Chapter 2: Pierre Fenoux

Let’s start off with a bit about you – I saw that you grew up in France, whereabouts and what was your upbringing like?

I grew up in the Alps in a small town called Chembéry. My father passed away when I was young, so I was brought up by my grandparents, mostly in the garden of our house! Jeannout, was my grandfather, so the name of my restaurant was a tribute to him(Jano).

What would you say your favourite childhood memory with food is?

I would say my first childhood memories of food would be my aunties wedding, where we went to this really amazing restaurant that was famous back in the time, the food was delicious. It’s definitely one of my earliest and fondest memories.

What kind of food did you eat in France during your childhood?

Like I said, my grandparents had this massive garden in the back, we would pick what was ripe and fresh, and would cook whatever we could out of that produce. All of our homemade meals weren’t very cliché French, they were fresh and light – but we couldn’t not eat cheese of course.

Looking back, what drove you towards your love of food?

It’s an accumulation of things. My grandmother was always cooking and being around her was a big influence. I was cooking with them, so my passion came naturally. My grandmother said she had never been prouder when I became a chef, because when I was young, I would have these pots and spoons that I would put Lego blocks in and stir up – I think I even tried them too!

From France to New Zealand, it’s a big leap! What made you want to come over to little NZ?

I left France quite a long time ago to go to Australia where I spent 3 years working. Then after a while I migrated over here and liked it. I moved straight to Wellington and worked in a restaurant,  Le Canard, over in Thordon, which was kind of the preincarnation of Jano. We’ve been on Willis Street since 2014 and loving it ever since!

Did you ever consider going down another career route during your life, or no?

Haha, not really! I’m doomed or cursed to be a chef. I mean what I’m doing now and where I’m working, it’s not something I could do forever. But I think even when I’m older I will still create food, and not just any kind of food, more fine dining. It’s what I like so I want to continue doing it.

What has your culinary journey been like? Where did you start and how did you get here?

I studied at a pretty good cookery school, one that wasn’t too far from my home town, and did four years over there and then started cooking in restaurants afterward. I even worked in some Michelin star restaurants back in my region. I was pretty young, so it was quite cool having that experience.

Why this location, size and place? Compared to where you were in Thorndon, why did you move to Willis Street?

I was an employee at my previous place, and my boss at the time told me that he was probably going to put the restaurant on the market, so, I started thinking what I was going to do, and his business partner asked if I would like to takeover. We saw this place came up and it had potential from being an existing restaurant. I wanted to make Jano a replication of my home. It’s cozy, warm and humble. There’s no point in being over the top. When you’re in a restaurant, it should reflect who you are and tell a story. It makes more sense and matches my food.

Where do you source most of your ingredients from? Is it local markets or other?

I don’t have much time to go and buy the produce myself unfortunately, but just trusting my suppliers and knowing what I want works well. The fish is all line caught; the meat is all free-range. I also have a forager for wild ingredients. The global movement of organic has meant newer and smaller local suppliers within a few kilometers from wellington, they’ll call me and tell me what they have and if I want to try some, and a lot of the time I’ll experiment.

What inspired your meals and your menu? What’s the main driver?

I would say season. We’re not going to do peas or tomatoes in July, so yes, just really seasonal produce. We are more vegetarian that meat, so the process of thinking about the vegetarian dish and then which protein is going to match this dish. It’s about the veggies really. Less intervention on the vegetables, keeping the taste, but making it really interesting as well through using smoking, curing or fermenting.

Out of the current dishes at Jano, what’s your favourite one to cook?

Ahhhhhhh, we have the buckwheat tart which is the second course, and I think this one would be my favourite I think. Just because its different, we tried to make a lot of textures too, it’s really clean on the plate. The mousse has changed maybe 10 times since we first made it, so it’s constantly changing.

How often do you change up your menu?

Whenever I want. Depending on the dish, I sometimes get bored or sometimes I’ll stick with a dish. The buckwheat tart I’ve been doing for 6 months now, but I still love making it. It also depends on customers feedback, depends on availability (whether things are in season). I would never change up a whole menu, that’s a lot of work. At the most a couple of dishes at a time, and really spread out the changes to make sure the dishes are right. Sometimes I’ll even change the dish on the spot if I feel like it – being the chef I have that awesome power!

What’s been your all-time favourite dish you’ve made at Jano (I know it’s hard to remember!)?

*Long Pause* – I don’t know! Before we closed, we used to do this dessert with Lemon, olive oil, rosemary and this one was on the menu for pretty much that whole time we were open, and we never took it off because people loved it. When we reopened, I cooked the same version of it because it was so popular, and I loved creating different variations of it! The first version was like an Eton mess, and the last time I made It, it was more refined and cleanly plated.

And finally, If you could only eat one cheese for the rest of your life – be careful now – what would It be?

Oh easy – Reblochon. It’s from my region, it’s quite strong actually, kind of nutty. The rind is washed but you can eat it. It’s just really good. You can eat it when it’s fresh, you can eat it when its more mature. The flavour just evolves. I would either serve it with nice crust bread or in a tartiflette – which is a creamy bacon, potato, onion bake, and topped with this cheese is just incredible.

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