Foodie Features

Vincent Menager – Dedicated To The Craft

By Rosie Birkett

Vincent Menager, The Balcon Sofitel’s globe-trotting executive chef, tells us about working for Alain Ducasse and how he wound up in London.

“Growing up, I was always interested in how things were made. I’m a very practical person – if I do it, I understand it,” says Vincent Menager, Executive Chef of The Balcon restaurant in London’s Pall Mall Sofitel. “We make everything here – it’s a lot about my personality. You can’t be properly proud of something if you didn’t make it yourself. I’d rather do a few things very well then lots of things halfway. I could buy all my steaks de-boned, and vac-packed, but it’s much more interesting – and much more respectful to the product – to buy in the sirloin and butcher it myself. It’s important to show these techniques to the next generation; it’s a legacy of skill.”

Hailing from the South of France, Menager had a natural interest in cooking from a young age, thanks to the rich culinary culture that surrounded him. “Food was the centre of attention, you always have bread at the table – and I used to go to the bakers and be fascinated.” This led to him doing a trial at his local bakery aged thirteen and Menager has not looked back from food production ever since.

Whilst attending hotel school as a teenager, “I fell in love with the kitchen. It is a lot more creative – you have a lot more freedom of expression.” The rookie chef couldn’t have asked for a better start in the profession than working for Alain Ducasse, at his restaurant in Paris at the Westin hotel – which was to later become the Sofitel Castille.

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“When I worked for him, the company ‘Alain Ducasse’ was not as big as it is today – he was still very approachable and he had time,” says the chef of his mentor. “He was there for us and we could ask questions. He was very impressive and, when he came and spoke to you, you felt very special. I had a great relationship with him – his way of managing people was inspiring too – he gave people freedom to express themselves, which is how I like to manage my staff now, too.”

After working for Ducasse at Sofitel’s Paris restaurants, he embarked on a travelling career with the hotel group, working in New York, China, Thailand and Sydney.

Finding his way to London in 2010, Menager took up the reins as Executive Chef at the Brasserie Roux at the Sofitel St James – under the consultancy of Albert Roux – overseeing the transformation to the Anglo-French Balcon in 2011.

Pleasantly surprised by both the restaurants and products he’s found in London, the chef is a self-confessed Anglophile when it comes to his restaurant. “The Balcon is all about British products – you can find absolutely fantastic ingredients here – it’s unnecessary to get things from France. We show them off for what they are, using classic British recipes. We have small plates which express a collection of flavours and classics, like cottage pie and kedgeree, which I love. There’s also charcuterie from Wales and lamb shanks from Devon.”

“I was surprised by the quality when I arrived in England. As a french person you’re taught that English food is not great – but in reality I found an amazing restaurant scene that’s much more interesting and varied than in Paris. They take chances here, it’s a lot more like New York, where dining is about having fun and being seen. It’s not just about food and service.

“I want people to come to this restaurant and be themselves, while discovering new things and being well looked after.”

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