“The Notorious B.I.G.” printed on his sweatshirt, sneakers on his feet and a baseball cap, Jean Imbert cultivates a natural and authentic vibe, and is well at ease in B.B., rue Blanche (Paris, 9th), one of his Parisian restaurants, within this refined setting where seasonal dishes are served with the greatest of care. While he regularly rubs shoulders with the international elite and is responsible for countless dinners for big luxury houses like Hermes and Dior and even Instagram’s founder Kevin Systrom, for whom he’s already cooked in San Francisco, he is now busy conquering America with two new restaurants: Swan in Miami and Encore in New York. Two openings in quick succession in October and November, and which are likely to be a veritable challenge for the chef. “It’s an enormous challenge, its been a long time since a French chef made it there starting from zero. It’s a game of poker. But I am so proud that big Michelin-starred chefs like Éric Ripert, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud have been supporting me in my mission,” he enthuses.
“The project for Swan came from one sentence from Pharrell offering to open a restaurant with me. And obviously it was so crazy I said yes.”
Knowing how to provoke destiny
At 22, with an approach that’s pure ‘yolo’ – you only live once – Jean Imbert opened his first Parisian restaurant L’Acajou (Paris, 16th). A contemporary and intimate venue, it soon drew in a slew of celebs like the French musician Woodkid and the American actor Robert de Niro. This first step was a natural progression from a long story for the man who from the age of 10 was following recipes from his mother’s cook books. “As a kid, I created a little restaurant at our house, and on Wednesdays I’d go to the kitchen and prepare meals for my parents, with my brother as waiter,” he tells us. A true vacation for this fast-moving teen, keen to learn and cross with the idea of having to complete a baccalaureate to get into the Bocuse school where he would spend two years. During this training period he learnt the basic cooking techniques: how to peel a carrot or an apple, among other things. Gestures which fascinated and stimulated his thirst for knowledge. Never satisfied, he reproduces them even at the weekends when he goes home to his parents home in the Parisian suburbs. “My grandmother enjoyed gathering people she liked around a table. That’s undoubtedly the reason why I decided to do this job,” confides the chef. “With cooking, we bring together childhood friends, the family, acquaintances and any barriers just fall away. I’ve learnt the value of these precious moments.”