Interview: Philippe Gombert, President Relais & Chateaux

Posted on: April 6th, 2014 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Philippe Gombert

Philippe Gombert – President Relais & Chateaux

Philippe Gombert has taken the mantle of President of Relais & Chateaux, here he speaks openly to fine-dining-guide.

Tell us some background about yourself

I am the son and grandson of Paris-based hoteliers who originated from the southwest of France. In 1982, my family and I acquired Château de la Treyne; it was like coming home – a return to our roots.  Following the premature death of my father, my mother (an hotelier by profession) wanted to realize a long-held dream of welcoming guests as friends ‘at home’ in a unique setting.  Her sense of elegant style, good taste and talent for the genuine art of receiving guests attracted a loyal following of guests who returned time and again.  Ten years later, in 1992, our house achieved the ultimate accolade: it was accepted as a member of the great family of Relais & Châteaux.  I am proud to have served our fine Association for 12 consecutive years, initially as a Delegate and then as Secretary General.  I decided to stand for the position of International President last year because I am absolutely passionate about our beliefs and values, and those who nurture them.

Tell us some of the actual R&C Background

Sixty years ago Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, musical entertainers and owners of La Cardinale, a hotel and restaurant on the right bank of the Rhône, came up with the idea of promoting eight hotels together under the tag line ‘La Route du Bonheur’.  Each was a distinctive, authentic and thriving establishment, en route from Paris to Nice, and they all shared the same core values: outstanding cuisine and an Art de Vivre based on the pursuit of excellence.  This union was the embryo for Relais & Châteaux, a collection of charming hotels and restaurants managed by a community of proprietors passionate about their surrounding areas, outstanding cuisine, attention to detail and heart-felt personal service.  Today, Relais & Châteaux is the most prestigious hotel and restaurant association in the world, presenting 520 exclusive members along 60 stunning Routes du Bonheur across more than 60 countries, all of whom continue to uphold that same passion and vision that Marcel and Nelly Tilloy had 60 years ago:   ‘Hoteliers and restaurateurs should let their hearts do the talking’.

Tell us some of the R&C Philosophies

While each property is distinctive and individual, a common philosophy is shared by every member, best summed up by five values and experiences:

  • THE SOUL OF THE INNKEEPER: Each Innkeeper puts his or her highly personal stamp on their place, its surroundings and the hospitality, service and cuisine they provide.
  • THE TASTE OF THE LAND: For our members, the local terroir is expressed via each property’s architecture, landscaping, leisure activities and the fine dining offered by Relais & Châteaux Grands Chefs and chefs.
  • THE PASSPORT OF FRIENDSHIP: Each property is unique, yet all share the same welcome, inspiring in guests a genuine sense of belonging and a yearning to discover other members.
  • THE CELEBRATION OF THE SENSES: Relais & Châteaux properties provide a natural setting for the awakening of the senses and feelings of well-being on a daily basis and for every special occasion.
  • AN AWAKENING TO ART DE VIVRE: At the heart of the Relais & Châteaux philosophy is the notion that travel should be a journey of discovery into the pleasures of the Art of Living. The ultimate goal of the Relais & Châteaux Innkeeper is to introduce guests to these delights.

What is your personal vision for R&C going forward?

My main objective is to convince all our members that more than ever before we need to be united behind a strong, major global brand that reflects our authenticity, generosity, exclusivity and excellence.  These striking and significant values are what resonate with today’s guest.

My first ambition is to achieve a complete digital revolution: Relais & Châteaux will have a global internet showcase, an attractive platform on which to position our worldwide brand, and blogs about the art of travel and cuisine.  Since my election we have already launched our website in Portuguese, introduced an Android Tablet app to complete our collection of apps for iPhone, iPad & Android smartphone, and created a Russian version of the app too.

What might we expect with the 60th anniversary?

Relais & Châteaux is planning more than 120 exceptional evening events to commemorate our 60th anniversary.  These include dining festivities at our properties worldwide.  Guests can look forward to specially created 60th anniversary menus coupled with exclusive celebrations to mark this special year. Chefs will share their interpretation of their individual terroir using their own distinctive techniques to express their kinship and love of their properties.  I hope our guests across the globe will dress up and enter into the spirit of the event.

In the United Kingdom & Ireland, each of our establishments has prepared a 60th anniversary tribute tasting menus; an autographed first edition of each menu will be collated in an “Anniversary Album” that will travel the British Isles starting in Ireland on April 27th arriving in London at The Goring in September.

What is the international structure of R&C? 

Relais & Châteaux is an association of like-minded hoteliers and restaurateurs led by an international group of members selected by the Chairman of the board.  The Chairman is democratically elected by the entire association membership.

My chosen committee comprises:

–       George GOEGGEL, Fist Vice-President (Americas) from the Auberge du Soleil, USA

–       Silvia LAFER, Vice-President (Europe) from Johann Lafers Stromburg, Germany

–       Olivier ROELLINGER, Vice-President (Chefs) from Les Maisons de Bricourt, Cancale, France

–       Jaisal SINGH, Vice-President (Asia) from Sher Bagh & The Serai Ja sailmer, India

–       Olivia LE CALVEZ, Secretary General from Hôtel de Toiras & Villa Clarisse, France

–       Thomas MAECHLER, Treasurer from Beau-Rivage Hotel, Switzerland

–       Mar SUAU, Member from Son Brull Hotel & Spa, Majorca, Spain

–       Andrew STEMBRIDGE, Member from Chewton Glen, Hampshire, United Kingdom

What are the trends in terms of customer needs and offerings to market?

Gastronomy is an increasingly important part of the travel experience. Travellers want to discover a country not just for its topographic beauty, they want to taste it and experience the local culture – what better way to do this than through the terroir? This year we have welcomed two new and inspirational Grands Chefs, both of whom celebrate their land in their cuisine:

  • Diego Muñoz at Astrid & Gaston studies Peruvian biodiversity and products; he is co-leading Gaston Acurio’s new project, Astrid & Gaston-Casa Moreyra, taking Peruvian cuisine to a new level.
  • On the other side of the world, you can taste a new style of South Korean cooking at the Kyoung-Won Park at Si-Wha-Dam. Every dish draws inspiration from nature, a poem or a painting, representing an extraordinary work of art and Korean culinary virtuosity.

Tell us about Les Grands Chefs

The Relais & Châteaux philosophy pays particular attention to food which is key to our ‘taste of the land’, ‘celebration of the senses’ and ‘awakening to Art de Vivre.’

This commitment relies on our Grands Chefs: a rare breed of almost 160 men and women across five continents, striving for culinary excellence on a daily basis.  Each shares the same passion for fine ingredients, respect for their terroir and love of their culinary heritage – often passed down over several generations.  They are people with strong, passionate personalities who enjoy getting together and sharing experiences as a true family.

Tell us about 5C Club

Club 5C members are loyal friends of Relais & Châteaux who come from all over the world.  Relais & Châteaux member properties recommend their most loyal guests for membership of Club 5C and we work with exclusive partners of similar quality to offer their dedicated followers reciprocal benefits.   Currently there are more than 10,000 Club 5C members.   Activities include social gatherings and invitations to exclusive events.  Each Club 5C member receives optional communications to showcase Relais & Châteaux destinations and products such as the “Routes du Bonheur”.  They also receive regular news about our annual guide launch, special packages, the latest offers, exclusive Club 5C events, corporate retreat information and gifts available for purchase.

 What are your plans for 2014/15?

Relais & Châteaux’s plans for this year and next are mainly focused on a new print and web strategy to help our guests discover our philosophy and membership with speed and ease.

Our other mission is firmly focused on gastronomy and our first step has been to create a new “Comité des Tables” that will have its first meeting in May.  This project is being driven by Olivier Roellinger, our Vice-President and the initial focus is “what is on my plate must tell me about the place where I am”.