After a two year pastry apprenticeship in France, Nicolas Breneliere, spent ten years traveling and working in kitchens around the world from Copenhagen to Abu Dabi. Now Breneliere has settled in Lisbon, Portugal where he is in the process of opening his own restaurant overseeing the scenic Tagus river and the iconic 25 de Abril Bridge. Breneliere recently caught up with Chef’s Roll and filled us in his long journey of travels and on-going development of his new project.
How did you start your journey in the culinary industry?
I started my career in 2002 by doing an apprenticeship in pastry for two years in a local and traditional French bakery shop in my hometown. When I obtained my degree, a Certificate of Professional Study in France, I moved to England. I was in England for a year under the tutelage of Raymond Blanc where I perfected and mastered my finesse and basic techniques.
How has your French heritage/culture influenced your culinary style? (produce, terrain, traditions etc.)
Because of my French heritage, my cuisine has always resembled tradition and respect of the products. It was a great opportunity to study culinary in France, a real privilege, it structured my skills with strong bases. Learning all the traditional French culinary classics was important to the development of my cuisine. The respect of the produce affected my views tremendously when choosing ingredients for each season. That way of thinking is what got me the chance to be a chef member of the recognized organization, Euro-Toques, founded by Paul Bocuse thirty years ago.
You spent six years traveling and gaining experience around the world. How did the ever-changing environment help you evolve as a chef?
While moving environments there was also the change in cultures and local traditions. I managed to immerse myself into the differences in products, cooking techniques and styles that I still use in my own kitchen today. I can say that all those experiences in those beautiful countries made me evolve professionally and personally. During my travels I also discovered an early passion for cooking in the savory side.
One of your mentors was Patrick Bausier while you were in Spain. What was your biggest takeaway?
While in Spain I was sous chef under the command of Patrick Bausier, a disciple of Paul Bocuse, who taught me all the basics and advanced traditional techniques of French cuisine just as he had learned during his apprenticeship with Joël Robuchon. These techniques allowed me to work on modern presentations while working in luxury establishments.
You also took over as Head Chef at the kitchens of Relais & Châteaux La Pinsonnière in Canada. What was your biggest challenge while modernizing their menu?
Finding the right balance between modern and traditional was the biggest challenge. I opted to create a menu from locally grown ingredients around a 100km range from the hotel and derived flavors by subliming the ingredients naturally while still combining garnishes with surprising elements.
From your array of travels and experiences in kitchens around the world, what aspects have stayed consistent in every kitchen?
Apart from the distinct selection of ingredients offered in each country I have worked in, the differences of seasoning and the mentality of the people I have met through theses abroad experiences was the strongest element. I had the chance to meet extremely passionate individuals from different backgrounds yet all with the same hunger to learn and teach me. This was the main element that helped aid my vision of cuisine from the local ressources.
You are in the process of opening a restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal at the end of spring. What can you tell us about this new project?
The 64-seat venue will offer a modern international cuisine with a French twist. The restaurant features a terrace that offers stunning views overlooking the Santuário de Cristo Rei statue and the Ponte 25 de Abril, crossing over the Tagus River. The property will also have a garden aside the terrace which we will be growing vegetables, fruits, aromatic herbs and edible flowers. A culinary school will follow soon after that will offer courses from traditional French macarons to a 10-day course to obtain the Grand Chef Label certification based on modern techniques, plating, and traditional cooking.
What influenced you to choose Lisbon as the restaurant location?
After nearly 12 years of traveling I had come back to Paris, yet even though my heart is in France, my head was looking for a different horizon. A friend told me that Lisbon was a unique and very dynamique city, so I set out to Portugal and discovered this fantastic city. I spent around 18 months doing my research of assessing the warm mentality of the locals, trying new dining experience, the amazing fresh ingredients, finding the freshest fish and doing so while enjoying more than 300 days of sun per year.
Finally, what are you looking forward in your career in the next few years?
The restaurant opening is in the next few weeks and yet other projects are already in mind. I would love to continue teaching International Pastry to the first year students at the Hotel and Tourism School of Lisboa. But, I will also look for new opportunities to open new restaurants and concepts around this amazing city!