For the first time in his professional life, he feels free and at peace with himself, says Vincent Crepel. Perhaps this is why the Michelin Guide awarded his cuisine at the restaurant Terre in Cork in the south of Ireland a star this year – just six months after it opened. “I haven’t really changed anything about my work.”
The 39-year-old was born in the French Pyrenees and completed his training in the Basque Country. But staying in just one place, and in France to boot, was out of the question for this talented chef. He wanted more. In search of challenge and inspiration, he worked at the three Michelin-starred Arzak in San Sebastian, the Hotel de Ville Crissier in Switzerland and at André Chiang in Singapore, among others, before finally opening his own restaurant, Porte 12 in Paris, in 2014. “The DNA of my cuisine is French,” say Crepel. “At the same time, it was my biggest stroke of luck that I hardly ever worked in France after my training.” This was the only way he could develop his special signature between classic French technique, Asian flavors and Japanese minimalism.
Crepel: A chef with a clear vision
And now, Ireland. The secluded tranquility and natural surroundings amidst green meadows, jagged rocks and the vastness of the sea immediately put him at ease compared to the urban intensity and fast pace of Paris, says the chef, when describing his new home. You can sense it – it feels like he has really settled in.
The fact that – unlike in the French capital – there is hardly any culinary competition has also helped him to find a new focus, a clear vision, his own style. A glance at his plate confirms this. The dishes at Terre – such as chawanmushi with stone crab, caviar and bone broth, lobster with stuffed artichokes, sea fennel and kaffir lime consommé or wagyu with barley koji – focus on the product in a minimalist way.
You may find yourself wondering how this came about. According to Vincent Crepel, it has something to do with his age. “Of course, I didn’t cook the way I do today when I was 20.” As a young chef, you tend to cram the plate full of skill, knowledge, technique and flavors; today, he concentrates on the essentials. “You still need the technique, but I don’t want to see it.”
Terre: a unique dining experience thanks to warm hospitality and outstanding products
On the other hand, he has such high-quality products available in Ireland that any other approach is virtually out of the question. Crepel grows vegetables and herbs himself in the garden at Terre, which is located in a magnificent 17th century manor house at Castlemartyr Resort. He gets his fish and seafood delivered fresh daily from the Atlantic right to his doorstep, local meat of exceptional quality is sourced from regional producers and, of course, he often uses some of Ireland’s famous whisky in his cooking. Finally, everything is prepared over an open fire and finished at the table while interacting with the guests. Dealing with the flames taught him how to cook all over again, says Vincent Crepel.
Besides the nature and products, the Frenchman is also inspired by the Irish openness and hospitality in his new home. At Terre, every guest is greeted personally and by name. This creates a sense of familiarity right from the start. Before the three and a half hour menu kicks off, guests are taken on a tour of the open kitchen while enjoying an aperitif. This is followed by a demonstration and description of the source of the raw ingredients that will later end up on their plates.
Vincent Crepel: “No one should feel stupid.”
Rather unusual you might think, but the chef has a clear goal in mind: to create understanding for the work carried out by his team and the products from local producers. More importantly, the interaction also helps to overcome the guests’ inhibitions about Michelin-starred cuisine.
In the restaurants where he had previously worked, fine dining was usually a rather stiff affair, explains Vincent Crepel. “I don’t want anyone to have to pretend or feel stupid when they are here.” The aim is not only to create a special experience, but also a relaxed atmosphere for people who are otherwise unfamiliar with the codes of top gastronomy.
“Anyone with the right training can cook in the classic way,” says Vincent Crepel. Because of this, he isn’t interested classic French cuisine at Terre anymore .
In the future, he would like to drive his innovative and successful concept forward by collaborating even more closely with local producers, improving and digging deeper. “I hope that Terre will become a culinary destination in the future, a destination that people travel to.”