Many come to cooking for want of a better option. Then for some it becomes a true passion… This is what happened to Yves Camdeborde, who after being a self-confessed « good-for-nothing teenager » became a cooking nut. A nice one however – a reasonable and generous man all about helping and sharing. In 1990 he opened the now-famous La Régalade (Paris 14). Later, he opened Hotel Relais Saint Germain, restaurant Comptoir du Relais and the 3 Avant-Comptoirs (Paris 6). Feeling « very much a blessed man », Chef Camdeborde always strives to use his passion to help less fortunate people. These days he is dedicating himself to children with cancer. He is a supporter of Toques en Truck (Chefs in Food Trucks), an operation run by Tout le Monde Contre le Cancer, a French charity dedicated to supporting children with cancer and their families. He thinks his commitment is “simply what you’d expect of an ordinary citizen.” He says he is “fed up with today’s growing selfishness and individualism! Let us revive the beauty of the disinterested act! »
As a child, young Yves Camdeborde longed to leave home. Not to run away from his loving parents but because “a job means freedom. It allows you to do what you want with the money you earn.” This is why he turned to cooking: for financial reasons, not out of a passion for it.
Entrepreneur parents and Chef Christian Constant as his mentors
After having been an apprentice with one of his parents’ acquaintances, he followed his father’s advice : « Paris is where everything happens. » Béarn-born Yves moved to the big city and met Chef Christian Constant. It was quite a revelation ! He liked Constant’s family values, the team spirit of former rugby players, the togetherness and friendly atmosphere in his teams.
Yves worked alongside him for 5 years, first at the Ritz then at Le Crillon. Once a “don’t-give-a-sh-t wanker,” Yves Camdeborde became an eager and responsible worker. He says this encounter was “a fantastic opportunity” which gave his life “its central thread.” More than 30 years later, Christian Constant keeps watching out for Yves, and helps and advises him as much as he needs.
With memories of his happy entrepreneur parents in his mind, and because he no longer wanted to work in a luxury hotel, Yves Camdeborde decided to stand on his own two feet. The son of a peasant father and a pork butcher mother, he started his own business.
He took over an old, shoddily furnished bistro in an unattractive neighbourhood in Southern Paris, and created La Régalade. He wanted it to be “a place bustling with life, a place where the 3 Musketeers could have had dinner.” Convinced that atmosphere matters as much as food, his idea was “to place human values at the core of the business, and to open the restaurant to all.” Besides the wealthy clients who knew him from the luxury hotels, he would host people from all walks of life, rich or poor, famous or not, and of course his rugby player friends. The original mix made for a unique atmosphere. To all he offered no-frills, yet professional service, and 200-Francs (€30) dinners.
The gamble paid off: the place was always packed! And it made history: this was where Camdeborde created Bistronomie (Haute bistro), a culinary innovation consisting in serving gastronomy at bistro prices.
After 14 years running the place, the entrepreneur did not want to run the risk of becoming jaded and chose to sell La Régalade to his friend Bruno Doucet, and moved to the heart of Paris, in Odéon. He took over Le Relais Saint Germain, a hotel whose ground floor restaurant quickly became extremely successful. It serves for lunch and dinner the cuisine that made Yves famous: bistronomie, or what he likes to call “Bistro-Brasserie” food. The emphasis is on “market-fresh produce, dishes with a personality, and wines by wine-growing friends, to revive the French tradition of tasty and sophisticated cuisine.”
So many people want to taste this cuisine that the Chef created L’Avant-Comptoir de la Terre (pre-Comptoir Turf food) and then l’Avant-Comptoir de la mer (pre-Comptoir Sea food), and finally this year l’Avant-Comptoir du Marché (pre-Comptoir Market food), so that guests can enjoy the wait with quality appetizers, or even have dinner standing, as in tapas bars.
A voice for the voiceless
Such a career could make one pretentious, or at least permanently unavailable… But Chef Yves Camdeborde considers it’s only a matter of being lucky. “Lucky enough to have been able to start businesses thanks to very special encounters, to a happy and balanced family life, and to good health.” This is why he wants others to benefit from his luck.
Because he is aware of the voice he has thanks to his success and media exposure (he was a juror in the French Master Chef cooking TV show for 4 years), he has decided to support French charities Restos du Coeur and Secours Populaire (which both distribute food to the needy).
Then Chef Vincent Meslin asked him to join Tout le Monde Contre le Cancer’s operation « Toques en truck » (Chefs in Food Trucks), and he gladly accepted.
What is « Toques en Truck »? One always hears that hospital food is not good. With the first-ever hospital-hopping food truck, NGO Tout le Monde Contre le Cancer last year set up a new food-oriented operation for sick children and their families. Great chefs and famous cooks get on the food truck, drive the distance, and park in front of one of 20 French hospitals, from June to August.
The joy of putting a smile on the faces of chidren with cancer
Yves Camdeborde has been part of the operation since it was started, in 2016. “Not to get praise or recognition, but simply to be useful, by humbly doing what he does best.” He says his job is “to be happy, to feel good, in order to pass the joy on to those who enjoy his food.” In his opinion, “sitting together at a dinner table makes people talk and creates a bond.” “How fortunate one is to be able to bring happiness to others via cooking!”
By bringing together sick children, parents, and medical staff around a food truck on a hospital parking lot, he wants to “take the guests out of their distressing daily routines.” Hospitalized children and their parents like good food too. Enjoying food and cooking can help them cope with life in a hospital. Meeting Michelin-starred chefs allows them to forget all about it for as long as a meal lasts. Hanging out together in this informal fashion also allows everyone in the hospital to get to know each other better.
When the food truck is in the Paris area, Chef Yves Camdeborde cooks original but simple dishes, and talks to everyone about them and the products he has chosen. He likes to have people for lunch as he would do in his home.
On the menu: food, obviously, and also cooking classes, advice, games, gifts, etc.
With this kind of contribution, Chef Yves Camdeborde feels that he is an active citizen who shares with others. In his words “Life should always be like this! You never succeed on your own. We should all get along together and help each other out. Let us bring back good old-fashioned common sense and barter! What can be more beautiful than a spontaneous gesture, or the gift of one hour’s work to someone else who also has a lot to teach us? Let us get out of the consumer society, of individualism and selfishness! Everyone at their own individual level should work to make society more simple…”
So let’s follow his lead and help each other out!
- 1964 : Born in Pau, Southwestern France
- 1983 : Met Chef Christian Constant, who became his mentor
- 1990 : Opened La Régalade, Paris 14
- 2004 : Opened Comptoir du Relais Saint Germain, Paris 6
- 2012 : Opened l’Avant-Comptoir de la Terre, Paris 6
- 2015 : Opened l’Avant-Comptoir de la Mer, Paris 6
- 2016 : Supporter of the first « Toques en Truck » tour (with Tout le Monde Contre le Cancer)
- 2017 : Opened l’Avant- Comptoir du Marché, Paris 6
Find the recipe