After fifteen weeks of competition, season 14 of "Top Chef" ended this Wednesday, June 7 with the victory of Hugo Riboulet. The cook, the youngest of the competition from the top of his 23 years, won the culinary competition of M6 against his colleague Danny Khezzar. His menu, which featured mushrooms, cabbage and chocolate, appealed to Red Cross volunteers and jurors who voted for him with 54.81% of the vote. Philippe Etchebest's protégé, long second in command at Laurent Petit's three-star restaurant Le Clos des Sens in Annecy, talks about this adventure.
TVMAGAZINE. - How did you feel when you discovered the steel blade?
Hugo RIBOULET. - I didn't expect it! I had programmed a defeat in my head to be disappointed as little as possible and it increased my feelings tenfold when I won. In addition, I had around me all my family, my former bosses, colleagues... There were almost thirty of us! As soon as they saw the result, they made me jump in the air, it was huge. I felt like I had accomplished everything, that I had fought to the end to get the Holy Grail. It was a crazy thing. All my relatives told me that I made them feel emotions that they will only experience once in their lives.
What state of mind were you in before this final?
I have only done starred restaurants where you never serve more than 40 covers per service so I had never experienced the banquet mode. Especially since there were five of us to serve 104 covers and we did not know the kitchen. I had never done that in my life and I was very apprehensive. There were unforeseen events, hardware problems... In the end, we quickly found ourselves in the juice.
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How did this final go?
Not everything went as planned, it would have been too beautiful! When the chefs pass, we have the impression that they stay ten minutes but they take us an hour of time. I had organized myself to put two clerks on the starters, two others on the dishes and me on the desserts. But when the chefs stopped by for an hour, the desserts weren't progressing and I also had to show others how to do it. In the end, I found myself in the juice during the service to do the set-up. The big concern was also the lack of equipment.
There were not enough large volume pans. I also had preparations requiring specific equipment, such as new plates, that I did not have. After that, that's "Top Chef", you have to adapt and bounce back in any case.
You were facing Danny, did you fear him?
Yes, because he has already made a nice comeback during the "Hidden Brigade" and, on top of that, he is also from the starry world like me. He is a very good technician. I knew it was going to be very hard and that we should not leave anything to chance.
"I think you had to take risks because people are there to discover things."
Hugo Riboulet, winner of "Top Chef".
How did you compose your menu?
I made an entrance around the mushroom by marrying techniques to surprise. As a dish, I chose to use oyster and cabbage as the main garnish, it was a bias. I think we had to take risks because people are there to discover things.
You seemed very close with Philippe Etchebest, how would you describe this link?
We had to trust each other, I had to understand his cooking and he understood mine. After this click, it was really much better. I asserted myself in my kitchen and he always brought me a technique, a little extra thing that made the difference. That was our strength. As the competition progressed, it was exponential and, when I reached the quarter-finals, I felt a very big support from him. It gave me wings.
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You presented an empty plate to chef Jordi Roca. This moment will mark the history of "Top Chef", how did you live it?
There is not a day when I am not told about it! This improvisation, the acting... All the stars were aligned that day. I was on my little cloud. This is the event so I am the proudest and that allowed me to have confidence in myself culinarily speaking.
"I didn't come to do the puppet on television but to participate in a real cooking competition. It is a personal accomplishment. »
Hugo Riboulet on his victory
What does it mean to you to have won "Top Chef"?
It is the realization of all the work I did upstream. I had not come to do the puppet on television but to participate in a real cooking competition. It is a personal accomplishment. I also did it for my former bosses who took the time to explain things to me and train me. Winning allows me to thank them in my own way. I also think back to the sacrifices of my family and mine too, all the moments I spent in the kitchen when everyone else was having fun. When you're young, it's not easy. There, I tell myself that I did not do this for nothing and that work pays.
Why did you enter the contest?
I was 23 years old, I was second in a triple star and I wanted to know where I was. I also wanted to do a cooking contest because I had never done one. And then, "Top Chef" is an accelerator of career, notoriety and, as I had the goal of opening an establishment, I seized my chance.
How was the atmosphere with the other candidates in the competition?
It was crazy! I have never eaten so many times at the restaurant in my life! On weekends, we went to drink, we went out, it took away the competitive side of the contest. It allowed us to forge incomparable bonds.
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Did you learn anything about yourself during the contest?
I discovered that I could be stressed when it's not my nature. Otherwise, the competition allowed me to activate my creativity, to push myself to my limits, to do things that I would never have imagined such as the trompe-l'oeil petanque ball or the upturned plate.
How will you use your €54,810 winnings?
I will invest in a street food concept in Paris with Albane. We had, each on our own and without consulting each other, the desire to franchise a concept. With the current situation, this has a lot of advantages because there is no need for a lot of staff or a lot of investment and it is quite profitable. The idea would then, with the funds obtained, to open a gourmet restaurant. For the concept, I can not say anything because it is unprecedented in France and almost abroad. It will open in early November and, if it works, the goal would be to expand throughout the France.
Which of you two has thought of this new concept?
It was Albane who had the idea but we work on a product that I am very used to cooking. So it fits well because I can bring my know-how to the project.
Why did you choose to partner with Albane?
We got along very well on the contest, it was friendly. We are both very young and it is quite complicated to start alone. Being two allows you to divide the costs and separate the tasks. We are very complementary with Albane. I am more in on the part creation and she in the relational.
Do you have other projects?
I have quite a few residences this summer. I will be in Lyon for four days at the end of June. In July and August, I will sign some dates at the ephemeral restaurant of the Clos des sens garden. I will also be for a week at my former chef Masashi Ijichi in Valencia in his restaurant La cachette. I will put my menu à la carte in the form of small simple dishes to share with a very vegetal signature. I am also waiting for the proposals that can be made to me...