Thomas Chisholm blurs the lines. The tone is set in ChoCho, the very first Parisian address of the young chef from the Top Chef competition. There will be “no labels”. Exit the codes of gastronomy, the creator offers to whoever wants to taste his version of an artist’s cuisine that’s free and plentiful more than anything else. A refusal of conventions which is also confirmed by the space’s terracotta-coloured decor. The moving mix of styles and eras is driven by the restaurant’s previous lives: a former lamp shop which later became the property of the late Sébastien Demorand. It’s therefore not surprising to find the preserved “Paris, Lumière” sign or the wooden tables of the highly respected culinary critic alongside contemporary creations. Like those of illustrator and friend Karla Sutra, mischievous drawings otherwise known as “Dadaist leaps” which cover the tiles in the main room, run across the plates and down to the neon lights in the washroom. It’s enough to titillate the eyes of foodies, if they haven’t allowed themselves to be carried away by the playlist that’s largely influenced by American rap from the 1990s. But the most fascinating thing is what goes on the plate. Creations where the many inspirations from this thirty-something cross paths, from the United States to the South of France. Like the Plat à Saucer: “A plate consisting of roasted sweet potato purée, fir tree vinegar gel, bay leaf butter and veal jus served with home-made bread baked in a pan.” A celebration to be shared with friends, with products directly sourced from Terroirs d’Avenir.
ChoCho, 54 Rue de Paradis, 75010 Paris. Open Monday to Friday from 12pm to 2pm and from 7pm to 10.30pm and on weekends from 12.30pm to 2.30pm and from 7pm to 10.30pm. Reservations at 01 42 28 26 03 or on their website www.chocho.becsparisiens.fr
Thomas, could you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Thomas Chisholm. I’m just 30 years old, and I am Chef and co-owner of the restaurant ChoCho in Paris (10th arrondissement).
What is your background?
I was born in the USA (in New York) and came to France, to Perpignan, when I was 14. Entering the French school system without reading or writing the language wasn’t easy. I was directed towards a vocational path and entered the hotel school in Perpignan to take a BEP and then a BAC PRO in cooking. My first experience in the kitchen was watching the chef prepare a dish, which clicked with me and made me realise that cooking could be a real means of expression. The passion grew gradually, with encounters, work, discoveries… After two years in the south with a Michelin starred chef, Christophe Ducros, I moved to Paris. I was able to continue my training with chefs I admired: Sylvain Sendra*, Thierry Marx** and, more recently, Atsushi Tanaka.
Chocho is your very first Parisian restaurant. Why did you choose that name?
Yes, ChoCho is my very first establishment. The name was chosen for no particular reason, which makes the restaurant a free and unlabelled place. The name was inspired by the Dadaist movement and was chosen for its sound and its two syllables. So, here, anything goes. ! I think it’s a simple name, punchy and rather fun to pronounce for French speakers because it’s a word that doesn’t exist in the French language.
First of all, we wanted to respect the work done before our arrival to pay tribute to the famous and highly respected critic Sébastien Demorand. We have kept the large central table for guests, the open kitchen and the porcelain light fittings – which date back to the previous function of the place: a lighting shop. We also kept the inscription: “Paris, Lumière” on the front, which was still there. The open kitchen is an essential element for me, because it’s important to me to be in direct contact with the customers and to have a genuine interaction with them. I wanted to work with people I like for the decoration and tableware. Karla Sutra, an artist and childhood friend whose work I admire, has been involved throughout the project. She designed the illustrations – or “erotic optical illusions” as she describes them – inspired by artists and Dadaist works, which can be found on the tiled paintings in the main room, as well as on the plates and with the neon in the toilets. And I was able to work with two other ceramists whose work I admire just as much: Lou Thomas (Simone Loo) and Stéphane Caudron (No Ceramic). Two great encounters. We’ve also taken over the place little by little. The shelves in the dining room are crammed with fermenting and preserving jars, which in addition to their essential primary function in the kitchen, are also pretty to look at. When we chose the colours, the idea was to warm the place up, and to break up the very high ceiling to make everything feel warmer. We settled on terracotta, which resonates with me through childhood memories: I used to visit my grandparents in the south every summer. I have this image that stays with me: the terracotta tiles on the roofs of the houses. It seemed really exotic to me and I thought it was beautiful! It was comforting because it meant that I had reached my destination.
First of all, we wanted to respect the work done before our arrival to pay tribute to the famous and highly respected critic Sébastien Demorand.
…And who are your customers?
The restaurant was in no way intended to cater for a certain type of customer. Everybody is welcome! It is true that over time our clientele is gradually turning into foodies and connoisseurs. Here, the desire to eat well comes first. Whether it’s for taste and visual discovery (we work on that every day!), or for personal health and the health of the planet.
Music also has an important place in your restaurant’s identity. What does it inspire you in your daily life?
Yes! Being a big fan of hip-hop and music in general, the idea was to serve quality food with a real musical identity. First of all, for the fun of it, and also to create a more relaxed atmosphere than that of a more classic gourmet restaurant. You can combine fine dining and Biggie, and it’s great fun to do so.
You also studied in the Catalan city of Perpignan. How does your dual nationality influence your menu?
Yes, it’s something I’ve started to build, and it’s building gradually as I go along. I’m only at the beginning of my career as a chef, and this is also only the beginning of ChoCho. But the desire to create a personal and original cuisine is, in any case, the basis of what we’re trying to do. My aim is to create a personal approach to cooking, as they say! So I simply draw on my own experience, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. I don’t think we can explain everything. But of course New York and Perpignan, have shaped my palate, and I find a wealth of cultural and culinary inspiration in both of them.
What sort of things can we eat?
Whatever comes into my head! One of our signature dishes, for example, might be “Plat à saucer”, a plate that consists of roasted sweet potato puree, fir tree vinegar gel, bay butter and veal jus; served with homemade bread baked to perfection (in the pan).
Your kitchen has also become something of a laboratory, where you experiment with a variety of age-old preservation techniques. Tell us about your interest in these culinary processes.
Yes, the ChoCho team and I are very interested in traditional preservation techniques; vinegars, garums, lacto-fermentations, syrups, dehydration and maturation. These processes allow us to create powerful (natural) condiments that let us respect the micro-seasonality of fruits and vegetables. And they give us products to serve out of season.
Chocho focuses on a short supply chain. How do you select your producers?
We choose our suppliers based on several criteria: the taste quality of the raw material, their respect for the environment and for people. I think it’s important to surround ourselves with people who share our values throughout the restaurant chain. For example, we work with Terroirs d’Avenirs, which groups together several producers based on our same selection criteria. So, on the menu, customers can taste trout from Banka (Basque Country), natural (i.e. non-triploid) oysters from Jean-Paul Guernier (Utah Beach, Normandy), and dived scallops from Tommy Journaux. I think nowadays, selecting products in a way that respects the living world is one of our essential responsibilities as chefs. We have a duty to share the work of committed producers and to give customers the desire (if they don’t already have it!) to eat well and learn more. For example, scallops caught by dredging (a form of fishing that destroys the seabed) cost €4.90 per kg, while scallops caught by diving cost €10 per kg. So yes, the reality is that at the moment, trying to do things well costs more, and we can’t dispute that! But for me, respect for life and the health of our customers is beyond price. It is an investment for our world today and tomorrow, and in the kitchen, it is a real honour and a joy to work with such products, with all the logic behind them. For example, we work with André Trives, a farmer from Roussillon who practices agroecology (even more advanced than organic!). We work together a bit like an AMAP – community-supported agriculture; he sends us what he has harvested, and each delivery is a surprise.
Where will we find you next?
You can find us every day of the week at the ChoCho restaurant at 54, rue de Paradis !
The shelves in the dining room are crammed with fermenting and preserving jars, which in addition to their essential primary function in the kitchen, are also pretty to look at.
Photography : Valerio Geraci – Text : Juliette Bruneau @thesocialitefamily