Chef Julien Dumas is passionate about the sea. On the occasion of World Oceans Day, he spoke to us about the relationship of trust he has with his fish merchant Gilles Jégo, his decision to support sustainable fishing, and his love for cooking fish.
Sophie Cornibert: What is your relationship with the ocean?
Julien Dumas: I can only spend my vacations on the coast. I love living by the water and in time with the tides. Life is more rhythmic there, thanks also to the wind. Each day is different. I love gathering or digging for shellfish along the shore. Clams, cockles, velvet crabs, venus clams — you eat what you catch in Brittany, in Noirmoutier. Among the rocks, I also find large quantities of seaweeds such as pepper dulse, the taste of which is amazing, and sea fennel, with its absolutely fantastic blend of anise and iodine. The scent of sea spray reminds me of the skate au beurre noir from my childhood, with capers and buckwheat butter; it inspires me and calms my spirit at the same time.
SC: What are your favorite fish and how do you prepare them?
JD: When the fish come in from Gilles Jégo, my fish merchant in Étel in Morbihan, I’m like a little kid who just got a package in the mail. Sometimes it's winter flounder or gray bream — it depends on the weather and the season. But I love all of them; there's something unique about each one. I love cooking sea bass with steam, being gentle with the flesh, serving it almost raw because it’s so fragile. I spent a lot of time in cooking school on meats and sauces, but I've always said that the most delicate ingredient to work with is fish. I like that it's wild, a little like game.
SC: Tell us about your relationship with your fish merchant.
JD: I’ve been working with Gilles Jégo for 10 years. I immediately developed a soft spot for that unassuming man. I went to visit him at his place in Brittany. We spent 10 days on the water, it was amazing. Gilles taught me about all of the varieties of fish and the boats that catch them. He was also the one who started talking to me about the seasonal nature of fish. I also rely a lot on the environmental group Ethic Ocean. All of this gives me peace of mind about what I’m serving.
SC: So is your fish merchant the one who advises you on which varieties of fish to serve in the restaurant?
JD: Yes, absolutely, Gilles Jégo advises me. I went to Canada for two years for a change of scenery and we called each other every day! I really missed his fish. For practical reasons, I don't waste anything at the restaurant. I use all the fish heads to make soup. I also make broths and throw in urchin tongues, sea fennel and some citrus fruit grown by Bachès. We're lucky to be able to play around with the daily menu and the fine dining restaurant. That means I can serve whiting quenelles made from the tails accompanied by a langoustine bisque made from the heads. It's a blast!
SC: What is your favorite part of the fish to cook?
JD: I really like cooking parts that are perhaps a bit less refined. I might also try out something new and learn even more. I love cooking monkfish cheeks. They're fatty and rich in collagen, plus the taste and texture are incredible.
SC: Do you have any tricks of the trade to share?
JD: Make sure to temper the fish before cooking it, exactly like with meat. And match the cooking method to the type of fish. Cod flakes apart, so cook it very slowly. Scallop flesh is tight and firm, so steam it and serve it almost raw. A recipe idea? Cook shelled scallops in a couscous maker at the lowest temperature for 20 minutes. They keep their color, and the texture is totally out of this world.