His grandmother awakened his senses. His parents instilled in him a passion for the restaurant profession. From this family legacy, Jérôme Deuxdeniers has had a whole host of experiences, championing home-cooked, good quality and honest food along the way. At La Fontaine, his newly renovated restaurant which opened in Reims last November and has a distinctly vintage feel, he is remaining true to his fundamental values.
Sooner or later, you find exactly where you want to be – where you’re supposed to be. It appears that Jérôme Deuxdeniers has achieved this sense of fulfilment since recreating a restaurant true to his own style, taste and ambitions in the Reims neighbourhood of his childhood memories.
As if all the adventures in his life until now, however successful, were merely materials intended for creating this place. A cheerful, lively and unpretentious spot, spectacular in both its simplicity and authenticity. He feels right at home here and so do we. First things first, the address: Rue du Barbâtre in Reims, sandwiched between the cathedral and Basilique Saint-Remi, and centre of gravity for artisans and artists alike, having been one of France’s main shopping streets in the early 19th century.
His parents owned many businesses there, both together and separately, including a bar at no. 160. Recreating the environment in which he grew up, serving his first customers aged eight and preparing his first dishes when he was 15, has been a longstanding ambition of his. It was at no. 131 that Jérôme ended up finding a vacant corner bistro, the ideal place to reconnect with his family history if he could successfully erase the sacrilegious acts committed by his predecessors and bring his own personal touch. “This establishment has a long history, having changed name and style several times. I wanted to recover and restore all that I could of the interior to make it a place that would fit with both the original setting and neighbourhood. I’ve gone about setting up all my businesses in the same way: find a place where there’s nothing left, except a soul, and put all my energy into bringing it back to life.”
Art and heritage
After undergoing works in keeping with the place, the interior décor has rediscovered its integrity and charm. An impressive oak bar is lent a subtle modern feel thanks to a black worktop in Mozambique granite, while restored overmantels in the same shade of wood frame the mirrors and large blackboard. There are also vintage tiles with a foliage pattern and custom-made, cast-iron table legs. Adorning the walls are three William Michaut paintings: while these bring back memories for Jérôme Deuxdeniers of his very first investment, paid for in instalments with his initial pay packets, for customers they are a nod to the manager’s love of art. Indeed, he wasn’t a million miles away from choosing art as a career path. “If I were really an artist, I would already know by now. Deep down, I’m more reflective than creative. So, I look after artists that I like in my own small way – by buying their work.”
On the pavement opposite, built into a façade dating back to the Reconstruction, the Fontaine des Carmes is barely visible beneath a black layer of crust that is testament to its age and prolonged exposure to the elements and pollution. Proximity to this fountain provided the inspiration for his restaurant’s name – La Fontaine – and led to a small campaign to the mayor of Reims and the French Heritage Foundation to save this 18th century structure, listed in the inventory of historical monuments since 1923. The outcome? A fundraising campaign was launched last February in support of its full restoration. Defender of local heritage in daily life, Jérôme Deuxdeniers also has a great deal of attachment to culinary traditions.
The first olfactory and gustatory love that he experienced was for his grandmother’s cooking. Rolande would throw a piece of lard, some onions, a few carrots and a bouquet garni into a casserole dish. This aromatic garnish, which was only made to add flavour to casseroles, had an irresistible appeal to Jérôme as a child. So instead of throwing it away when it was time to serve the meal, she would put it to one side for him. This early education in flavour, goodness, healthiness and cooking turned him into a real foodie – “eating well was my first pleasure in life” – as well as a generous restaurant owner. Placing his trust in the neighbourhood food market and in local producers, he practises the 100% home-cooked mantra, just as he was raised. “We don’t serve food here, we make food”:wild garlic terrine, cream of asparagus soup, veal’s head, Caen-style tripe, ox cheek stew, tarte aux pommes, cottage cheese and homemade blackcurrant jelly…
Tasty dishes without any fireworks. “Of course the restaurant needs to be viable, but we’re offering food that doesn’t cost the earth. It’s the skills of the chef in bringing their added value to quality products without being fancy.” Alongside Clément, a whizz in the kitchen, and Claire, whose smile beams across the front-of-house, Jérôme is today the perfect picture of calm. He no longer has to perform as a one-man band running the restaurant on his own, as was the case previously at his pie shop ‘Le Pas Sage’ (2005) and ‘Chez Jérôme’ (2011), two businesses that he started from scratch in the centre of Reims and both big hits. Faithful customers that followed him to La Fontaine, as well as the new neighbourhood regulars who have made it their eatery of choice, contribute to La Fontaine’s family atmosphere every lunchtime. Mingling with them – when there is space left! – are tourists who have just finished their visits to the nearby champagne cellars, revelling in a typically French experience in this local flavoured bistro.