Château Palmer, Margaux
The estate hums with life, welcoming, hosting, entertaining. At the centre of it all… a Japanese chef. For the last three years, Seiji Nagayama has been there for every Palmer moment, serving a cuisine fit for a château.
What was the last menu you composed?
Grilled squid and tempura of asparagus, followed by pigeon breast and foie gras pan-seared with five spices and served in a cabbage leaf… A dish inspired by my Paris years with Joël Robuchon and at Hôtel Le Bristol.
What brought you to Château Palmer?
The years I spent in the kitchens of such prestigious establishments taught me a lot. They also helped me realize that I wanted to experience other things! To practice my profession in other ways. It all comes back to this curiosity that I’ve always been driven by. I already had it when I was just 10 years old in Japan, and I became fascinated with European cooking programs on television. It’s what guided me towards a culinary school in Tokyo to learn about French gastronomy, especially the produce and ingredients, most of which were completely foreign to me. And it’s what gave me the courage to take my giant leap at 27 years old, and move to Paris! Finally, it’s what brought me here, in 2014, after Hide Ishizuka, the former sommelier of Château de Cordeillan-Bages, told me about a job opening for a chef. I was taken on for a trial period, and two months later I was hired.
What is your day-to-day like?
It’s always changing. The team here at Château Palmer may host anything from two to more than 20 people, every day over the en primeur period or during Vinexpo, and less frequently in the summer. Likewise, the menu also changes for each occasion. Depending on the season and the produce available, I compose a menu, always steeped in French classicism to which I add little Japanese touches: an eel prepared in the Japanese fashion, a salt enlivened with salted and dried smelt… Thomas Duroux approves the menu, then chooses pairings from the estate’s vintages. The rest is between me and my stoves.
“Depending on the season and the produce available, I compose a menu, always steeped in French classicism to which I add little Japanese touches: an eel prepared in the Japanese fashion, a salt enlivened with salted and dried smelt…”
Seiji Nagayama, Chef, Château Palmer
Do you have a kitchen garden?
Four in fact! At the moment, it’s where I get all my aromatic herbs. But our first tomatoes and wild strawberries will soon be ready. And a fifth, much larger garden is currently in development. The plan is to grow aubergines, courgettes, and heirloom varieties… Hopefully it will see the day very soon.
With all you put into every plate, do you have time to ponder what’s in the glass?
I must admit that wine quickly makes me lightheaded! So, I only drink a little. But thanks to Thomas Duroux and the tasting sessions he organizes, I’m learning – slowly. As I do with every meal we serve here. During their preparation or at their conclusion, I sometimes share a glass with the serving staff. I notably remember a Château Palmer 1983, which was particularly appreciated – in the kitchen, naturally.