this really long chicken leg, and my grandfather stops me and goes, “Do you like the chicken?”
“Oh, I love it!”
He goes, “It’s your pet rabbits.”
I’m like, “Really? Oh my God!” [happy eating sounds] Old school dish, rabbit with whole-grain mustard cooked with onions and just a nice braise.
Kirk Bachmann: Very classic.
Francois de Melogue: That is my favorite dish.
Kirk Bachmann: The French, the Germans, Hasenpfeffer. It is a classic dish. I love it.
You have been delightful to chat with, Chef. So glad to have met you. I’ll reach out to Beau and give him a big high five for introducing us. I wish you well. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Francois de Melogue: Thank you. I’m so honored to be on your program. Really honored to be here. Thank you.
Kirk Bachmann: And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.