Rip off Monsieur Oliver? Moi? Non, says French chef

He tackles school dinners and has a restaurant called Fifteenth. But Cyril Lignac is no fan of Jamie's 'nosh'
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Cyril Lignac became a celebrity chef in France by making a TV series in which he trained young, disadvantaged people to be chefs, then he tackled the issue of school food. He also has a restaurant called Le Quinzième, or Fifteenth. Sound familiar?

Mr Lignac, 30, agrees that he owes Jamie Oliver "a great deal". Strange, then, that he has got into a row over remarks that appear to show disdain for the cheeky British chef whose TV formats he has copied. Recently he was quoted as dismissing Mr Oliver, two years his senior, as a "young bloke who makes nosh [tambouille]". Unlike the Englishman, he implied, he was a "master chef", trained in the great French gastronomic tradition.

But, in an interview, Mr Lignac denied the slights attributed to him by a French gastronomic website. "I never said that Jamie Oliver was 'just a young bloke who makes nosh'," he said. "Never."

So does he like to be seen as a "French Jamie Oliver"? "No, I am not the French Jamie Oliver. I am Cyril Lignac ... our cooking is quite different. I have worked with some of the greatest chefs in the French tradition, including Alain Ducasse. I am in my own kitchen in my restaurant almost every day. Is Jamie Oliver in a restaurant kitchen every day? No."

What about the name of his successful gastronomic restaurant in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, which sounds reminiscent of the "Fifteen" chain founded by Mr Oliver? "Pure coincidence. If my restaurant was in the Quatorzième arrondissement, it would be called 'Quatorzième'."

Mr Lignac added that he has never met Oliver, but he did once eat at Fifteen, in London. What did he think? A pause. "It was very British," said the French chef. "Good, in its own way. But very British." Could he be a little more precise?

"There was mozzarella cheese and peaches, then lamb. There was nothing wrong with it. It's not the kind of cooking I am used to. I come from a very different tradition."

Mr Lignac became famous in France in 2005 with a TV series, Oui Chef!, in which he taught young disadvantaged people to be chefs (just like Jamie's Kitchen, in 2002). Mr Lignac followed this up in 2006 with a series called Vive la Cantine!, in which he showed how school meals could be made more nutritious (just as in Jamie's School Dinners, shown in Britain in 2005).

Mr Lignac insists he has nothing but admiration for Jamie Oliver's TV programmes and books, and "all he has done to make people think differently about food". But Mr Oliver's own programmes have been dubbed into French and shown on another channel in France in the past couple of years. Is that why the Frenchman now wants to distance himself from the English chef?

Not at all, he says. "The production company that made my programmes was British. They wanted to repeat what Jamie Oliver had done for a French audience. That is perfectly normal.

"But I have to admit that I owe Mr Oliver a great deal. His programmes led to my programmes. Without them, I would not have been able to set up my own restaurant so soon."

Now that he wants to be taken seriously as a gastronomic restaurateur, Mr Lignac appears to be leaving TV chefdom behind. So just how good is his restaurant? François Simon of Le Figaro, France's most feared restaurant critic, said that it was "vacuous, a little light" and "very expensive". But on an independent food website, French diners have been overwhelmingly positive, even ecstatic.