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Recipes for Success: Celebrity French Chef Yann Bernard Lejard Talks Edible Art and Lessons Learned
MANAMA: It’s hard to believe that someone could be as talented as a chef as an artist. But the famous French chef Yann Bernard Lejard proves that it is possible.
Lejard, the director of cuisine, food and beverage at The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain not only creates eye-catching presentations for his meals, but he also decorates his plates with edible artwork. Yes, edible paints.
Lejard’s abstract art is often compared to that of Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock, among others. His cooking career first took off in his homeland has so far taken him to more than 20 countries including Singapore, China, Mexico, Netherlands, India, USA, Ireland and Spain. He has worked in Michelin starred restaurants and many luxury hotels. He was also a finalist for the prestigious Taittinger Swiss Culinary Grand Prix in 2003.
“I started from the worst restaurant you could imagine in the south of France, where they put the fish straight in the fryer for tourists, and went to the best restaurants in Europe,” he said. at Arab News.
Despite his success as a chef, however, Lejard grew frustrated that he had to put aside his love of art for the sake of his cooking career.
“I wasn’t happy,” he says. “Even though I love food — it’s my passion to understand the ingredients, the sauce, the authenticity — I realized that, for me, cooking was not enough. My life was not that. My life was over. I was looking for an answer, because it was very boring.
This boredom was alleviated by his move to the Middle East. His first stop was Saudi Arabia, as executive chef at award-winning restaurant Glow, where he became the Kingdom’s first chef to be ranked by UK food publication FOUR Magazine.
“When I came to Saudi Arabia, I changed my way of thinking,” he says. “I found a kind of peace in the Middle East. I felt I had to try to erase everything I had learned.
He continues: “I was guided by a way of working, so I decided to delete everything. It was a long process, but I started to find pleasure in working. I found a purpose. The Middle East opened me up to different cultures.
He moved to Bahrain in 2014. “I found the place I was really looking for. Ritz-Carlton is a brand I really associate with. I feel very committed and very loyal,” he explains.
Here, Lejard offers some cooking tips and discusses the importance of resilience.
Q: When you started, what was the most common mistake you made?
A: Don’t listen. And I was in very good places where I should have listened, because I was in front of very important professionals. In many restaurants, I would work one, two or three days and then move on to another because I was unhappy with the way they worked. But, it was in my head. It took me so many years to find my conception of the kitchen. I need to have very strong and professional people around me to be able to work. I’m always thinking about different ways of doing things. I want to do what others don’t.
Q: What’s your best advice for home chefs?
A: Be resilient. Never give up.
Q: What is the secret to a successful restaurant?
A: The most important thing is that you have to touch the emotion. You need your guests to feel good, to feel at ease. They need to feel genuine care.
Q: What is your favorite dish if you need to cook something quickly?
A: I have a very strict diet. I am almost a vegetarian. So I would say tomato with olive oil, soy sauce and coriander.
Q: What is the most difficult dish to succeed?
A: Simplicity is difficult. In every dish, there is a trick. In every dish there is a specific way to do it and there is the love and the emotions that you put into it. Everyone can have the same recipe, but not everyone will have the same end result. I can’t make ratatouille like my grandmother. It is the food that warms your heart and reminds you of your childhood.
Q: As a boss, are you disciplinary? Or are you more laid back?
A: I understood, after many years, that alone you are nothing. You need people around you. I try as much as possible not to play with the emotions of the people around me. Even though I do it sometimes, I see that I made a mistake. I like to have a calm working atmosphere where everyone respects each other.
Q: When you go out to eat, do you ever criticize the food?
A: Absolutely not. I’m very cool when I’m not working. (Obviously) I don’t want to be disappointed. But I don’t like to judge.
Q: What customer request or behavior frustrates you the most?
It’s all about emotions. Something I don’t like is if someone hurts my emotions. I’m very sensitive, but I’m working on it. Before, I cared a lot about quality feedback and mistakes. In the kitchen, you have to be extremely consistent. When you cook with passion, you put a part of yourself into it. A mistake can happen, and it can hurt my feelings and my emotions. Now I’m moving forward.