(Photo: Marriott International)


Paris Chef Xavier Pistol on Finding Heaven in a Food Market and Embracing Guadeloupe’s Flavors

Chef Xavier Pistol has never forgotten the first moment he set foot in Rungis International Market. Situated on the outskirts of Paris, the world’s largest wholesale food market has about as much in common with your average grocery store as the city’s upscale Galeries Lafayette department store does with a 7-Eleven.

The market sprawls over an area larger than Monaco (nearly a square mile!), has a staff of more than 13,000, and moves more than 1.8 million tons of the some of the finest meats, cheeses, fish and produce on the planet every single day.

(Photo: Marriott International)

“For a chef, Rungis is like Disneyland. The first time I walked inside, I went absolutely crazy,” Pistol says. “It’s like a real town. It has its own restaurants and banks. It even has a kindergarten.”

Each weekday morning while the rest of the city slumbers, Rungis is a hive of activity as Paris’ top chefs seek out the market’s best ingredients. Much like Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Market, competition is fierce, and by the time the sun rises, all but over. Pistol remembers feeling a sense of awe as he wandered through the buildings in this culinary right of passage.

“All the top chefs in France come to Rungis to look for the best products at the best prices,” Pistol says. “You can find any ingredient imaginable. For someone who loves good food, it’s heaven.”

These days, as the chef at Le Relais du Parc, the highly acclaimed restaurant at the Renaissance Paris Nobel Tour Eiffel Hotel, Pistol feels at home among the piles of fresh truffles and peerless produce at Rungis. The market offers him a selection of local ingredients that’s far from ordinary, including vegetables from smaller farmers, and colorful, edible flowers like carnations and elderberry flowers which the chef uses to complement his dishes.

It’s been a decade since the ambitious young man set off from his family home in Guadeloupe to the French capital with the dream of becoming a world-class chef.

The first great chef to influence Pistol was his own grandmother in Guadeloupe. As a member of The Round of Cooks, a local association dedicated to preserving the Caribbean archipelago’s culinary heritage, she was famous for her coconut cakes and her chicken Colombo. A sumptuously spiced dish of chicken braised until tender in coconut milk, this staple epitomizes the brightly flavored cuisine of Guadeloupe.

Consisting of a sprinkling of volcanic islands set against turquoise waters, Guadeloupe’s culture and gastronomy reflect centuries of trade. After Christopher Columbus set foot on its shores in 1493, European colonists and explorers would sail into its ports, bringing with them spices from beyond the horizon.

(Photo: Marriott International)

Over the years, French colonists and local indigenous cooks combined these seasonings with pristine seafood, coconut, plantains and other local ingredients to form a culinary tradition both new and extraordinary.

“This is the definition of slow food,” Pistol says. “As my grandmother would say, ‘On a Caribbean island, you must have patience in order to cook these dishes.’ You cannot be in a rush with this cuisine because the people there are not in a rush.”

Pistol’s family would often find him in the kitchen with his grandmother, carefully observing her every move and learning about the cross-cultural history of his homeland.

At first his parents told him that cooking was not a suitable profession for a man and assumed that he would grow out of it. Yet the more time Pistol spent in the kitchen, the more his passion for food grew.

It was this passion that would ultimately lead him to the kitchen of Michel Roux Jr. Under the tutelage of the Michelin-starred chef, Pistol learned the nuances of French fine dining.

“You could just tell immediately that [Roux] had the spirit of a great chef. Working with him was a revelation,” Pistol says. “He taught me step by step how to create certain flavors with precision. The most important lesson I learned was how essential it is to seek out the best raw ingredients possible.”

Today, Pistol’s sophisticated tasting menus at Le Relais du Parc marry the vibrant flavors of his Caribbean homeland with refined French cooking techniques. He says he strives to create dishes that are as colorful and exotic as they are flavorful.

One of his signature dishes is his own spin on Gâtinais-style chicken. While the luscious coconut sauce echoes his grandmother’s cooking, the presentation draws on the visual language of Parisian haute cuisine.

Pistol uses crispy rice to offset the seared chicken breast with a soft and crunchy texture, as well as raw and cooked baby carrots to “give it life,” and a sauce made in part, with cinnamon, garlic, lemon leaves and coconut milk.

“The spirit of my signature dishes is Caribbean but with a metropolitan French twist,” Pistol says. “So here you have an organic chicken from the French countryside braised in coconut with ginger, garlic and spices.”

The spirit of my signature dishes is Caribbean but with a metropolitan French twist.

Chef Xavier Pistol

Pistol constantly finds new inspiration in the buzzing streets and markets of Paris. On his off days, he often strolls down the alleyways of Montmartre, occasionally stopping in a bistro for steak tartare with a mountain of crisp frites. He admires the work of boundary-pushing chefs such as Marcel Ravin, who gravitates toward unconventional flavor pairings, such as passion fruit and truffle.

Yet for all his travels and time abroad, Pistol has never lost his deep-rooted love for Guadeloupe. When he sees guests enjoying Sunday brunch on the sun-drenched terrace of Le Relais du Parc, he hopes they share the same feeling.

“I return to the island every year. It’s so important for me creatively to stay connected,” Pistol says. “Island cuisine is all about a mix of flavors and cultures. I want to give guests a taste of Guadeloupe but with a [Parisian] aesthetic.”

Chef Xavier Pistol’s Top Dishes

Crispy Langoustines

Paris Brest

Asparagus with Poached Egg