Recipes for Success: Celebrated French Chef Yann Bernard Lejard on Edible Art and Lessons Learned
MANAMA: It’s hard to believe that someone could have the same talent as a chef and as an artist. But the famous French chef Yann Bernard Lejard shows that it is possible.
Lejard, The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain’s Culinary, Food and Beverage Director, not only creates eye-catching presentations for his meals, but also decorates his plates with edible works of art. Yes, edible paints.
Lejard’s abstract art is often compared to that of Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock, among others. His culinary career first took off in his homeland and has so far taken him to more than 20 countries, including Singapore, China, Mexico, the Netherlands, India, the US, Ireland and Spain. He has worked in Michelin star restaurants and a host of luxury hotels. He was also a finalist for the prestigious Swiss Taittinger Culinary Grand Prix in 2003.
“I started in the worst restaurant you can imagine in the south of France, where they put the fish right into the fryer for tourists, and I went on to the best restaurants in Europe,” he tells Arab News.
Despite his success as a chef, however, Lejard was frustrated that he had to put aside his love of art for the sake of his culinary career.
“I wasn’t happy,” he says. “Although I love food, it is my passion to understand the ingredients, the sauce, the authenticity, I understood that, for me, cooking was not enough. My life was not this. My life was over. He was looking for an answer, because it was very boring ”.
That boredom was eased by his move to the Middle East. His first stop was Saudi Arabia, as executive chef of the award-winning restaurant Glow, where he became the first chef from the Kingdom to be ranked by UK food publication FOUR Magazine.
“When I first came to Saudi Arabia, I changed my way of thinking,” he says. “I found some kind of peace in the Middle East. I felt like I had to try to erase everything I had learned.”
He continues: “I was guided by a way of working, so I decided to remove everything. It was a long process, but I began to find joy in the work. 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 that I really associate myself with. I feel very committed and very loyal,” she explains.
Here, Lejard offers some culinary advice 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 some 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 to another, because I was not happy with the way they worked. But, it was in my head. It took me many years to find my conception of cooking. I need to have very strong and professional people around me in order to work. I’m always thinking of different ways to do things. I want to do what other people are not doing.
Q: What is your best advice for hobby chefs?
A: Be tough. 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 the guests to feel good, to feel comfortable. They need to feel genuine care.
Q: What is your favorite dish if you have to cook something fast?
A: I have a very strict diet. I am almost a vegetarian. So I would say tomato with olive oil, soy sauce and cilantro.
Q: What is the most difficult dish to get right?
A: Simplicity is hard. In each dish there is a trick. In each dish there is a specific way of doing it and there is the love and emotions that you put into it. Everyone may 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 brings warmth to your heart and reminds you of your childhood.
Q: As the boss, are you a disciplinarian? Or are you quite laid back?
A: I understood, after many years, that alone you are nothing. You need people around you. I try as much as I can not to play with the emotions of the people around me. Even if I do it sometimes, I see that I made a mistake. I like to have a calm work environment where everyone respects each other.
Q: When you go out to eat, do you find yourself criticizing 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 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 feedback about quality and bugs. In the kitchen you have to be extremely constant. When you cook with passion, you put a part of yourself into it. A mistake can happen, and this can hurt my feelings and my emotions. Now, I just keep going.