At age 15, everything changes, in body and mind. What are you to do with your life when the only things you love are basketball and friends? Follow the best of them to the hospitality school in Biarritz. Bingo! What a revelation! Team spirit was just what Charles Coulombeau was looking for. And suddenly, the best of French dishes that your dad loved to prepare tied in with his generosity and love of sharing with others. Once the path had been found, there was nothing to do but rush to follow it. Everything seemed possible. A lacklustre student, Charles Coulombeau became a motivated disciple; training became a game and any technical difficulties were just exhilarating challenges. The first work placement took place at the Relais de la Poste, headed by Jean Coussau (Magescq). Submerged in the relentless workdays of this 2-star restaurant, he tasted everything (ahh, the delicious discovery of caviar!) and realised that his future trade had become a vocation. The BTS training work placement programme took place close to Bidart at the Frères Ibarboure where traditional Basque dishes were served with a touch of sophistication and innovation. Here, Charles Coulombeau learned discipline, respect for the chefs and the importance of good connections with producers; he became a locavore. It was here, too, that he met his wife Roxane. His diploma in hand, the young couple left to work with Michel Guérard. What could be more formative than this magnificent address at Eugénie-les-Bains, with its various restaurants serving refined classical dishes and the mentorship of its renowned chef and herald of “minceur cuisine” (lean cooking)?

All that was needed was an encounter, the one that nurtures you for life, a presence that cheers and heartens you. That would be Olivier Brulard, Meilleur Ouvrier de France and Michel Guérard’s executive chef, with whom he especially learned to manage a team and to adopt a strict professional discipline for himself. Charles Coulombeau had found his mentor, but youth had its own cravings and, following a stay in Burgundy, he ended up at the Gravetye Manor in Sussex. At age 27, after three and a half years of the delightful English country life and the Prix Taittinger in hand, the young couple is certainly destined for great adventures. In France, perhaps?

Text : Jérome Descamps