Born in Paris in 1981, Bertrand Grebaut rose to the top of the New Generation of French gourmet chefs with breathtaking speed. Opening his first restaurant, Septime, in May 2011, he was awarded a Michelin star in 2014 and named 52nd of the worlds best restaurants soon thereafter. Since, the Paris native has added Septime Cave, a wine bar, and Clamato, a shellfish restaurant. All three are near each other, creating a cluster of the most in-vogue eateries in the city.
After a literary Baccalaureate, he did a preparatory course and enrolled at the Penninghen art and design school, but dropped out in the first year. It lacked the fun of spraying graffiti with a posse of aspiring artists. By his own description, sitting in class, he’d just be looking forward to an aperitif and a good dinner. He considered becoming a sommelier, but finally enrolled at the prestigious Ferrandi culinary arts school, in the 6th quarter in Paris, where learned the tricks of the trade and met the love of his life.
His career began at Alain Passard’s l’Arpège. Passard’s stimulating influence as a mentor has produced dozens of successful chefs. After four years at l’Arpège, the naturally bashful and reserved Grebaut felt emboldened to strike out on his own. Only describing his professional path though would omit an important part of the story. After having met Tatiana Levha at Ferrandi (he was finishing the school, she was beginning), he met her again in the streets of the Quartier Latin where they both grew up. Both are shy, but he managed to come up with “hey, I’m working at L’Arpège, come for dinner and bring your sister.” Their first flirt revolved entirely around food. By their own admission, it was the sole subject they felt comfortable discussing without feeling awkward.
Tatiana herself wound up earning her chops at Passard’s too. In the meantime, Grebaut had moved to l’Agapé as head chef (the couple have never worked together). At 27, he was the youngest in France to be awarded a Michelin star. He then took a sabbatical year, traveling through Asia with Tatiana, who is half-Filippino. Upon his return, Gribaut decided to open Septime with Theo Pourriat, who created a marvelous wine selection.
In addition to the Michelin star, Septime won the World’s 50 Best Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2017. Vegetables comprise about 80% of the menu, and sustainability governs every aspect of the restaurant’s operations, from food waste reduction to employee compensation. Grebaut works with local producers, assuring the maintenance of old varieties, purchasing complete productions ahead of time to keep certain farmers in business, and paying far over market price to small-scale fishermen who use methods with less impact on the marine environment. There is filtered water, natural wines. As to meats, whole animals from old stocks, unsuitable for mass production are used entirely. And there is more: gender parity, weekends off (Septime is closed Saturdays and Sundays for staff and private reasons and, by his own admission, crowd-selection.) Gibaut’s businesses play an active part in neighborhood initiatives, international charities and have formed a partnership with other chefs to develop distribution networks favoring small-scale farmers.
Gribaut’s contemporary cool Parisian mindset is reflected in Septime being a casual and affordable Michelin starred restaurant with a tasting menu below 100 Euros, a lunch menu at 30 Euros, in the hip-not-chic 11th quarter. Septime La Cave and Clamato follow the same principles, and currently Gribault and Pourriat are taking over a Gite, with a few rooms to rent and a dining area seating 20 in rural France. The word spreads, the universe expands.
Meanwhile, Tatiana Levha opened her own place with her sister, Le Servan. She says she asked Bertrand for advice, and then followed none of it. Yet their philosophy of an open, casual and sustainable gastronomy is the same. They bring to mind mythical couples like Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet, or Sartre and Simone Beauvoir: Lovers and brothers in arms.