THE ÉLECTRONS LIBRES TAKE -2–AMERICAN CHEF : MAXIME BILET
The Électrons Libres, is a group of chefs that are as individual or a leaders of a group have taken a unique route that goes beyond the learning process. Their philosophy transforms the cuisine of the present time as well as the cuisine of the future in a specific area (place) or country. Sometimes they are the leaders of a culinary movement but often, they are alone in their search.
Today I met a very gifted young chef does not operate in a restaurant, but rather in The Cooking Lab of Nathan Myhrvold in Bellevue (Washington State). Myhrvold a genius scientist who was formerly VP, R & D of Microsoft has decided to make an encyclopedic book on his passion and science behind the modern cuisine: The Modernist Cuisine Book. I therefore present to you the Chef Maxime Bilet, Head Chef of The Cooking Lab.
Before coming to Bellevue, Maxime Bilet passed by The Institute of Culinary Education in New York. He has Completed internship at Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar before to moving to London for a internship with Heston Blumenthal’s development team at The Fat Duck. But that is his work on The Modernist Cuisine, which will certainly become a reference for a long time, will transform his cuisine forever. His Herculean effort rests in a box of 6 volumes where each recipe and demonstration have been tested repeatedly by Maxime Bilet and his team.
But beyond the science and technologies that are just ways to better understand and demystify, there is in the Chef Bilet a French heritage, a love of products and now a technique that maximizes the purity of flavors.
A chef to follow who will do definitely sparks in the future, whether with The Cooking Lab or solo!
(Note: You can read a sequel later in 2011 when I will talk about the book’s release.)
1-(Scoffier ) How do you explain the philosophy behind your cuisine and what is it main characteristics?
MBilet- Passionate and insightful. Modernist cooking is about refining delicious food with a broad awareness of the factors that make it possible. That means being fully aware of the incredible cultural diversity of ingredients and preparations, of what it means to cook locally and seasonally and of up to date ethical practices for purchasing those ingredients, and of traditional cooking techniques and the scientific and technological advances that push the boundaries of how it is possible to work with food.
It is not about creating food in a test tube nor is it about clinging to traditional concepts. It is about balancing the precision of acquired knowledge and the spontaneity of open hearted creativity. Food is an equally cerebral and sensual experience and therefore cooking can be an incredibly empowering role for a chef to have. I take that very role seriously.
2-(Scoffier) Do you have a flavour or taste from your childhood that is again memorable?
MBilet- A few food memories have really marked my palate and growth as a chef. My grandmother’s ratatouille is my first conscious memory of recognizing the harmony and deliciousness of food. It was so good and so simple, yet so profound; almost an alchemists revelation of a concoction where the sum is truly greater than its individual parts. In Paris, with my grandfather when I was 16, eating Gillardeaux no.2 oysters and a really good bottle of Chablis. It was when I realized that the appreciation of many of the interesting flavours in life must be cultivated and will not be as approachable as buttered toast with honey. My most recent food memory was a dinner at Jean Georges in NYC for my 19th birthday. The one component that stands out brightly was an amuse bouche of tomato water gelee. I remember the texture and flavour very clearly and the moment of realization that food could be a transformative experience.
3-(Scoffier) Do you have a particular foods (or products) that you often use in your recipes?
MBilet- All sorts of acidic ingredients. Over the past three years we have accrued quite an impressive collection of different vinegars, citrus and pure food acids in our lab kitchen. I always believe that seasoning is the defining element of any good food and acidity plays a huge role to that effect. Lime juice will enhance a perfectly sweet scallop with its perfume of coconut, really good aged red wine vinegar can invigorate a lacking meat jus and malic acid will truly round out a vegetable broth or fruit nage.
4-(Scoffier) Do you have a mentor (chefs or anybody else) that inspires you in your cuisine?
MBilet- My first great influence was Marc Veyrat. His cooking is one that really resonates with me because it presents that great balance of the natural and the conceptual. Like Michel Bras, Chef Veyrat has a great passion for wild ingredients and foraging, a practice that has become quite in vogue over the past few years. But he also has a genius ability to transform those products into highly technical and incredibly tasty creations. In one sitting you might have a perfectly cooked piece of Fera fish from the Annecy lake with a jus of Benoite Urbaine,a root that tastes like a mixture of cepes and cloves, and you might also have a 63C egg injected with a cream of wild caraway seeds followed by a bowl of disappearing noodles. Beyond him to tell you the truth I have been inspired by so many chefs it is impossible to begin and end in reasonable fashion. Everyone from Thomas Keller when I was growing up to Heston Blumenthal, Andoni Luis Aduriz and David Chang.
5-(Scoffier) Actually, you are strongly identified at Modernist Cuisine project and book, what you learned in this project and with Nathan Myhrvold?
MBilet- I learned that I know very little. Home cooks and chefs are trained with many basic techniques that are based on blind faith in the old ways. Many times those old ways are based on a great deal of practice, ingenuity and wisdom. Other times though, they can be based on very little sense at all. One of the great goals of the book was to examine those common practices and to bring clarity and freshness to as many of them as possible. Working with Nathan was a tremendous learning experience. It was quite a challenge just keeping up with him but once we begun really collaborating on a lot of our original work together I really got a glimpse of how his mind works and the potency of simply keeping your mind open to all the possibilities.
6-(Scoffier) How was your first meeting with Nathan Myhrvold and why did you take this job?
MBilet- I was asked by Chris Young, another co-author on the book, to come from New York to work on a dinner event for Nathan. I met Nathan as soon as arrived to the lab and I must initially have seemed quite un-prepared for the situation. The kitchen was not yet fully built but the space was so incredible and had so much potential that it felt right to be there from the beginning. The lab encompasses so many other interesting projects and so many talented yet diverse people that it is an extremely rich and constructive place to work in.
7-(Scoffier) What was your role in the Modernist Cuisine project?
MBilet- I was the Head Chef of the lab kitchen and a co-author of the book. On a daily basis I managed the kitchen and worked with our four incredible chefs, Anjana Shanker, Grant Crilly, Sam Fahey-Burke and Johnny Zhu on creating and testing all of the recipes in the book. We worked very closely with Nathan in creating our original recipes and deciding which of the other chef recipes we would include. I spent a lot of time putting together the parametric tables, a unique feature of the book which presents a broad range of formulas for everything from stocks, to sous vide cooked meat temperatures to preserved eggs. One of my favourite roles on the book was coming up with interesting visual ideas for our photos. I spent a great deal of time with Ryan Smith, our great photographer, thinking of unique ways to design our food.
8-(Scoffier) How knowledge learned in the science of cooking will change the way you cook in the future?
MBilet- First, I don’t know how I will ever be able to cook without a centrifuge again so I think it will be the first addition to my home kitchen.
But seriously, we have learned so much in so little time that I know I will never look at food the same way. I feel like we have really opened up some doors for other chefs and hopefully we will inspire many to look at the possibilities of food and cooking more openly. I was very suspicious of modern cooking before I staged at the Fat Duck but there I quickly learned that understanding the science involved in any preparation is an important foundation for making even the simplest of recipes on a regular basis. Your imagination has a far greater realm to explore once you gain a sense of the parameters within which you are working.
9-(Scoffier) Can you give us a detailed recipe (Signature dish or other) that is characterized the cuisine of Maxime Bilet?
MBilet- A dish I have been working on a lot recently and that really encompasses what I love most about our food right now is a dish of various vegetables, some cooked sous vide, some roasted, some deep fried, served with a broth of centrifuged pea juice, sous vide coffee infused butter and toasted walnut bread. Since it is autumn right now I call it our Spring Melancholy dish as we serve the various root vegetables bathed in the essence of spring. On the surface it is simple and approachable yet it involves a lot of interesting and complex techniques.
(NOTE: The book was not published until March 2011, it is impossible now published a complete recipe)
10-(Scoffier) What is your goal (ambitions) as chef or for the after the book?
MBilet- First I think I’ll sleep for a few weeks and not think about the book or recipes for as long as I’m capable. I’m very passionate about the whole process so it will be hard to force my mind to recover a little bit before we look at other projects. After that the future is open. There are many very meaningful and important things I feel we can do with Nathan and the lab and it will be interesting to see where that takes us next.
-Modernist Cuisine/Head Chef Maxime Bilet
Authors: DR. Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, Maxime Bilet.
Modernist Cuisine is a six-volume, 2,400-page set that is destined to reinvent cooking. The lavishly illustrated books use thousands of original images to make the science and technology clear and engaging.
1. Gastronomes Await Modernist Cuisine, NY Times, September 2010,
2. The Extremist…, LA Times, September 2010,
3. After Microsoft…, NY Times, November 2009,
1. The Cooking Lab at Martha Stewart Show, November 03, 2010,
Tous droits réservés. Copyright Scoffier © 2008-2010