A former Paul Bocuse protégé who has worked in food capitals such as Lyon and Tokyo, the French-born chef and restaurateur has made his mark in Melbourne. By Frank Leggett
“I was born in Evreux, a small town in Normandy. My father was a chef and he instilled in me a love of cooking and eating. I was quite young when I decided to start an apprenticeship as a chef and introduced myself at the only restaurant in our town. Luckily, they had a position available and took me on. I knew I had made the right decision straight away—I don’t think I could have done anything else.
“My apprenticeship took four years and when I finished, I really wanted to move to a bigger town. My dream was to go to Lyon, as it’s the capital of gastronomy in France. And when you talk about Lyon, you talk of Mr Paul Bocuse.
“Before I could move to Lyon, I had to undertake a year in the military, as all young men did at that time in France. When I was released from the army in 1975, I sent a letter asking for a job to Mr Jaloux, an executive chef I had met briefly who was working for Paul Bocuse. He replied that a position was available and that I should come to Lyon. I still have that letter at home.
“It was a fabulous experience to finally be in Lyon. I went straight to Paul’s restaurant and arrived during lunchtime. They said to me, ‘Put your luggage here, you’re starting now.’ A memorable first day!
“Altogether, I spent 25 years working with Paul. That included stints in Japan, France, Hong Kong and the USA. After working in Houston, Texas, I returned to Japan. Then Paul said to me, ‘We’re opening in Melbourne.’ I had always wanted to go to Australia and happily agreed. I arrived here with my wife and two small kids in 1991.
“I spent seven years at the Bocuse restaurant in Melbourne before it closed in 1997. After that I moved around a bit, working in different restaurants in and around Melbourne. A friend opened a restaurant in the Montalto vineyard and I spent six months helping him get it established. We went back to Japan for a couple of years when my mother-in-law became ill.
“I want to be proud of my food and pleased with the service we offer. I’m still learning every single day. The day you say you know everything, it’s all over.”—Philippe Mouchel
“When we returned to Australia in 2011, I opened the Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel at Crown Melbourne. I was there for another seven years until I moved on to open PM24. My current restaurant, Philippe, has been open for about 12 months.
“To some extent, Philippe is a culmination of what I’ve learned on my journey. It’s also exactly what I want to be doing at this stage of my career. I’ve done a lot of fine dining with Paul Bocuse but, to me, there’s not much difference between a fine dining room and a bistro. You must have a passion for what you do and always give 100 per cent.
“I’m a chef, of course, but when you run your own restaurant, you must be so much more. You have to look after your staff and you have to look after your budget. It’s very important to have a vision and know exactly where you’re going. You can make the best food in the world but at the end of the day, it’s a business. We need to make sure we are able to pay our staff and our suppliers, and make a bit of money, too.
“Right now, the Melbourne restaurant scene is very dynamic and constantly changing. With so many other restaurants opening, it’s important to see what others are doing and why they’re busy.
“For me, the most important thing is to be happy in my restaurant. I want to be proud of my food and pleased with the service we offer. I’m still learning every single day. The day you say you know everything, it’s all over. It would be better to retire.
“I’m excited when I come to work in the morning. I speak to my staff and my chefs. We talk about what we can improve and discuss any new ideas. If they’re not happy with something, they tell me and we solve the problem. I make sure I’m everywhere and that I know what’s happening in all areas of the business. I’m very happy with Philippe and with what I’m doing.”