TP TALKS TO... Christian Le Squer

by Travelling Peach

I’M NOT JUST A CHEF, I’M A FLAVOUR CREATOR

You don’t just become a chef. Your clients decide if it’s for you or not. Not everyone can become a chef because it’s not like having a normal job. To me, I’m not just a cook... I’m a flavour creator. Before, I was a chef because I was just handling everything but, now, what I really focus on is creating new flavours, flavour intensities and, more importantly, some emotions.

What excites me the most currently are perfumes and smells. Everyday I’m constantly looking for new tastes, new flavours… it’s about exciting and stimulating all of the senses… taste, smell, sight… giving the guests pleasure, enjoyment…. an all round taste sensation. So being a chef is a lot more than cooking; it’s almost like being a designer, perfumer and chef all in one.


PASSION, COOKING & HAUTE COUTURE 

If you come to Le Cinq, it’s because you’re seeking for something very different. Like in fashion. I’m a very creative person and I’m always interested to learn new things and discover new ingredients. I also take a lot of inspiration from my childhood and life experiences. You can see that in my food. It’s a combination of the best natural ingredients and flavours/dishes from my childhood but elevated to an entirely new level using different cooking techniques, the best quality seasonal ingredients and innovative presentation and designs.

I also love creativity and craftsmanship. I’m a creative person naturally so being around other creative people really encourages those ideas and pushes you forward. Anybody can put ‘crazy’ combinations together but it doesn’t mean it will be a well-tasting and balanced dish. I think mine work because they derive from a combination of natural instinct, training and experience. I look at all the flavours I already have in mind and think about how to make them work. I can tell what will and what won’t, and how to create a better balance.


MY CHILDHOOD IN THE COUNTRYSIDE FUELS MY PASSION FOR SEASONALITY, SUSTAINABILITY & COMMUNITY

As a chef, it’s important to look at ingredients, see where they’re sourced and constantly monitor it to ensure that you continue to receive great ingredients. The producers often bring me 4 types of each ingredient, then I pick the best. This has always been important to me; not only for my dishes but perhaps because of my childhood. It’s important to look after the ingredients, make sure they’re grown well and sustainable, and also to ensure that the producers are well looked after too. It’s an important relationship, both for the restaurant and the planet.

As a child, I grew up in a field so that’s how my tastes became educated and I learned to work with producers without even realizing it. I grew up in the countryside with my parents, where we grew all of our own vegetables. Plus, at the same time, we were given the freshest fish by the local fishermen. It was a really funny but lovely mix… we were trading fish for salad. That’s where all of the flavours that influence my mind come from. I’m as excited by what I’m tasting as what I’m creating. Really, everything for me is about taste and flavours. 

I also love herbs and vegetables so they feature heavily in my dishes. My favourite flavour combination currently is bitterness because it’s more savoury and salty – like the sea and the earth. I grew up in Brittany so those childhood smells and tastes fill my mouth.

ON SETTING THE TRENDS

I love to travel. As a chef, it’s very important for me to experience new cultures, cuisines and to see what’s happening around the world. I enjoy meeting new people in the food industry and discussing ideas, what’s happening etc. but I don’t focus on what other people or chefs are doing. It’s about creating the trends myself, looking for the best quality ingredients, producers, techniques and flavour combinations; and nourishing the skills of both my own chefs and improving myself.

There’s a lot of craftsmanship in all my dishes. It’s very important to me so that’s something I’ve brought to Le Cinq and encourage in all my chefs. I’m very proud of it. That’s what inspires and drives me.
 

VIVE LA FRANCE!

I’m completely in love with French-Parisian cuisine and Le Cinq is a flagship for it. I combine my own inspirations and a touch of modernity with traditional French cuisine. I love French cooking so I simply try to use flavours to modernize the traditional dishes, whilst keeping the French roots through the techniques and produce. The eating experience and our expectations of food today is completely different to what it was 20 years ago so, as a chef, I need to consider that. 

It’s the same as in couture fashion or in perfume… you have to work hard and evolve but you don’t have to be afraid… you can just be proud of being French and expressing yourself through your art. You don’t have to stick to tradition.


LE CINQ & THE CHALLENGE TO WIN A 3RD MICHELIN STAR

When I arrived at Le Cinq in 2014, I’d already held 2 Michelin stars for 12 years but it was really the challenge of achieving the third Michelin star that persuaded me to come. I love a challenge and it was a fantastic way to test and trust my talents. I want to continue improving so, when the Four Seasons George V Hotel asked me to work with them, it just seemed like a natural thing to do.


WINNING MY 3RD MICHELIN STAR WAS LIKE HAVING ANOTHER CHILD. INCREDIBLE FEELING!

I’m so happy to have 3 Michelin stars. It was a very proud achievement for me. I was 39 when I earned my first Michelin star but, when I got the third one, it was like having a third child because I’m still so passionate about what I do. That said, it’s important to remember that I’m not working on the dishes for The Guide. I’m always working on them for my guests. I want them to be happy and to enjoy themselves and the food at my restaurant. If I continue to focus on them and improving their dining experience and my own passion about cuisine, the Michelin Guide will follow naturally. I was proud because the commendation was a professional way of showing that I am achieving what I set out to do.

The best thing about my kitchen is that we all keep working as a team and we enjoy it. We work hard to give the feeling that all the dishes are made with care, at a high level and with a lot of personality.


SO MANY SPECIAL MEMORIES…

BEANS, GREENS & ARMY RATIONS 

When I first moved from the countryside, I had little knowledge or experience of the outside world or cuisine in general… I didn’t know about special cooking techniques, the Michelin Guide… nothing. When I was 20 and doing my military service, people started to explain to me about big gastronomic flavours. We were on rations so the food was basic but, even though we only had beans and greens, I always had this dream.

Still, I wasn’t thinking of the guides or the big restaurants but it was during this time that I met the most incredible people: the famous chefs who I’d had no idea about. I learned a lot from them but, even so, when I started working in restaurants, all I had in mind was seafood and fish because I was from Brittany. I had no idea about the other things but that wasn’t a bad thing. I had a very happy childhood and youth. I ate very good, delicious, fresh ingredients so my taste education was great. Plus, my father worked with wood, which is a very specific and precise skill. That’s influenced me a lot because I’m the same. Everyday I taste my dishes and that’s what helps me to be so accurate about flavours. I’m also friends with many of the best perfumers in France. They’re very passionate and skilled about what they do too so learning from them is very interesting.


50 BRAZILLIANS, 1 SMALL COOKER AND 1 VERY AMBITIOUS CHEF… BRING IT ON!

When I was younger, I was cooking for a small village in Brazil. It was 25 years ago. We were in the middle of nowhere and I just wanted to try to prepare some gastronomic dishes for around 50 locals. Well, with one person cooking for everybody and just one oven, you can imagine what happened. I can’t completely remember what I cooked but I think it was something good. But it was so random and such a funny experience…. Such a lost village and I only had a small britter gas to cook something amazing for a very rich family. It was one of my best memories.


A FABULOUS PARTY IN A VINEYARD, 800 HUNGRY GUESTS… WAIT!... WHERE’S THE FOOD?!

Another time, we were cooking for 800 people in a vineyard and everyone was due to start eating at 8pm. Well, one of the cooks forgot the main dish so, what could we do?! Thinking on our feet, we saw the vineyard and thought ‘Just keep giving them more wine and they won’t notice.’ It was crazy.
 


IF YOU ONLY EAT 1 DISH AT LE CINQ, IT HAS TO BE…

One of my signature dishes that I’m really proud of is the ‘Line Bar’ (Bar De Ligne), which is made with fish with fermented milk. The dish really talks about my childhood. I have a lot of dishes like this on my menu. What’s amazing is that people come just to eat those dishes - even ones that I created 15 years ago! So many guests tell their friends ‘You need to eat [this] there’ and, to me, that’s really like a Chanel suit. A timeless flavour! It’s like in fashion or perfume… the aim is to create a signature where generations after generations want to taste the flavour and pass on the ‘classic’ experience that they’ll all enjoy. That’s the difference between a chef and a flavour creator.

The Bar De Ligne, in particular, is associated with my childhood because I love the combination of the salty flavour and the firmness. The salty flavour reminds me of the fish and the sea and the firmness comes from the countryside where we were getting fresh milk at the farm, making homemade butter… Then, I add some caviar to the milk so that the salty flavours from the caviar rise slightly above the taste of the fish. That gives you the flavour balance. It’s both a masculine and feminine dish… very sexy!

I also love the baking soda dessert. It reminds me of when I first learned to make cakes and couldn’t wait to eat that delicious raw mixture. It’s also been designed in a very contemporary way, using a special milk ice cream and inspiration from the streets of Paris. I’ve always cycled a lot and, one day, I cycled past Louis Vuitton and it led me to design the presentation with him in mind. That was 10 years ago and the dish is still as popular as ever. I’m very proud.


MY FAVOURITE POSITION IN THE KITCHEN

Everyday, I look at all of the sections in my kitchen. They’re all important and I want everything to be perfect so I’ll make sure I spend time on the wine, the product, the service…. It’s similar to being an architect or an orchestra master. There’s no room for imbalance; everything must work harmoniously. When there is a weakness in the bakery, I go to the bakery to help; the same for the fish section, patisserie or any other area. We all work together and support each other.

I feel great about being in all sections of the kitchen. I’m always in the carpe diem moment. I’m passionate about the kitchen, the products, the guests…. You cannot get 3 Michelin stars without being so passionate because the guests will feel it on the plate. It’s really about love and the love that you put on the plate. To make the dish taste good but also beautiful to look at, fresh, appetizing…


MY ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD

I like making whichever fresh fish I can find on the day. I go to the market, pick the freshest fish and cook it in the simplest way. I love it all.


SECRET EATS

I love street food, especially on the 10th arrondissement. Culturally, the community is home to a very wide variety of people so you can find so many interesting and tasty things to eat there… French, Moroccan… lots. Then, for 15 years, I was at the helm of Le Normandie – one of the most beautiful restaurants in Paris. It was one of the most secret places in Paris too because not many people knew about it. Whilst I was there, I never did any media but the restaurant was always full of happy guests. It was an industry favourite and the critics loved it too. It was a very proud time for me and the food is brilliant. People from all over the world came to see me and asked ‘Who are you?!' because, throughout that time, nobody even knew my face so I was very protected. Nowadays, things are very different; chefs are increasingly required to be public figures and it’s helped me grow and mature as a chef even more.


Having been awarded an extremely rare and impressive 3 Michelin stars, Christian Le Squer is one of the world’s most prestigious chefs. He is the Executive Chef at Le Cinq restaurant in Four Seasons George V Hotel, Paris.




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