France-Amérique: How did this series of “gourmet travels” across France start?
Emmanuelle Delteil: Back in 2000, I developed the concept of trips to meet chefs, which was already called Papilles [“Tastebuds”] at the time. As a journalist working for the RMC radio station, I traveled around Southern Europe – to Barcelona, Porto, Naples, and beyond – with a small film crew on recommendations from chef Alain Ducasse, with whom I had already hosted a food segment. A few years later, I went back to school in Paris to learn more about filming images and became a qualified camerawoman. That’s when I came back to Papilles, but with a new version. This time, I wanted to visit the French regions through their terroirs and specialties, guided by their native chefs. This idea took me to Provence with Jacques Maximin, who became something of the show’s godfather, to Moselle with Michel Roth, and to Finistère with Patrick Jeffroy.
How do you choose the chefs?
There are no strict rules. Some hold the Meilleur Ouvrier de France title, others have received a Bocuse d’Or award, and others still have won nothing at all! Some have three Michelin stars, others have given them up. It is a lot like a relay race. Each chef refers me to a colleague, and many now contact me directly and ask us to come and film in their restaurants. I talk to the chefs a lot on the phone beforehand, so in a way we already know each other when filming starts. Even Eric Pras, who is extremely discreet, agreed to be part of the show!
The result is a feeling of familiarity that has become a hallmark of the show. Was this a conscious decision?
Papilles is a human adventure. I spend at least three days with each chef, which is a considerable amount given their busy schedules. It’s almost like a vacation for them. I get them out of the kitchen to film them on boats, sleighs, snow groomers, or even playing foosball in the middle of the FC Metz stadium! We do things that they don’t normally have time to do. I know that Thierry Marx loves motorcycles, so for our upcoming shoot in Nice, I’ve booked two Ducati bikes and we’re going on a ride together. I passed my license three months ago. I was on the seat behind Sébastien Ripari for a shoot in Paris and said to myself, “Next time, I’ll be on my own bike!”
You are very present on screen. You joke with the chefs in the kitchen, get your hands dirty, taste vinaigrettes, smell the aromas escaping from the pots, make small talk with the butcher, leave the fisherman with a kiss on the cheek, and even find yourself invited to a family reunion!
That’s the way I am. I surprise my guests, I entertain them, and they open up to me completely in return. And then we all sit down to eat! What often stands out in the comments I receive is the natural tone I set at these gatherings. “We feel like we’re there with you,” I’m often told, and “we got the impression that all the chefs were your friends.” If you’re glued to the screen for the 26 minutes of each episode, then that’s the icing on the cake!
You filmed an episode in the Camargue region with Michelin-star chef Flora Mikula, the only woman featured in all ten episodes of the first season. Why such a gender disparity?
This episode also features Benin-born Georgiana Viou, head of the Rouge restaurant in Nîmes, who became the first African woman to be awarded a Michelin star last March. But cooking is still a very masculine, macho world. Flora Mikula had to fight to enter the culinary school in Avignon! “It wasn’t easy at the time; women weren’t wanted in the profession,” she said, talking about her early days in the 1980s. Things are changing today, and women are beginning to make their mark. While many female chefs are still reluctant to put themselves in the spotlight and are unwilling to be on the show, younger women, who are used to social media, are less hesitant.
You’ve been following the world of gastronomy since the start of your career. How has it changed over time?
When I first pitched Papilles, not a single network was interested in the subject. I was a trailblazer! Since then, there has been a boom in cooking shows and Instagram accounts devoted to this world! However, the image of easy success conveyed by social media and reality TV is a problem. Faced with this avalanche of so-called “chefs,” many of my guests believe that real chefs are going to become increasingly rare, and I have to agree with them. More and more young people are cooking today, and some are even doing it very well, but they don’t have the stamina of classically trained chefs. Many of those I talk to on the show left school at 14 before starting an apprenticeship and working their way up. This investment makes all the difference. Despite the glory and awards, despite the “Oui, chef!” from their brigade, they remain humble. Many even refuse to be called “chef” and prefer cuisinier (“cook”) or even artisan cuisinier. It sets them apart at a time when the word “chef” is on everyone’s lips. And when you think about it, where are the winners of today’s reality TV shows? Some may stand out from the crowd, open a restaurant, and delight us for years, but most of them disappear after six months… They quickly run out of steam.
A highlight of each episode is the “cooking duet,” which brings together the chef and a surprise guest, who is often an old mentor or a former commis chef who has risen through the ranks and opened their own restaurant. Which of these moments have you enjoyed the most?
I really enjoyed the crispy zander fillet prepared by Michel Roth at La Charrue d’Or, the restaurant in Sarreguemines where he spent his apprenticeship. To cook this emblematic fish from the ponds of the Lorraine region, he replaced the skin with a thin slice of bread before pan-frying it. Paired with saffron and nutmeg, it offered an explosion of flavor!
When can we expect a second helping of Papilles?
I’ve just finished filming seven new episodes. We traveled with chef Myriam Ettahri to Morocco and followed master chocolatier Stéphane Bonnat from Mexico’s cocoa plantations to his store in Voiron, near Grenoble. We also met Thomas Prod’Homme in Courchevel in the French Alps, and filmed two incredible episodes in Normandy – one in La Manche and the other in Calvados. They were previewed in Caen a week ago, and the region was so pleased that it commissioned three more episodes for 2024! In January, I’ll be shooting with Thierry Marx between Nice and Paris, and soon with father-son duo René and Maxime Meilleur, triple Michelin-star chefs in Saint-Martin-de-Belleville in Savoie. After that, I’d like to visit the Vosges and Alsace, the Atlantic coast with Nantes, Les Sables-d’Olonne, the Arcachon basin, and Cap Ferret, the Basque Country, the Southwest around Toulouse and Carcassonne, and Corsica. And why not introduce viewers to other culinary professions, such as a winegrowers, sommeliers, or maîtres d’s? Filming in Japan and America would also be a dream come true!