Is Cafe Freda’s now the sunniest Sydney spot for French bistro plates? With Gaspard de Rancourt in the kitchen, we think it is.

The French chef has only just arrived Down Under, following a career start that's included finer Parisian restaurants like Les Resistants La Table and Elmer Paris, plus a stint at Barcelona’s natty wine institution Bar Brutal. Now he’s scored himself a gig in one of our city’s most fun venues.

He felt good from the first time he visited for a Sunday drink. “People told me, ‘They are looking for [a head chef] in Cafe Freda’s – you should go’,” he tells Broadsheet. “So I go, and that’s it – here I am. When you first arrive here… there’s an ambience, it’s very special. It reminds me of some wine bars, with more heart.”

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His first menu dropped a few weeks ago, and it’s powered by veggies. A charred leek with feta joins a sunny dish of roasted carrots. There’s house-made terrine and a pile of chickpea panisse with a smoked beetroot ketchup. Here, de Rancourt chats to us about his new role.

Gaspard, what’s your new gig?
Head chef at Cafe Freda’s. It’s quite new for me, without being completely new – I’ve never been a head chef, but I was sous chef. The format is new too, the fact we’re a wine bar not a proper restaurant: start at 4pm, opening the service, making sharing dishes and maybe some mains. I just arrived [in Australia] two months ago, so everything is new for me.

How are you finding the new role?
The team is really nice. I’m just discovering the city, I came on my own. I am creating a new life, so it’s really exciting to find a place like this. [At Freda’s], we are not working in a closed way – we are not making a tasting menu, a main dish or menu that’s not going to change for three months. This aspect is really nice. I love to eat in Sydney and just take inspiration, like “Oh wow, this is really nice. Can I do something with it?”

[We have] specials every night. It’s an open card of “do whatever you want” for only one night. That’s a chance for a chef, I think. Make one dish, one night; when it’s finished, it’s finished. There is no pressure to have it till the end of the service.

Tell me about your first menu at Freda’s.
I tried to make dishes that you find in French bistros, but in a modern aspect. I mean, creating a menu is not that easy. You have an open book in front of you, you can pick whatever you want – but you’re picking things that you want in your life and trying to add your thing. You have to think about it: what should be my signature? You have to manage the team, the product – here the seasonality is not the same as in France.

My experiences have forced me to act in a certain way, too. Of course the seasonality, but also the respect of the product and how you can use them in their totality. How you can manage a few different dishes on the menu [to work with each other]. [I want to] use products in every dish in different ways to minimise the waste.

What are the highlights?
The vegetarian dishes. They are interesting, compared to what you can find most of the time. I really like the carrot, it [gives a] good aspect of how you can transform one product in very different ways.

What dishes have been the most popular so far?
People loved a special, the tortellini with ‘nduja, ricotta and beef stock. It’s the same beef stock that I use for the terrine, I try to use everything. And the carrots and leek.

I love seeing leek as a main dish.
Me too. That’s my way of thinking: putting a vegetable in the middle of the plates. We have a very, very famous French chef, his name is Alain Passard. He’s the king of the vegetables. He closed his restaurant in the 2000s, when he had three Michelin stars. Then he opened it back up, doing only vegetables, and he came back with three Michelin stars in one visit – it was the first time in history.

People often come into Freda’s to drink, did you design the menu with this in mind?
I always work in places with natural wine, so everything I’ve done since the beginning is about natural wine. I’ve only worked with chefs who were thinking about the wine list that they had. Wine pairing is very subjective; the cool thing about natural wine is that it’s so special it can fit with a lot of things.

What was the best thing that you ate this week?
Ramen at Umami Dojo. This chef is making an infusion, for every ramen bowl, of katsuobushi and dashi stock. He has those glass tubes, the same that you can find in chemistry, and he’s making instant infusions for one ramen. It’s really tasteful. It’s not that far from the Fish Market, 15 minutes walking.

What are you excited about, working in Sydney?
I don’t even know half of the fish that you have here in Sydney, so for me it’s really exciting. The city is really cool. When I just arrived, I was like, “Wow. Why did I cross the whole world?” But then you start to understand the city. I’m really excited about having a life in Sydney.