Chefs Michel and Sébastien Bras: “Bringing the soul of the Aubrac to Paris”

Portrait of Michel Bras
Close Photo Maxime Tétard
January 11, 2021

Chefs Michel and Sébastien Bras: “Bringing the soul of the Aubrac to Paris”

François Pinault has entrusted father and son Michel and Sébastien Bras with the reins of the restaurant La Halle aux grains, located on the top floor of the Bourse de Commerce. Its evocative menu takes guests from the Aubrac region to Japan to the French capital and back again, on a unique journey.

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By Bourse de Commerce

This is your first Parisian restaurant. What comes to mind when you think of the district of Les Halles?

Michel Bras: When François Pinault presented the project to us, myself and Sébastien came to visit the site and the surrounding area. I’d already visited the district several times. I am not very Parisian but I had happened to wander by here on previous visits. I had a number of uncles who ran breweries in Paris. I wasn’t familiar with Les Halles myself, but I remember when they talked about it that it seemed like an impressive place. This site inspired me. Beyond this personal dimension, when Sébastien and I entered the Bourse de Commerce, the painted panorama of the five continents transported me to other climes. It nurtured my memory and sparked my imagination. Based on this experience, I was able to extract the essence of what we could develop and offer in this venue.

Sébastien Bras: I believe that a chef needs to be inspired and find inspiration first from their environment, be it architecture, a landscape, a light. The district of Les Halles is somewhat like a mecca for chefs, in that, as its name suggests, it was once, I imagine, a very lively district, with an intense activity around food. That in itself is particularly inspiring. With my father Michel, we did some historical research into the history of this site, particularly its past as a granary. Based on this former strong connection to cereals, various ideas emerged in terms of the culinary blueprint, following a common thread linked to cereals, lentils and grains, and to an entire universe that we are still in the process of exploring. In this specifically Parisian site, we have the opportunity to explore the question a little further.


How did Tadao Ando’s architectural contribution inspire you?

MB: My wife and I have always loved architecture. When we built our restaurant Le Suquet in 1992, it was quite the challenge! Architecture is part of our life, whether at the Musée Soulages or our plans for a future restaurant in Japan with Kengo Kuma… I began to appreciate Tadao Ando when I discovered his work in Japan, the Tea House for example, his relationship to concrete, and above all its meaning, its way of accentuating the void, nothingness, the light. It was this notion of simplicity that I particularly admired. In this simplicity, I find similarities to the forces driving my own creation and creativity: the encounter with the material, the produce.

SB: I was interested in Tadao Ando’s architecture and his wonderful work around concrete, a material that most people consider cold, almost inert. However, in Ando’s work we realize that he manages to make structures or buildings speak; he endows them with a magnificent resonance thanks to the light. I think that there are parallels here with our culinary creations in Laguiole (in the Aubrac region), where the light has a very special quality. There is a resonance between the Aubrac plateau, its intense light, and the continuous play of light and shadow, and the Bourse de Commerce, thanks to the work carried out by Tadao Ando.


This building was once a granary. What is your relationship to cereals and grains?

MB: It is as if this relationship was predestined. Today, we have a place where we can showcase and valorise grains, lentils and cereals. That makes me extremely happy.

“I believe that creation is very spontaneous; it can take anything from three minutes to ten years. Creation is a kind of second state, in which we often find ourselves, where our brain is constantly working, trying to find the keys to associations, volumes and forms...” Sébastien Bras

What would you like to bring from the Aubrac to Paris?

MB: The soul and spirit of the region, quite simply.


When and how did you begin to cook and why do you continue cooking today?

MB: I started cooking by accident. I had no real desire to become a chef. I entered the culinary world because I was the oldest child in a family of three. At the time, my mother had various health problems. This was after the war, and then, it was common, even expected, for the eldest to make sacrifices. So I returned home to help my mother in the restaurant she had set up with the help of my father, who was a farrier by profession, and support her through that difficult time. I began with pastry, then savoury dishes, and then gradually, I progressed onto all kinds of cuisine. Today, I don’t know if you could really say that “I cook”. For me, cooking is a means of expression in the same way that others might express themselves by composing a score or painting a canvas… In any case, this current project is a source of immense satisfaction. I have been sharing various ideas with Sébastien, ideas that come from the bottom of my heart, from my soul. Cooking is not simply about adding one ingredient to another. It is much more than that. Behind it, there is a real base, a construction, a life.


What ingredient could you not live without?

MB: Salt. Quite simply. I like that it adds real flavour to beef, but in crescendo, especially when the seasoning is not evenly spread over the entire piece. We begin to eat, to taste the meat; it may be a little bland and then, little by little, the flavours increase in intensity. Thanks to the salt. Pepper too, of course.

SB: For me, condiments are the magic ingredient of any dish. I’ve created my own special condiments, called NIACS. These are sweet and savoury preparations that exist in paste, powder or dehydrated format, and can be used to season a dish, add a little spice, or intensify the flavour of a culinary creation, like my special mustard condiment, for example. At our restaurant in Laguiole, we have a whole collection of NIACS: dried olive powder, accompanied by a little muscovado sugar, candied orange zest, mixed with a hint of Sichuan pepper, a miso paste made from Laplanèze lentils, a local variety. NIACS are an entire universe of complementary seasoning, which in small touches, add bursts of flavour to food. Without these, cooking would be a little insipid.



“Eating this dessert with our hands reminds us of moments of exquisite gluttony as a child: dipping our fingers into the cream oozing out at the sides and then licking them clean! For me, this dessert symbolizes what real cooking is: honest, sincere and delicious. We sometimes tend to forget this in the world of haute-cuisine.” Sébastien Bras

What was your first experience of contemporary art and what was the first artwork to have an impression on you?

MB: A lithograph by Georges Mathieu. My wife and I cleared out our savings to buy it! I still have it. Over time, our taste was honed as we discovered various artists and works. Personally, I have a soft spot for Soulages. I had the chance to visit his studio and I must say that when you meet the man, his artwork takes on a whole other meaning.


Are you a collector?

SB: Yes… of varieties of green beans!