By Louise Oakley
Three Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno talks gastronomy and gearing up for expansion in Lebanon
One of the world’s greatest chefs, France’s Yannick Alléno, was awarded three Michelin stars for his culinary achievements at Le Meurice hotel in Paris in 2007 and soon after, elected Chef of the Year by his peers in 2008.
His life’s dream was achieved after 22 years in the business; since then, Alléno has continued to create culinary icons through his development company, Group Yannick Alléno - established in 2008 to offer Alléno’s skills to hoteliers and food professionals looking to create new restaurants. To date, his achievements include creating dining excellence at Cheval Blanc at Courchevel - which after one season was awarded two Michelin stars - taking over the F&B at The Royal Mansour in Marrakech and collaborating on the F&B offering at One&Only The Palm in Dubai.
In Dubai, his restaurants S.T.A.Y by Yannick Alléno, 101 and Zest have received rave reviews, and this success is expected to be emulated in Beirut later this year, when Alléno will open another S.T.A.Y - Simple Table Yannick Alléno and a new concept, Sweet Tea, in the Solidere Souks.
Keen to find out about chef Alléno’s inspiration and the firm’s expansion, Caterer Middle East spoke with him as he geared up for the new openings. As it turns out, there’s a lot those in the business can learn from Alléno, who, despite his accolades, still considers himself to be a “hotel chef”.
You were awarded your Michelin stars for a restaurant in a hotel - what can hoteliers in the Middle East learn from your experience at Le Meurice?
I have always been a hotel chef and being awarded Michelin stars shows that one can experience a true gastronomy moment in a hotel and not only in an independent restaurant. I believe hoteliers care as much for F&B as for the rooms and I hope that I am able to bring this experience to Middle Eastern hotels.
Why did you found Group Yannick Alléno in 2008?
After being awarded [the Michelin stars] in 2007, more than ever, I wanted to progress and perfect my work in order to offer our clients real consistency and a true gastronomic signature. I wanted to affirm this wish through a cuisine that is forever more rigorous, finer, creative and to pass on this quest for excellence in order to represent and promote French gastronomy. Naturally, the idea of creating my group has grown. So far, having my own company helps me to spread and implement concepts such as S.T.A.Y and Sweet Tea around the world.
What does your experience of working in hotel restaurants contribute to the services offered by Group Yannick Alléno?
I am a hotel chef. Since I started my career, I have been trained with hotel chefs. I understand the concept of 24-hour service - that is being available and also being able to give the guest what they wish for at every time of the day. It has given me rigour, spontaneity, and efficiency. At the end of this experience, you can nearly anticipate the needs of the guests.
Your partnership with One&Only The Palm seems to have been very successful – can you describe your inspiration for S.T.A.Y, 101 and Zest?
Our decision to partner with One&Only The Palm was natural as it echoes the same quality and exigency I have in culinary and food creation. One&Only The Palm was such a great inspiration. I wanted my creation to look like this luxury beach resort, which encompasses chic contemporary elegance and refinement.
How do you ensure restaurants like STAY offer such high quality produce and service, but are also profitable?
By choosing One&Only, it gives me the guarantee of having the best staff and the best quality. All my key resources are expatriates who have also worked with me all around the world. I have trained them and I have an entire confidence in them. In addition to the chef, there will be an entire brigade of Dubai cooks and we learn from them as much as they learn from us.
What is your view of the F&B industry in Dubai?
Dubai has developed so much in terms of the hotel industry - most of the luxury brands are operating there and the offering is wide and of good quality. Dubai is now offering so many different types of food. I like to see all the various dishes and offers. Diversity gives me richness as Dubai is really a crossroad of cultures between Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Why are you expanding in Beirut?
I am going to open a S.T.A.Y and a Sweet Tea in Beirut in October. I have chosen Beirut as it is now one of the most popular destinations for holidays. All the luxury brands are settling there and of course, there are various culinary offers. Solidere, the company that has been appointed to rehabilitate the old souks of Beirut, is doing a great job and is attracting many brands.
A lot of the focus in these new restaurants seems to be on a convivial atmosphere and a sharing experience – can you explain why this is important?
To me, having dinner is worth it when it is shared. I want people to share a culinary experience in my restaurants; I want my clientele to find the perfect place for a memorable moment. The communal table for instance is a main highlight at S.T.A.Y. It can welcome six to 12 guests and it is dedicated to the sharing of good food and passionate conversations.
Can you tell us about your cooking philosophy and style?
My cooking philosophy, my DNA, is to reinvent traditional codes. With the “terroir Parisien” [the distinctive produce linked to Paris’ soil and climate], I plan to reinvent the Parisian cuisine. For the last three years, I really tried to reinterpret this by giving life to old recipes from Paris and Ile de France. For example, the “Saint-Honoré” or the famous “Jambon-beurre”. I take on French classics with a twist through the clever play of simple ingredients with innovative presentation.
How do you adapt your approach to gastronomy in different markets?
All the menus in my restaurants are created especially for this particular place. Each time, I want to use local products. I like to taste, to meet with the producers, to discover a wide variety of flavours, spices or herbs. It is a great challenge to work with local producers and to adapt my creativity to the local markets. I want to offer signature dishes in each place.
Pastry seems to be very important to your restaurants; why?
Beside cuisine, my first passion was pastry and I have always been in the pastry creations. I needed to find an idea to highlight them. One of S.T.A.Y’s identity signatures is the Pastry Library - an answer to the contemporary trend for an open kitchen, where the pastry chef is the main actor of the dessert experience. Clients are able to interact with the chef and can even participate in the final process by choosing a last ingredient for their dessert.
How did you come up with the Sweet Tea concept?
I have always been fond of pastries and I wanted to share my love with the guests. It is a unique place where one can taste the last chef’s creations. The atmosphere in the restaurant is trendy and glamorous with sexy colours.
Aside from your own restaurants or home, where was your best meal?
On my many travels, I have always been amazed by the diversity of food that this world can offer. Apart from my travels, I really enjoy Paul Bocuse’s cuisine. He is still so accurate and contemporary.
What goals do you still wish to achieve?
I live my dream everyday.