Creative talk

Justine Pruvot

Monday 1 April 2024

Photographies : Florian Touzet

Justine Pruvot is a renowned chef who switched from the media to the kitchen after a career change. She made her way through prestigious kitchens such as those of Manon Fleury, at the Mermoz and Elsa, before setting up base at Mercato in Marseille. Specializing in poetic plant-based cuisine, she is also involved in the fight against gender-based violence in the catering industry as president of the Bondir.e association. More recently, she has embarked on a new parallel adventure, inspired by her grandmother's heritage, designed to showcase French craftsmanship: Touillet Collections. This innovative project brings together various artisans to create unique tableware pieces, creating a fusion between tradition, creativity and contemporary know-how.

Can you tell us about your career path and the different establishments you've worked for?

I wasn't always a chef, I had a career for over ten years in the media, which afforded me a good standard of living, and enabled me to travel a lot, particularly in Asian countries. At the age of 30, I left everything behind and did what we call "a career change". I studied cooking at the Ferrandi school in Paris, where I graduated with an NVQ in cooking. I learned alongside chef Manon Fleury at Le Mermoz and the Michelin-starred restaurant Elsa in Monaco, with Alexia Duchêne at Datcha and with Alcidia Vulbeau at her Bonne Aventure restaurant in Saint-Ouen as second-in-command. In 2021, I was offered a residency at Le Chardon in Arles, where I was able to work as chef and offer my cuisine for the first time. After that, I became a private chef for wealthy clients, until my best friend asked me to open the kitchen of his "Mercato" restaurant/wine bar in Marseille, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Why did you choose to become an itinerant chef? How do you feel about this trend?

At first, it was more by default than by choice.

I had just arrived in Marseille. I didn't know anyone and there weren't as many restaurants as there are today.

I told myself that didn't want to choose a kitchen by default, that I'd rather work for myself, and it turned out to be a good move, because soon opportunities as a private chef started to arrive. I find that itinerancy gives you a freedom that you don't have when you're attached to a fixed location. However, precariousness is sometimes very difficult to manage, that's the other side of the coin.

How would you describe your cooking?

My cooking is plant-based, poetic and colourful. I style my dishes like little paintings. Naturally, I follow the seasons, and this means constantly renewing my recipes.

Does this explain your close relationship with market gardeners?

Yes, of course, my cooking wouldn't exist without them.

I need to get to know the market gardeners I work with, I need to visit their farms and understand how they work their land. I find it hard to cook vegetables when I don't know exactly where they come from. For me, the poetry of vegetables is linked to the people who grow them. My dishes are an extension of this work, a showcase for the fruit of hard, often thankless labor. I try to pay tribute to them with my dishes.

What's your fondest cooking memory?

My fondest cooking memory is certainly the press lunch I organized for the launch of my "Les potier.e.s Printemps / été" collection last year.

I gathered chefs and journalists in the heart of my friend Joeffrey's edible flower garden ("back from picking"), and prepared several vegetable eaux, floral appetizers, a pistou soup and, for dessert, a cooked fruit nage baked in the terracotta oven made especially for the day by ceramist Lou Thomas (Simoneloo).

Mercato's menu is 100% plant-based. Why this choice?

It is first and foremost a political choice. Our planet is dying and the consumption of animal protein is too energy-intensive. I wanted to show people that you can enjoy a 100% plant-based menu in a restaurant. What's more, we live in a region where vegetables are king, so I thought it was a shame not to celebrate them to the full.

You're part of the Bondir.e Cheffes Collective. Can you tell us more about it?

The bondir.e association has been in existence since 2021, and I've been its president since the end of last year. With around fifty volunteers, we fight against sexist and physical violence in the catering industry.

Our mission is twofold: to prevent violence among students in hotel schools and colleges, and to support restaurant managers in their efforts to adopt a positive and benevolent management approach.

The general public needs to be made aware that the world of catering is more than just the glitz and glamour of the TV show "Top Chef". Unfortunately, it's a complicated and violent environment for all types of minorities.

You've just launched a tableware brand called Touillet. Can you give us an overview of the project and its aims?

Touillet is a project that is close to my heart. I've always been fascinated by the art of the table, and as a child I used to spend whole weekends hunting for hidden treasures with my mother at Emmaus and garage sales. I wanted to get out of my kitchen and meet craftspeople. In fact, I'm amazed by the talent of people who can create everyday objects with their hands. Naturally, the first collection focused on pottery with ceramists Amandine Gachet and Lou Thomas. I then went on to meet Léa Laborie with "Les menuisier.e.s" and ceramist Lucie Sotty for the "P'tit déjeuner" collection. This year, I have two collections in preparation, one to be released in the spring with my friend Adélie De Soumagnat, designer of the Double Double clothing brand, and another due out in September with cabinetmaker Margot-Colette Coubes of the Margot-Colette workshop.

Your grandmother's maiden name, Touillet, lends a very personal and familial dimension to the designs. Is this what you had in mind?

My grandmother Lucette is my muse.

So naturally, I wanted to name my brand after her. At over 90, she's still the coolest woman I know, and an inspiration for all my collections.

What does Sessùn mean to you?

A timeless brand committed to an ecological approach without losing the fun of a ready-to-wear label. But it's also much more than that, with its commitment to designers and craftsmen, Sessun becomes a curator, a publisher, almost a patron. This approach moves me enormously, and with Touillet we share the same values.


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