Chef de Partie in a 2-star restaurant in Neufchâtel, Miguel Valerio will represent Switzerland in the 55th International Signature Cuisine Prize, Le Taittinger, which will take place in London in January 2023. There is nothing banal about this young 24-year-old man. Neither his build (think Gaël Faye), nor his keen sense of competition, nor his work ethic. Demonstration.
What’s your first memory in the kitchen?
During my first work placement, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the chef broke both his wrists. He had two casts on, but he worked anyway. That’s when I became interested in this environment. I was 13. Originally, I hadn’t intended on doing this job at all. My brother, yes. I got into it out of pure competitiveness, to do better than him.
Were you prepared for the rigours of this job?
Absolutely not! In a gourmet restaurant, there is a discipline, a very particular strictness, that we don’t tend to have at that age. But that’s what I liked and what made me stay. I’ve always liked things to function like a watch, each cog in the right place.
Is cooking a job, an art, or a way of life?
It’s a high-level sport, mixed with art. We practice learning a technique, we repeat that same gesture over and over again until we master it. Then we move on to another and start again. As for the art side, I relate cooking to photography, which I also do. It has the same attention to detail. I am very attentive to design, tastes and aesthetics.
What is your cooking like?
I did my apprenticeship in a molecular restaurant. The chef had a very modern vision of food, very rock ‘n’ roll, very quirky. After that experience, I worked for a chef who was the opposite, very military, very traditional and modern at the same time. I think I fall somewhere in between.
How does the process of creating a new dish work?
I start with a drawing. That allows me to visualise the plates. I get the graphics tablet, put on some classical music and lose myself for hours. After that, I try to make it. If it works, great, if it doesn’t then we try something else.
What products do you like to work with?
There isn’t anything I prefer working with more than others. I like doing everything. I like knowing how to do everything. As a cook, it would be a shame to limit yourself. If there is a product with perhaps less appeal, I will mix it with something else to make sure people love it. Spinach, for example, which people are not particularly fond of, I mix with apple juice, which removes its bitterness and brings balance.
This is your 4th culinary competition*. What is the attraction?
I have always had a competitive nature. Entering competitions also allows you to escape from everyday life, to create, to benchmark yourself.
What was the personal touch that clinched the Swiss Taittinger final?
I’m lucky to live in a region – the Jura Mountains – where the pig is a deep-rooted tradition. It even has its own festival dedicated to it: St Martin’s Day. So I used it as my inspiration to create my recipe and that’s what won over the jury.
How are you preparing for the international final?
In the evenings after service, I draw, I think about the competition. I’m lucky, or unlucky, that I don’t like sleeping. Honestly, if I could remove it as an option from my body I would! And on the days we are closed, I practice, do trials. Luckily my current boss, Jérémy Desbraux, was himself a Taittinger winner in 2015. He helped me prepare for the previous phase and we continue to work together for the final.
What’s your strong point?
Perseverance. Once I have an idea, I see it through, whatever it takes. It’s a strong point, but it can also be a weak point because I can be very stubborn, too!
Becoming a restaurant owner has never interested me, it has too many constraints. I prefer to focus on my cooking, on creating new dishes. My dream is to win the Bocuse d’Or, but nearer to when I’m 30. I still have a long way to go, between now and then.
*Poivrier d’Argent (2018), Cuisine des Jeunes (2018), Swiss final of Le Taittinger (2022), International final of Le Taittinger (2023)