A combative and committed chef
Coloured scarf in her hair to discipline her brown curls, ring in one nostril, elegant fitted kitchen jacket, Vanessa Botella, shows a serene look: that of the chef who has just delighted 70 people. On the daily menu: seasonal salad, hearty butternut and potato savoury tart and creamy vanilla cottage cheese. A small glass of wine to accompany it all… A tasty meal, with local and seasonal products for barely 4 €, is Vanessa’s daily bet since she took over the reins of the Bistro of Paul Bert Network.
An atypical career path
At 32, the young woman claims an atypical career path. Born into a family of Breton restaurateurs, she helped her parents in the dining room at a very early age… enough to decide to avoid making a career out of it. Attracted to arts and crafts, she trained in sewing, tapestry, decoration and applied arts. She completes her training with a vocational baccalaureat in commerce. At the age of 22 and yet well trained, she struggles to find a job in decoration. To earn a living, she does a myriad of temporary assignments. While she was on a waitressing assignment in the canteen of a large industrial company, the cook was kept waiting. Waiting so long that the pancakes on the menu would not be made unless the young Breton girl, for whom pancakes have no secrets, went into the kitchen. She doesn’t hesitate for a moment and it’s the revelation: “During all my schooling, I’ve been looking for an artistic field in which to reveal myself. With cooking, I had finally found it! ». Vanessa then went on to become a chef. “The job is very masculine. It’s not easy for a woman to be accepted”. However, doors are opening, chefs trust her, she passes her CAP in barely nine months, goes to travel in Laos to think about how she wants to share her conception of cooking.
Healthy, local and seasonal cuisine
On her return to Bordeaux, she works as a volunteer in the Paul Bert Network. The place in the kitchen is taken, so she takes care of the supplies. “I very quickly told myself that it was not possible to have hives on the roof and a vegetable garden in the street and continue to buy frozen foods, industrial products or cans from wholesalers for the bistro. I suggested to the directors that we buy from producers and craftsmen, that we offer local and seasonal products. Vanessa’s sourcing is effective! Impossible to find a plastic bottle or a can at the Paul Bert Space. Syrups are made on site, fresh fruit juices pressed on demand, vegetables supplied by an AMAP (association for the maintenance of peasant agriculture).
Since October 2018, Vanessa has also taken over the kitchen. And since “we hired her to shake up the habits!”, she does it: she introduces vegetarian menus once or twice a week, reserves Wednesday for fresh fish: “it’s the day we have the most children. I pay a lot of attention to the origin and seasonality. Here, you won’t see any Nile perch or Madagascar shrimps! ». Convictions coupled with an acute sense of resourcefulness that comes partly from his experience in Laos, “people there cook with nothing and make crazy dishes!”. Bernadette Lopes, president of the Paul Bert Network, adds: “Vanessa is very invested, she invents with the resources she has and does not hesitate to cook with leftovers. Not only is it good, but it’s a waste-free kitchen”.
“In this job, you have to be radical”
If Vanessa’s passion and profession is cooking, she likes to remind us that it is also the social and human dimension of the Paul Bert Bistro that touches her, especially the work with her colleagues and the many volunteers, some of whom are volunteers or have real social difficulties. Combative, stubborn, Vanessa sees herself as a “fighter”, especially since she became a mother. “I am proud to have succeeded in gaining respect. In this job, you don’t have to be shy, you have to be radical.” That’s what the young woman undertakes day after day at the Paul Bert Network, while taking some time each year to develop new projects: planting a patch of aromatic herbs in the street that she can use in the kitchen, and launching a program on food on Radio Paul Bert, the center’s radio station. With her strength of conviction, she is sure she will succeed!
Réseau Paul Bert
2 Rue Paul Bert, 33000 Bordeaux
Tel +33 (0)5 56 79 20 44
© Sonia Moumen (exchange reporter) for Champs Libres, member of Kus Alliance France