'Never give up. Stay with your passion and do what you love to do,' is advice that Chef Sébastien Lefort gave us. He is currently the Director of Craft, Service Excellence and Partnerships in At-Sunrice, where he focuses on nurturing students, establishing commercial incubator for outstanding young culinary talent and helps build a strong relationship with the academy’s extensive network of commercial partners.
After completing his education in culinary arts in 1997, Chef Sébastien apprenticed under mentor chefs at top hotels and resorts in Paris, Lyon and Maulevrier in France, London, Bora Bora, San Diego and Monaco, before moving to Tokyo where he helmed the kitchen of Restaurant Twenty-One in the Hilton Hotel and was responsible, together with consultant chef Stephane Gaborieau, for winning it two Michelin stars in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Yannick Alleno Group to work with the legendary chef, and over the course of four years, opened restaurants for the Group in Morocco, Dubai, Taiwan and ultimately the Restaurant 1947 in the Hotel Cheval Blanc Courchevel in France. In his four years of working as the right hand of Chef Yannick Alleno, he helped the Group win five more Michelin stars for two of its restaurants.
We had a chance to speak to him about his career, inspirations and more.
1) What is your favourite restaurant world wide?
West: Alleno Paris au Pavillion Ledoyen – Paris, France
East: New Ubin Seafood, Singapore
2) Anything on your restaurant bucket list?
Eleven Madison Park – New York, USA
Ultra violet – shanghai, China
3) What inspires you daily?
I love to travel. When I travel, I will search and try the local signature dishes in every country I go. Understanding the local culture and checking out the local ingredients inspires me to create new recipes. To dream up new dishes, or just to keep cooking, chefs have to find ways to bolster their creativity.
4) 5 ingredients you can’t live without?
Salt and butter is a must for every dish I cook. Why only salt and butter? My style of cooking is to use minimum ingredients but live up the original taste of the main ingredients used for the dish. Lastly, you must have love and passion.
5) Over your career, where has been your favourite place to work and live so far?
Favourite place to work: Monte Carlo
Why in Monte Carlo? I worked in Louis XV by Alain Ducasse many years back. We get the best products and ingredients from France & Italy.
Favourite place to live: South France
In south of France, the weather is cool, close to the sea and mountain. It’s the best place to enjoy summer and winter. A cool place to live. Living in the south of France is a dream for many northern Europeans and for people from all over the world. There are many areas in France that appeal to foreigners, and deservedly so, but the French Riviera has a special appeal. The abundance of sunshine, the Mediterranean climate and lifestyle, its stunning natural beauty, rich history and the many opportunities for a wide range of outdoor activities gives a superb quality of life.
6) Were there specific lessons that you have learned that have brought you to where you are today?
My father always told me, you can’t be successful without working hard and smart. In my past career life with Yannick Alleno, he often advised me to always taste my own dish and get critics from the peers. Always put ourselves in the customer’s shoe and how the new dish that created will have a wow factor for the customers. Another lesson that I learnt was from Paul Bocuse. Many chefs love to decorate their dish with lots of greens and flowers. What he has taught me is don’t put any herbs unnecessarily. Only use herbs that can bring an extra taste to the dish and not just for the sake of decorating it but to also make sure it is edible as well. A chef is not meant to be a gardener, I prefer to focus on the right seasoning and right cooking technique.
7) How did you decide to get into teaching and mentoring students? Has there been anything from this experience which has taught you a lesson or something about your career?
Having worked in the industry for so many years, I’ve seen many young aspiring chefs out there who still lack the needed knowledge and right skills. Perhaps, due to the live TV shows, many of them think that being a chef is glamorous. They think that by being good looking and being able to talk well is good enough.
Hence, I decided to teach the young aspiring chefs, to share my passion and the love of the produce (the use of right ingredients) and the right skills set required in the kitchen. Furthermore, I used to live in country side back in France where I dealt with lots of fresh ingredients but today, we can’t find fresh ingredients easily compare to 20 years ago. The agricultural industry has changed the way they grow vegetables and right now, we need to be educated in cooking with fresh and natural ingredients as it is very important that we stop relying on artificial products.
Young generation chefs these days are different as well. We can’t expect them to understand the instructions given to them once. Due to cultural differences and background differences, my style of teaching is always to ask the student to repeat after my lecture to ensure that they understood and are able to follow the right steps.
8) What is the best advice you have ever gotten?
Never give up. Stay with your passion and do what you love to do.