If you ask Yves Camdeborde about his cooking philosophy, he’ll tell you that it’s the same as his philosophy for life. Have a good time.
The two are inextricable, both dictated by a no-frills, unapologetic pursuit of pleasure. These values, Camdeborde says, are in his spirit, his body, his nature, his belly. In short, “c’est ma vie,” he tells Journy’s Leiti Hsu.
From this very ethos came bistronomy, a novel style of dining that applies all the principles of gastronomy sans the sky-high prices and stuffiness. Instead, it’s imbued with an air of accessibility and a spirit of progressivism that some have likened to the UK’s gastropub movement. It’s a radical democratization of fine dining, and it’s turning the Parisian restaurant scene on its head. And yet, Camdeborde insists that his incentives were never monetary.
“I don’t do it because it’s a business,” he says. “It’s because of who I am.”
Camdeborde, who was born in the Béarn province of Southwest France, grew up eating côte de boeuf, coq au vin, cassoulet—“all the classics,” he tells Hsu. And because his grandmother hailed from the north, specialties of Brittany made frequent appearances on the dinner table alongside tried-and-true Basque flavors.
His childhood cemented in him an appreciation for “all the delicious stuff,” but he never set out to be a chef—and his first foray into the cooking world at age 14 was propelled by the promise of freedom, not fulfilled passion.
And yet, passion serendipitously found him anyway. And before long, he was in Paris—first at The Ritz, then at La Marée, and then at La Tour d’Argent and Hôtel de Crillon. Come 1992, he had acquired a restaurant in the 14th arrondissement called Régalade, and in 2005 he opened Le Comptoir du Relais Saint-Germain—the paradigm of bistronomy.
“I grew up in a generation where they didn’t ask what you’re going to become when you grow up,” he explains. “I didn’t study, I didn’t write, I didn’t try and become anything because you could just exist then, and it was a happy time.”
And these “happy times” are exactly the types of experiences he’s hoping the laid-back, haute-affordable bistronomy style will foster in our modern age—one that he believes is marred by a culture of fear.
“Today we like to think that we’re free, but back then there was more liberty.”
So where does the father of bistronomy himself like to eat in Paris? We asked just that.
1. Aux Deux Amis
This lively Oberkampf café is an apéro hot spot, dishing out elegant yet simple small plates to pair with their extensive natural wine list. Order the pork cheek ragout with chanterelle mushrooms, and don’t miss out on the olive oil ganache with apricots for dessert.
This can’t-miss épicerie is a stone’s-throw away from Aux Deux Amis and offers a set, plant-forward, “bento-style” lunch menu. Expect to see everything from creamy celeriac mash to fennel and wakame seaweed salad on the menu curated by chef Ulysse Molinet (formerly of Bar de Biondi).
3. Chez Michel
This staple bistro by Gare du Nord showcases the finest of hearty, stick-to-your ribs Breton cuisine—and when Camdeborde eats there, it’s as much as to visit his good friend Thierry Breton (who now helms the kitchen at Chez Michel) as it is to relish in the feeling that “it’s like you’re eating from time’s past.”
Interested in discovering Paris' sustainable side? Check out our eco-friendly guide to the City of Lights.