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Interview with French Chef Stéphanie Le Quellec

When Resorts World Sentosa told So Chic last month that celebrity French Chef Stéphanie Le Quellec would be cooking for CURATE restaurant in Singapore, we couldn’t resist to go there and meet with her! In collaboration with Chef Benjamin Halat, Chef Le Quellec welcomed us with an exquisite 4- hand menu in an exquisite scenery. Taking 15 minutes of her break, she answered our questions with the franc parler (bluntness) and authenticity that are so special to her. Here’s what she said about her journey as a Chef, her cuisine inspirations, her values, and her family. Of course, we had to ask about her experience at Top Chef (cooking competition aired on TV) and her encounter with French President Emmanuel Macron too!

What first inspired you to become a chef?

It was probably my family. We’ve always been used to eat well, we’ve always had the culture de la table (table culture). My mother and my grandmother cook really really well, so I grew up in the values of sharing, of bien-vivre (living well) and of bien-mangé (eating well). That’s what pushed me to become a chef when I was only a small girl.

Could you tell us briefly your journey as a chef?

I started my journey at a Hospitality Management School when I was very young (14 years old). In order to learn the art of cooking, I had a lot of internships in small maisons (houses) especially maisons on the French Riviera. At 19 I entered my first big restaurant at the George V in Paris as a kitchen help, then I became demi-chef de partie and chef de partie. It’s at the George V that I met my husband. Then we went on the the French Riviera for the opening of the Four Seasons. I stayed in this restaurant for 6 years as the sous-chef of Philippe Jourdain. In those 6 years we earned 2 Michelin Stars.
Then came the Top Chef experience, a cooking competition that I won.

Most people know you from Top Chef, what did it bring you?

It brought me confidence in myself. I used to be very shy and all the mediatisation surrounding Top Chef revealed me a kind of confidence that I didn’t know I had. It didn’t bring me much regarding my cooking, however, it was an important stage in my career as a Chef. I went into this competition seeing myself as a humble sous-chef and I went out of this competition with the will to show and claim my cuisine. In a way, it helped to disinhibit myself!

I went into this competition seeing myself as a humble sous-chef and I went out with the will to show and claim my cuisine.

How would you describe your cuisine?

I think that we cook as we are, our cuisine is what we are. I am rather frank, sincere and simple so my cuisine has the same personality; frank, straight to the point, sincere with distinctive tastes.

It is built on classics and fundamentals and I strongly believe that the first step to become a chef is to master classic cuisine. If you want to produce a creative cuisine, you have to know your classics perfectly.

When people talk about your cuisine, they often refer to French modern-haute cuisine, what does it mean?

I think it means that I value French tradition while trying to make it mine. I want to give a contemporary touch to classic cuisine, I want to desacralise and dust-off classic French cuisine.

What is the philosophy behind your cuisine?

Sharing. For me, the dining table is all about sharing, that’s my philosophy when I cook. Moments of eating should be moments of sharing. That’s why I reflect a lot on ways for people to share their food when they come to my restaurant. For example, our appetizers are not individuals, they are served in a plate for everyone to eat. And I would rather serve a piece of foie-gras or a big-size bread that we can cut in front of the client instead of small pieces. Sharing is essential and that’s a value I try to keep in mind when I cook.

Moments of eating should be moments of sharing.

Is there anyone that you would see as your mentor?

There are a lot of grand chefs that I admire. Jean-François Piège for example is, according to me, one of the most admirable chefs in France, and maybe even in the world. He is a monster of culture and of technical intelligence.

About Art at Curate, could you tell us about the menu you created?

Chef Benjamin and I created a 4-hand menu. I choose to present distinctive tastes that I like to combine in my kitchen in Paris while respecting Singaporeans’ taste. So, we’ll propose a half-cooked salmon with its buckwheat-vanilla as well as a ravioli lobster with a really light sauce (that’s a dish that I like a lot). You’ll also find a mango duck with timut pepper, a tuna marinated with an eggplant cold soup and a dessert of raspberry and pavlova meringue. All the dishes are really simple and perfectly executed.

How is your experience in Singapore so far?

I already went to Singapore before so this time is a comeback for me. It’s only the first day but I already want to go for a walk to taste all the local street food and I really want to discover the local markets.

You’ve been involved in all the aspects of your restaurant la Scène in Paris, from the architecture to the menu, what do you want to show through this restaurant?

Yes exactly, I had the chance to arrive at the restaurant one year before its opening so I had time to reflect on its concept and especially on the open kitchen. In Asia you see it quite often but not in France and even less in luxury hotels. My objective was to desacralise luxury hotels’ gastronomy, to make it simpler, more accessible, more casual so that there is a sense of sharing. Showing our clients how we cook for them, that’s my way of sharing something with them. That’s really the print that I wanted to give to the Prince de Galle in order to desacralise fancy hotels’ gastronomy.

You had the opportunity to have a lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron, how was it?

I was very happy and honoured to meet him. I think that today, we have a president who gives a really good image of France, the image of a fresh and positive France that progresses. In fact, Mr Macron is someone who is really interested in manual crafts, he has a lot of respect for them, and he knows a lot about them I think he was really happy to receive us (we were a lot of chefs), we exchanged really simply about the future of our field and he was very attentive. That’s something that caught my attention, how attentive he was to what we were saying.

I also ate two times with Brigitte Macron, and again, our conversations were really simple and sincere. We had quite a lot of conversations, women conversations…

Talking about women, is it a challenge to work in a field that is still rather masculine?

I’ve never had issue with that because I have a strong personality and I’m really straight-forward. But it’s true that today, very few women can make it here, so I’m proud to be part of the 10-15 respected women with a Michelin Star. What I am also very proud of is the balance I found between my career and my private life as a mother of 3 children. I think it’s kind of an achievement and today I have to say that I find my life rather perfect

How did you achieve this balance?

Organisation. (laugh)

And what do you cook when you go back home?

Very simple dishes. I take one very good product and I cook a simple dish with it. My children love meat and they love when the food is simple but still well done.

Could you guide us through your favourite restaurants in France that you would like to share with our audience?

So first I’ll talk about one of Jean François Piège’s restaurant, not the gastronomic one but the Clover Grill which is a restaurant specialised in meats, exceptional meats cooked with an exceptional technique. There is also the Dersou that I like a lot and Tku Sekine… I love this boy, the pairings dishes and cocktails are incredible, it’s a table I like to do a lot. Then there is Roco, an Italian pizza that I love.
I also have cocktails bar addresses: Little red door for example, the Moonshiner too. I love cocktails, I’m a big fan of them.
Oh and there’s also quite a recent restaurant called Boulom which stands for Boulangerie où l’on mange (Bakery where we eat). It’s like a restaurant-speakeasy, during the day it is bakery where you buy cakes etc… and in the evening the bakery becomes a bar. You have a restaurant hidden behind with an incredible buffet full of fresh products.

What advice do you have for any aspiring chef?

You have to be passionate, work very hard and never give up. Always pursue your objectives, be patient and the work will pay.

You have to be passionate, work very hard and never give up. Always pursue your objectives, be patient and the work will pay.
Stéphanie Le Quellec
French Shopping, Dining & Lifestyle guide in Singapore