Hervé Aubry is being very diplomatic, not willing to give up any anecdotes from the dinner parties he's cooked for over the years. He's spent almost 30 years as a chef in diplomatic service, feeding heads of state from around the world, the military, diplomats and VIPs; but he's not giving anything away.
He's been the chef at the French embassy in Yarralumla since 2017, working for the ambassador, His Excellency Christophe Penot, cooking for everything from official functions, to the ambassador's nightly dinner.
"I can tell you no funny stories," he says, laughing, indicating that perhaps there are plenty of funny stories to tell. "This has been part of my life for a long time, I think I am very lucky."
At the moment he's planning the embassy's Bastille Day celebrations. There's a reception on July 12 for about 200, showcasing French wines and food. He takes us into the embassy kitchen to sample some salmon gravlax which will be on the menu, cured in salt and dill and vodka. It's delicious served with a pale green sauce made of fennel and French mustard.
"This is where I work," he says. The space is compact and very clean, with stainless steel benches and shelves, utensils hanging overhead. I ask if I can stickybeak in the coolroom, expecting it to be brimming with champagne and cheese.
"I get my cheese mainly from the Ainslie IGA," he says. I shouldn't be surprised. Indeed the IGA is one of the sponsors of the Bastille Day celebrations. Aubry is a big supporter of the Canberra food scene. He shops at the Fyshwick markets, and specialist stores around town such as Remy's Bakery. There's a bottle of Clonakilla 2017 Syrah on the kitchen bench, a favourite of the ambassador's. There's a local truffle in the coolroom which he'll be using for a sit-down dinner on July 9.
"Australian truffles are very good. I never knew they grew them here in Canberra, but they grow excellent ones," he says.
His week consists of talking to the ambassador and his wife Yukimi about what functions there might be on the horizon, and if they have any preferences for their own dinners. He plans menus, orders food, does his own shopping.
He likes knowing who is coming to events, and curating menus to suit their personal tastes and likes. He probably has a little black book somewhere listing the favourites of half the diplomats in the world.
Now 56, he started in the food game at 17, training for two years before he did his military service, which took him to the kitchens of high-ranking generals. His first posting was to Amman in Jordan. After that he went to Mexico and worked at the embassy. He stayed in Mexico for 20 years, taking time off in between stints to open a restaurant and teach at university. The ambassador there loved his cooking so much he took him with him to his next postings in Rabat, Morocco, and then Budapest, Hungary.
"I never thought my chef training would allow me to travel the world," Aubry says.
"I love travel, getting to know new countries, new people, new cultures, learning about local produce."
I love travel, getting to know new countries, new people, new cultures, learning about local produce.Hervé Aubry
He says there's a little flavour from every country he's been to reflected in his cooking.
In Morocco he would love going to the souqs, looking at what was on offer every day, and he still incorporates some of the spices into dishes even now.
In Morocco he once prepared a sit-down dinner for 100 and a cocktail function for 2000.
So what will he take from Australia when his time is up here?
Deputy press attache Arnoud Mahot, who's sitting in on the interview with us, suggests Vegemite. They both start laughing.
"I have tried it - it's so strong - but I have never cooked with it," he says.
He loves Australian lamb and fish, but his favourite ingredient is the finger lime.
"I enjoy this product very much, it is fantastic for me. It's very beautiful for decoration and the taste, chefs in France are calling it 'lemon caviar', using it with salmon, carpaccio, tuna."
So when he gets a night off, is there somewhere in Canberra he likes to eat out?
"Never a French restaurant," he says. "At the moment Raku is my favourite."