Richard Baïma: from the stove to the starsPhotography : Photokiff - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme
Richard Baïma learned to cook from the greatest masters. At first, while he was still a child, from his Italian grandmother, who undoubtedly wouldn’t have wanted to be qualified in such a way but really did cook like a chef ; then, as a student and during his first years in the job, from the most renowned chefs of the finest French restaurants: Michel Sarran at the Mas du Langoustier in Porquerolles, Jean-Michel Lorain at the Côte Saint-Jacques in Joigny, Dominic Le Stanc at the Chantecler, the restaurant of the famous Negresco hotel in Nice, Marc Pralong at the Auberge de la Calanque in Le Lavandou, and finally Alain Senderens, of which he was the second in command at Lucas Carton’s in Paris for ten years.
Logic would have wanted him to continue with the cursus honorum of culinary luxury and to take up the role of head cook at the helm of a prestigious restaurant here or there. And indeed Richard did receive a number of proposals to do so. In the end however a mix of chance and longing led him on another way : creating his own place, Le Julianon in Senlis.
The longing, after so many years spent in palaces, was to make gastronomy accessible to a broader public, and also to become the boss of his own business in full.
The chance was, in 2007, a missed meeting with Marc Meneau, the famous chef of the restaurant L’Espérance in Saint-Père sous Vézelay, who was looking for reinforcement to revive his table. The appointment was cancelled at the last minute, as sometimes happens when the timetable is too busy, and at the same time, Richard Baïma’s parents in-law, who happen to live in the area, incidentally let him know that a business, a former pancake restaurant, was for sale in Senlis.
Richard jumps in. He sets up his restaurant and starts offering a style of food which embodies everything he believes in : fresh produce of an impeccable quality, supplied by carefully chosen artisans, celebrating the area’s fruitful soil and know-how ; to magnify these products, recipes that are simple (no more than three or four products per dish) but not simplistic, mobilising imagination and creativity to bring the flavours out, reveal the essence of each ingredient, educate taste ; an extreme rigour in the execution of the recipes, in the implementation of a demanding craftsmanship. No reheated food, no vacuum-packed dishes, everything is made on site, even the bread ; no “à la carte” choice of dishes, just a menu which changes every day, lunch and dinner, according to the available products and the chef’s inspiration.
Ten years down the road, Richard Baïma has established his reputation. He is now well known from gourmets who travel a long way to eat at his table, many of them coming over from Paris. He has won numerous awards and distinctions, obtained the selective label of the “Culinary College of France”, had repeated visits from the most influential culinary critics and been the subject of many press articles. He has even participated in the television show « Le meilleur menu de France » in 2015 to represent the Picardie region’s gastronomy. He is pleased to be recognised in such a way ; it comes as a nice reward for working so many hours, from early morning on the food market to late at night after the last client has left the restaurant. But what motivates him even more is the pleasure that guests take in savouring his meals.
For him, cooking is an act of generosity, a sharing experience which mobilises the full spectrum of our faculties: not only the five senses, but also the mind to ceaselessly invent new recipes and activate our imagination around flavours.
For the future, Richard Baïma has no big plan, but some challenges he would like to take on: to participate in the contest for the title of “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (“Best Craftsman in France”); maybe, but the decision is not his own, get a star in the Michelin guide (« Gault et Millau discovers talent, Michelin enshrines it », according to the craft’s adage); to start teaching in order to pass on his know-how; perhaps to write a book of recipes. And if Senlis finally got a hotel capacity to match its touristic potential, to move on as the head cook of a hotel’s restaurant, which is a game-changer in as much as it offers guests from afar the tranquillity of enjoying dinner without bothering about the long way back home.