Warmly greeting each other and wiping the mounting perspiration from my forehead (how do the chefs ever do it?) and finally grabbing one of my promised glasses of champagne I sit down with Chef Tony Esnault and pose this gastronomical heavy weight a series of questions.
SCV: You come from exceptional culinary lineage, can you be so bold as to tell us how this all came about?
TE: I always knew as a young boy I wanted to be a chef, growing up in the country, my grandparent’s farm in the LOIRE Valley, and from there enrolling at the François Rabelais Ecole, and then to be fortunate to meet and work with Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo, and then to go with him to Japan and Brazil before I came to the Essex House and then Adour at the St.Regis Hotel. More important I always knew I wanted to come to America and of course I finally came.
SCV: I’m curious of the perception of the chef as a ‘star.’
TE: Well I think in the US, it’s true you can become a famous celebrity chef with all the TV shows, which I don’t think really happens in Europe and of course you can become a cuisine restaurant chef where you become famous for whom you serve and the way you cook.
SCV: Oscar Wilde once said the mark of a good review is not just receiving good reviews but also bad reviews, what do you think?
TE: Yes, I think it is very true. Not everyone has similar tastes, people will always have certain preferences and styles and so it leaves room for people to make many judgments.
SCV: What is your underlying philosophy when it comes to cooking?
TE: For me I never want to complicate the flavors. Always no more than three flavors, I want you to remember what you had, if you try to bring too much to the palette the palette will revolt. It’s only natural. For instance tonight we are serving halibut, artichoke and truffle for the main, and you can serve this fried, with juis or puree variation.
SCV: What do you advise new chefs?
TE: Ahh, well they must observe, this is the number one criterion. Then they must keep quiet, be very disciplined, organized and very clean and of course have the passion to succeed.
SCV: How do you know if a new chef has passion?
TE: It’s in their eyes, their focus, commitment and of course they are never sloppy.
SCV: Are you married?
TE: Yes, I have 2 boys, a two year old and a five year old.
SCV: And who cooks at home?
TE: My wife. I like the way she cooks and in fact I prefer not to cook at home.
SCV: What are some of your favorite foods?
TE: I very much like my raw, organic vegetables, I really like to pay attention to the ingredients.
SCV: Finally shall we have some more champagne?
TE: Yes, a little, why not?
From there it was a sneak to the culinary chambers below where Chef Payard was gracious enough to feed us a sampling of the tomato mouse puree with basil (I suspect one of Chef Tony’s favorite recipes), endive and crab salad (once again the three maximum ingredient quotient).
From there it was another bottle of champagne and a quick jaunt to the consulate’s resident chef’s chambers (Stephan Verdille) on the fifth floor (where I was told was only ever used by the Consulate General himself whenever he was in town and his guests) where we discussed all matters of the American cuisine (the increasing difficulty to find organic fresh produce which makes a nice crisp sound when you break it in half), the semantics of guests who often come and go, the preferred culinary habits of certain private clientele and how in fact Istanbul although a vibrant city wasn’t really architecturally appealing as what he’s anticipated but as for the food- it was quite divine.
Special thanks also to Guilarme, the Consulate’s Press attaché for providing us with a splendid evening, even if he did just run out of Gauloise Blondes…