Dior’s New Chef Has Aspirations

Jean Imbert’s job is to make Dior’s new restaurant the go-to dining spot for the style set. Here’s how the chef plans to do it.

Article by Alexander Lobrano

Jean Imbert, the chef at Monsieur Dior, the new in-store restaurant on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Photography by Julien Mignot.Jean Imbert, the chef at Monsieur Dior, the new in-store restaurant on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Photography by Julien Mignot.

Within the comprehensively made-over Christian Dior boutique and headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Paris, is the new eatery Monsieur Dior. There, guests can dine on Dior fine china and sip from Dior crystal.

The Parisian house hired Jean Imbert, the popular veteran of France’s “Top Chef” TV show, who runs two other restaurants on Avenue Montaigne. Last year, Imbert took over the kitchens of the two restaurants at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, across the street from Dior, from the Michelin-starred restaurateur Alain Ducasse. Imbert’s reboots of those dining rooms have drawn a lot of attention. “I’ve never wanted to run a fashion restaurant,” Imbert says of the Dior restaurant, a project he has been quietly working on since 2019, even studying the Dior archives to understand the sensibility of the brand’s founder. “Monsieur Dior liked real French cooking,” Imbert says. “Dishes like roast chicken stuffed with herbs and fromage blanc, endive salad and poached eggs with artichoke hearts. So the menu is inspired by his favourites.”

Dior himself also saw a powerful convergence between fashion and gastronomy. “The ingredients used in the kitchen are as noble as those we use in haute couture,” he reportedly once told his friend the chef Raymond Thuilier. “What I like in my work is that you must unite your mind and your hands. Nothing can be perfected if the creativity of your imagination isn’t expressed by your hands.”

Many in Paris were astonished when it was announced in May that Imbert would step into Ducasse’s shoes. There had been rumours that François Delahaye, the general manager of the Plaza Athénée, was considering various chefs as successors to Ducasse, but Imbert’s appointment was a surprise. “It was time for a change,” Delahaye said. “So I decided to go for a really big change.” Imbert, who won Season 3 of “Top Chef”, opened L’Acajou, his first restaurant, in Paris when he was only 21. The showbiz clientele it attracted later went to ToShare, the Saint-Tropez ode to street food he runs with Pharrell Williams. More recently, his restaurant Mamie (“granny” in English, now closed) showcased the cooking of Nicole Imbert, his late grandmother, whom he adored. He also runs the restaurant at Le Cheval Blanc hotel in Saint Barthélemy, which, like Dior, is owned by LVMH.

Monsieur Dior
Monsieur Dior, where guests can dine on Dior fine china and sip from Dior crystal. Photography by Kristen Pelou.
Monsieur Dior
The new restaurant is across the street from L’Avenue, which has long been the canteen of the international fashion crowd. Photography by Kristen Pelou.

Some in the French food world were sceptical of the media-savvy chef, including the food writer and television host François-Régis Gaudry, who wrote in L’Express of Imbert’s Plaza Athénée appointment: “He doesn’t have the résumé or the experience necessary for such a job. I’m not saying he’s not talented, but there are 100 other chefs who are more experienced and harder working.” And while others were more positive, Imbert replied to his critics on Instagram: “One could maybe wait to see my project and give me a chance, no?”

Imbert has loved cooking since he was a boy growing up in the Paris suburb of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, where his parents own a printing and binding company. After high school, he was among the youngest students ever to enrol at the prestigious Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, at the age of 17. He then did apprenticeships with a series of famous French chefs, including Marc Meneau and Michel Rostang, before opening his first restaurant in 2004.

The comfort food Imbert introduced at Le Relais Plaza at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée won polite praise, but his haute cuisine at Jean Imbert au Plaza Athénée has won raves, including a superlative- filled review from Emmanuel Rubin in Le Figaro. There, Imbert showcases traditional French dishes like lobster Bellevue and veal Orloff in the grand style of celebrated chefs like François Vatel and Auguste Escoffier. He also pays close attention to other details. “I loved working on the table settings at my new restaurants,” he says, adding, “I like working on all of the parts of a restaurant.”

The new Dior restaurant is right across the street from L’Avenue, the brasserie that has long been the canteen of the international fashion crowd. The LVMH executive suite provided a steady stream of diners, too, but their lunch (and dinner) plans seem bound to change.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 33 of T Australia with the headline: “Silver Service”