Philippe Labbe, Rising French Cooking Superstar, in Conversation with Geeta Bansal!

Categories: On the Line

Every week, Clay Oven Irvine executive chef/owner Geeta Bansal shares an interview that she's done with some of the heavyweights of European cooking. Today, she regales us with a conversation with French superstar Philippe Labbe. Enjoy!

Chef Philippe Labbe: The Cuisinier de L'Année, 2013
By Geeta Bansal, Executive Chef-Owner at Clay Oven Irvine

I am amazed when I come across people who have traveled to France and especially Paris who say they never had any memorable meals on their trip or end up visiting touristy restaurants. Even a café and a flaky croissant or a macaron from Ladurée can make a lasting memory. On the other end of the spectrum are restaurants where major talents are whipping up the most elegant, scrumptious meals for a once in a lifetime splurge. One chef whose cuisine can make that experience happen in Paris is chef Labbe who stands out in a city that houses a galaxy of culinary superstars.

Philippe Labbe: handsome, suave, articulate, and utterly charming. Like his cuisine, he makes a lasting impression on your palate and your mind. Chef Labbe has honed his craft at the finest kitchens in France to be where he is now and riding a wave of immense appreciation by Parisian diners and international visitors to the city of lights, Paris.

L'Abeille, Shangri-La, Paris

He earned the much-prized title awarded by Gault & Millau as the 'Cuisinier de la Annee' for the exceptional cuisine he creates and overseas at the three restaurants at the luxe Shangri-La hotel in Paris, France which include the famed L'Abeille restaurant with its five toques. The Gault-Millau is named after two journalists who conceived this guide and is especially respected and prized in the French gastronomic tradition. Chef Labbe's cuisine is precise yet emotive; he has been called a 'genius, with a constantly boiling imagination, a sculptor or chiseler of magical plates, a poet' etc. His food is certainly magical and meticulous and the title of Cuisinier of 2013 is well earned and deserved. This is a huge achievement that has landed him in the exclusive club of five toques.

Since 2010 the kitchens of the three restaurants at Shangri-La, as well as the room service and banquets are under his supervision. Chef Labbe has honed the cuisine of L'Abeille restaurant (the gastronomic restaurant at the hotel) that is located next to a private garden, with his signature style with precise, beautiful plates of the best seasonal produce. He constantly changes the menu at L'Abeille to follow the seasons and showcase produce with daring choices like duck foie gras coated with chocolate (yes, and it's damn good!) and beet root and mustard ice cream.

I became a fan of his food after enjoying a delicious menu once, planned around cherries which were in season at that time, accompanying foie-gras to various proteins, presenting the cherries in novel forms and combinations. In a lifetime of travel and dining escapades, the taste of that luxurious meal still lingers in my mouth.

Once, on a trip to Paris, I learned from my friend the concierge (participants in planning my gastronomic adventures and hence friends who want to know details of every meal I enjoy in the dining rooms of special chefs) that Chef Labbe had demenaged to Alpes-Maritime village of Eze to manage the kitchens at Chèvre d'Or. Eze and Saint Paul de Vence both medieval villages are two of my favorite locales in the Apline-Maritme region of Southern France. Eze is located between Nice and Monte Carlo and has spectacular views of the Mediterranean, Cap Ferat, Nice, and to the south, the principality of Monaco. Since I was going there in two weeks I set in motion plans for a rendezvous with Chef Labbe and his unforgettable food. By my next visit to France he was back again in Paris and of course a visit to Paris is incomplete without his exemplary cuisine.

Village of Eze

Philippe grew up in a food-centric family since his father was in the charcuterie sales business and the family had an affinity for fine dining restaurants. One spectacular meal at Hosten restaurant in Angers inspired him to go to culinary school in Strasbourg. Then he went on to train in the kitchens of Roger Verge, Bernard Loiseau in the South of France. The champagne country beckoned next and he worked his magic in the kitchens under Gerard Boyer, at Les Crayeres, Rheims (it held a spot on my husband's bucket list till a few years ago when he made it there but not when Labbe was there).

Then he moved his sights to the South of France and worked at Moulin de Mougins, (Julia Child visited there often when she lived in that part of France) and then in Cannes at Martinez and La Belle Otero. At Plaza Athenee where he arrived in 1996 to assist Eric Briffard, he made a lot of Parisian fans until he moved to head the kitchen at Chèvre d'Or. He spent seven years there, earning the restaurant critical acclaim and two Michelin stars. It was 2010 when Paris and the Shangri-La beckoned, and he moved back to the city.

Le Foie Gras de Canard

You are in an area of the world with the most formidable culinary talent including you. What differentiates you from the other chefs?
I like to take risks, and delight guests with surprising blends. Some might say that my cuisine is daring!

You have been named Cuisinier de L'Annee du guide Gault et Millau in 2012. What is the next goal you would like to accomplish?
The coveted 3rd Michelin star. My team and I are all working towards this goal.

Most of the young chefs these days are opting for a casual dining room. What do you think of this trend?
I say, to each his own. The culinary landscape would not be interesting if we were all doing the same thing, so I think it is refreshing that young chefs are trying out new things.

Do you like to be part of gastronomic conferences and meetings?
Yes, definitely! It is important to know the happenings of the gastronomic world

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