At the head of a 100% female brigade at Perchoir Ménilmontant in Paris, where she officiates in residence until the end of the year, chef Manon Fleury wants to make her voice heard in a very masculine environment.

At 31, the one who was trained in the “Michelin” stars conceives fruits and vegetables as the only “luxury products” to put on her plates with cereals in the center. In September, she also dedicated a very appetizing book to them, “Céréales, the recipes of a committed chef”.

You take out a cookbook about cereals. Why this choice ?

They have been an integral part of my diet since childhood. I have always eaten buckwheat or quinoa. Aside from wheat, I worked very little with cereals in my apprenticeship in classical cuisine. I had to go to the United States, to Dan Barber, to do it. I saw that he worked closely with a self-sufficient farm and researchers to create a market gardening ecosystem where cereals enriched the soil between two crops. His emblematic specialty was the “risotto rotation”, with seven cereals, some of which were very old. I realized that we could then serve a gourmet dish that tells the story of the field. When I started creating my dishes as a chef, I always offered a vegetarian one with cereals. And it was as popular, if not more so, with white-collar workers than a meat dish.

Why are they cooked so little and so badly in France?

Bread is the basis of our cereal intake. From the moment we appropriated the wheat, we abandoned the others. While in France, cereals grew endemic, such as buckwheat in Brittany or corn in the Basque Country. Today we know the Breton buckwheat pancake, but the Basque taloa has not survived. Over time, agricultural diversity has been impoverished. Likewise, the French have never developed an interest in cooking rice because it comes from afar. There is Camargue rice, which is of high quality, but it does not yet come close to Japanese rice. My role is to try to change behavior and provide techniques. We too often have the image of a bowl of “healthy” cereals that does not really make you want to. I want to bring aesthetics and gluttony. It is also a militant and political approach, since it helps to allow producers to grow other varieties of cereals, so as to contribute to France’s self-sufficiency in this area. With the war in Ukraine, my approach may have an echo. Finally, it is also a commitment to food from a health point of view, with the replacement of animal proteins.

Icon Quote For consumers, the best thing is to go as close as possible to their home, favoring direct sales or the Amap networks.

From a cooking point of view, how do you see the debate crystallizing around meat?

Since I opened Pandora’s box of plant-based cuisine, working with animal flesh interests me less and less. I want to push the logic to the end. But from a political point of view, it is different. I discuss with market gardeners who tell me that peasant farming, with pasture and respectful of animal welfare, can be beneficial, if not essential. He is virtuous. But I want to show, without being dogmatic, that you can have fun with plants by working on textures. This is necessarily part of a more global reflection on the disappearance of resources, as with fishing.

What is a good product?

As a chef, I have to know the people who grow the vegetables to understand their procedures and their problems. It’s the cook’s sensitivity that makes it possible to see a good product, just as my florist has the eye to distinguish a good flower from a bad one. For consumers, in their daily lives, the best thing is to go as close as possible to their homes, favoring direct sales or the Amap networks. It is important to focus on the seasonality of products. With inflation, vegetables are expensive. But if you buy a kilo of lentils, a kilo of rice and vegetables, the basket is not so high. Above all, it is cheaper than a prepared meal. But it takes longer. It’s an investment in your health: it costs less to eat better. All of this means rearranging our lives, when we can.

The French eat less and less at the table. Are you worried?

Getting away from the table is always a problem because it’s the place where things are said. Usability is essential. At the table, we eat less and better. In the United States, I’ve seen people who don’t even sit down to eat. Spending two or three hours at the table is precious, it’s a tradition. On a daily basis, recipe books can encourage cooking because they are tools of transmission and poetry.

Icon Quote It is also a militant and political approach, since it helps to allow producers to grow other varieties of cereals.

Do great leaders have a social role to play?

Of course, because we are bound to a certain exemplarity. Our influence is enormous on consumption, like the great designers in fashion. When we appropriate certain products, the producers seize them. We saw it with yuzu, a kind of lemon that we imported from Japan. Now, citrus growers in the south of France are growing it. And yuzu becomes accessible to the general public.

How do you integrate the climate challenge into your cooking?

Many products did not grow before, in France. With climate change, it’s different. For example, we grow tomatillos, which come from Mexico, in the Allier. It’s up to us to adapt and now I make a salsa verde. Since market gardeners incorporate the new temperatures into their culture, the same is done by cooking their new products.

You do not negotiate prices with your producers. Why ?

Market gardeners’ margins are very low. I work directly with them, without intermediaries. It is normal to pay the right price. Especially since I’m profitable in my restaurant’s ecosystem, provided I don’t add luxury products. My luxuries are fruit and vegetables, which I’m going to pay top dollar for, rather than caviar or truffles.

At the “Le Perchoir” restaurant, the menu costs 95 euros, which is not accessible to the greatest number. How to democratize haute cuisine?

We have to find other forms. I will only be able to do this in my own restaurant: I need to have a place of anchoring where to receive people at home. But I make the parallel with fashion: the choice of gastronomy with high prices is also to be able to do research, develop recipes, push a discourse. Something more difficult to do in a bistro where you have to feed people more invigoratingly.

Icon Quote I work directly with market gardeners, without intermediaries. It is normal to pay the right price.

In recent years, we have seen a democratization of gastronomy through the success of television programs such as “Top Chef”. What do you think ?

They have changed the world of cooking and have had a positive impact by serving as a springboard for young chefs like Mory Sacko, Adrien Cachot or Chloé Charles. But these programs also give a distorted image of the profession by giving it glitter. We don’t cook like in a game where we create recipes from a basket of products. It’s a craft, laborious, where you have to work a lot to get there. Many people wanted to try the adventure after watching these shows without realizing the reality.

What does it mean to be a woman in the very masculine world of haute cuisine?

As soon as we move on to excellence, there are above all great male chefs. Also because women who choose this path are less attracted to stars, medals and competitions. When you’re a woman, you have to sacrifice yourself: being pregnant in the kitchen is complicated. Women have been discouraged, whereas in cooking schools they are in the majority. Three or four years later, they have disappeared from positions of responsibility. Personally, I was confronted with macho atmospheres but I found chefs who gave me confidence. Since I talk about it a lot, I receive a lot of CVs from women. Result: my team is 100% female. I am happy that they think that this environment can be benevolent. They can then spread the message.

Would you say that you cook on the left?

Yes, despite the menu price. I try to build a politically oriented kitchen. I feel close to environmentalists. I want a kitchen with a virtuous, fair and sustainable ecosystem.

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1991 Birth in Dijon

2008 French junior saber champion

2015 Join Dan Barber at New York’s famous “Farm to table”

2018 Takes the reins of the “Mermoz” where she bluffs all of Paris with her vegetable cuisine

2021 In residence at the “Perchoir”, a Mecca for Parisian gastronomy

2022 Present at the Festival of Humanity

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