Falling in love with Australia wasn’t part of this French immigrant’s plan, but staying true to his classical style of cuisine certainly was.
“I come from a classical background. The traditions and discipline is hard, but I’ve kept to it. I felt it was my duty to carry on with the French tradition—there has been cuisine nouvelle, fusion food and now molecular dining, but I’ve always stuck to the classical tradition because
I believe in it.
“I was young and I wanted to see the world. In 1969, you could emigrate to the US, but you had to go to Vietnam first. At the time, that wasn’t such a great place to be. So I came here. It cost me $10. Then I fell in love with the place.
“We wanted to start our own business, but we had no money. That is how we ended up so far out of the city with The Loose Box. We could buy it for $2000; otherwise we might have stayed in the city.
“The differences between France and Australia are full of surprises. In France, we save money and then buy. I thought I was showing the banks how good I was at saving, but they wanted to see I could repay. We had no credit facility—we only had a motorbike with enough room for a two-kilogram bag of chicken and potatoes, and that was about it.
“But demanding cuisine doesn’t have to be expensive, just complicated, like pig’s trotters. So I didn’t have any money, but I had plenty of time.
“I said I’d do it for two years. Now, 29 years later, there’s only a handful of people who started at the same time as me who are still in business. It takes a lot of focus—the day you stop learning is the day you’re not in the game anymore.
“The recipe for a successful restaurant is a bit of talent, a bit of stamina and you need to not drop the ball.
“You have to understand a trend, but not be a follower. You have to satisfy your desire and still satisfy the customers. It’s always a juggle.
“Now there are so many shortcuts. But really, they are ways to avoid hard work and there is really nothing simple. Cuisine is complicated. You can’t be a symphony orchestra musician and play in a rock and roll band. I feel we are less and less masters of the discipline. I’m a bit worried for the future of French cuisine. You can’t play music without reading the music. The young people starting now are waiting to be fed the information. When I was young it was important to have the knowledge of such and such a recipe. Now young cooks are doing dishes without learning the techniques.
“In 2000 I was burnt out and so was Lizzie. We had worked non-stop since 1979. The GST was one part of it, but I also lost two key people simultaneously. I wanted out. Then one day we recreated ourselves. We charged up. I’m going to be 60 next year, and I’m not ready to go yet.
“The big thing for us is we bought our property, so now we’re sitting on a real asset. We built some cottages to go with the property in 1995. The drinking limit changed from .08 to .05 and business dropped dramatically because we were so far from the city. We had to do something—now people can stay here and drink without having to drive.
“I’m from a part of France where truffles are grown, so when they started being grown here I created the Mundaring Truffle Festival. It took six years for the first one, and I cooked it myself. I’m still the biggest user—26 kilograms this season.
“I’ve bought a little farm that looks like the truffle country in France—very arid and hot. I’ve put oak trees [with truffle spores] in there too, but they’re still three years away. I took the gamble. If it doesn’t work, I’ll have a wonderful forest and my carbon footprint will be alright.
“I sometimes think if I started over again, ‘would I do it this way, knowing what I know?’. But I’m an artist, and food is my art.
I really can’t see myself doing anything else, so sometimes I wonder if my world is too complicated—but really, it’s a bit late for that.