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Because I never apprenticed in great restaurants and I learned to cook from books, I suspect that even today some of my peers have trouble admitting that I'm a chef. I never had stints in the prestigious kitchens of France, training by chefs in rigorous brigades or know-how handed down from a father, mother or mentor. Life provided me with my training and continues to do so. And the inheritance I received from my mother was a wonderful one: the café-grocery in Saint-Père and the belief that money comes from hard work. And in truth, I didn't lack mentors, for I have had three...
Today, cooking in Vézelay is a source of inspiration and renewal. I can work with the wind, rain, snow and sun and ponder the mystery of the "eternal hill"... When I cross the threshold of the kitchen, once most of the service is finished, to enter the dining room and be fed by others' pleasure, I know that, like an actor, a cook needs an audience and that the love of others is essential if he is to give his best.
The voyage of a passionate autodidact
With deep roots in Burgundy, Marc Meneau has really never left his native soil. He went to Strasbourg to attend hotel school but quickly returned to take over his mother Marguerite's café-grocery in Saint-Père, near Vézelay.
He had the help of his wife Françoise, and to entice her, he transformed the café into a restaurant and invented recipes that he soon tried out. With an unquenchable thirst for learning, he delved into books by the great culinary masters of the past and copied them... Then fate placed in his path three important persons who would become his spiritual culinary mentors: Alex Humbert, the famed chef of Maxim's, Monsieur Bénard, a veritable culinary encyclopedia, and André Guillot. And finally, he began to reap rewards: in 1972 Marc Meneau received his first Michelin star. Needing more space, the Meneaus left the old location that had become too small, and moved to an old notary's house. In 1975 came the second star and the acquisition of the Moulin that included bedrooms and suites. The success of Espérance and its chef continued to grow, reaching its peak in 1983 when Marc Meneau was named Meilleur Cuisinier de France, obtained a third Michelin star and a rating of 19.5 from Gault-Millau. He would keep it until 1999 and get it back in 2004.
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