An interview with Chef Alain le Crossec for La Voix de Lyon

photo of Chef Alain le Crossec

Subject: Alain le Crossec - Chef, Professor Ecole des Arts Culinaires et de l'Hotellerie
Interviewer: Susan Templin
Transcriber: Patrick Hammerlund

The segments included in this interview excerpt were recorded during October, 2002 for a travel documentary on the city of Lyon, France calledLa Voix de Lyon. Alain Le Crossec is an award-winning French chef who teaches in Lyon at the famed "Ecole des Arts Culinaires et de l'Hotellerie."

Alain's interview was conducted in the kitchen of the school/restaurant while others were hard at work around him in preparation for the evening's dinner service. Our crew dined that evening on venison and mashed potatoes that can only be described as heavenly. The documentary is a production of The Duncan Entertainment Group.

What is the significance of the taller hat and the different collar that you wear?
My hat is tallest because in the kitchen, we have to be able to recognize the chef very quickly. In the kitchen, each rank is denoted by different height of the hats worn. An apprentice will wear a little cap, the helpers will have a quarter hat, a sous-chef will have a half hat, and it goes up the grade with the chef having the tallest hat. And my blue, white and red collar is from a contest that I entered in 1991 for the best chef in France and I won best chef in France.

What does this kitchen represent since it is not a normal kitchen like one in a restaurant?
Ok, this is called the Cuisine Saison (seasonal kitchen) because it serves people during the season, it is open during the season. It is a kitchen that is open to the public, that is so that the student can find themselves in a real-life situation. If you come to this kitchen, you will see a Carte, a menu, and people come here to eat. Therefore it is like in a real brigade in a kitchen. The professor will play the role of the chef, the 2nd year students will be the section chefs, and the first year students will be the helpers. All of them form the team. So, the students will find themselves in an apprentice situation, which is exactly like in a real restaurant situation.

Could you talk about the balance between being a creative chef and a good kitchen manager?
In a kitchen, in a restaurant, there is always the side of profitability that is important. It's true that you cannot open a restaurant just to make yourself happy, and after three months there isn't any money left and you have to close. Therefore, the management side of it is very important. On the other hand, one must not kill creativity because the creativity is what valorizes the simple products and transforms them. How one transforms the products how one harmonizes them with others, this is creativity. Creativity is important because the clients are looking for creativity, nevertheless a restaurant must be profitable.

Creativity does not come immediately, I think, before you are the master of your work. That is to say, if you become creative too early, you may possibly make many mistakes. One must first master the job, then create. Many have tried to become creative without mastering the basics and that generally does not work. We try to explain to them the creative aspect by showing them different things. We also allow them to express themselves in labs where they are allowed to create their own recipes.

You are the chef in the kitchen, how do you manage the personnel?
The chef must be authoritative, but he also wants to give explanations and direct. If one doesn't show authority, the work doesn't go on and the client is not served. But I especially want them to learn about the job, to understand it, and to give them an appreciation of it.

Why is French cuisine considered some of the best in the world?
I think that French cuisine has the reputation of being one of the best in the world because it has a long history. It has existed for a long time. It was one of the first cuisine's that was actually written down and codified and known throughout the world. We are lucky enough to have just about all of the variety of produce and many chefs, so cooking is very developed in France. But, be careful. Right now, many forms of cuisine are becoming very good, so I think that French chefs should be careful to try to improve their cooking to make it very, very good.

What criteria do you use when you select the products?
What criteria do I look for? Well, let's take fish for example. I look for example for the criteria of freshness, not necessarily the most expensive, and what will make a good match for the vegetable that is in season. Concerning vegetables for example, freshness is very important, the most important thing, but also, vegetables that are in season. For example, tomatoes, now that it's winter, I will not work much with tomatoes because they are not in season. It's the season of mushrooms now so I can buy Sep and Gerole. Oh, and as far as meat is concerned, you must be confident and sure of your butcher. Be sure of the quality and if possible get controlled appellations such as Lyon-puyach or a Charole. And as far as cheeses are concerned you must have the best suppliers on the market. Then you're sure to have the most refined cheeses of the region.