Yann Bernard Lejard, Executive Chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, explains the art, creativity and emotional investment behind his stunning dishes.
You started out in street art, how did that segue into cooking?
Art attracts me like a magnet. From an early age, I was passionate about all kinds of artwork. My grandparents owned a private art collection, thus I was always admiring sculptures and canvases from renowned masters. This time influenced my sensibility undeniably and gave me a certain regard and consciousness for creativity. Street art came naturally and became a mechanism of expression. It stimulated me early to identify the direction of my work.
Earlier on, the direction was to astonish observers with an intriguing optical satisfaction, but the visual jolt of street art and coded messages hidden in street artwork was also going to reflect in food; a message must come from my work. Pioneering the philosophical process, progress and result, I express cooking and plating as if we exist, along with our joy and our emotions. The use of single or multiple vibrant colours follows the lines of breathing. I am expressing life and the way we live it.
When did you first step into a kitchen professionally and what are your recollections of your training?
I entered a professional culinary environment at 15 years old, in a Michelin-starred restaurant in the south of France. I was at the same time studying at a famous ecole hôtelière for my first culinary grade. As far as I can remember, the discovery of reality [of the kitchen] was a one-of-a-kind experience. The learning process in school was amazing, I still have in my mind the first days in the kitchen as a first-year student, with the third-year students slicing an entire fresh salmon, preparing fumet, sauces, and garniture. It was a wonderful universe opening in front of me. What a rich learning process given to a young man. Additionally, from the precise cooking technical skills learned in a kitchen, we were also able to learn all the classical repertory of the French Haute Cuisine and pastry in the technological course. I received an intense, complete knowledge combined with theoretical teaching covering most of the contemporary food and beverage sciences.
What do you find the most challenging and most enjoyable parts of your current role?
If we are to identify the most challenging part of my current role, we need to speak for the present and take into consideration the unexpected and unprecedented situation that the world is going through. I can say proudly that in every challenge lies opportunity, concretely I see the hope of reimagining our work, rethinking our way of operating, redefining our vision of excellence. More than ever, we need in this time to reposition our relations with our guests, we need to understand the emerging trends, and pursue them to inspire life’s most meaningful journeys. The joy in my current role is coming from the satisfaction and happiness of the Ladies and Gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton, the relationship that we have built between us and that helps us to provide the finest personal service for our guests. The most enjoyable part of my work is undeniably to see the satisfaction of my team.
Can you share with us your signature dish or style and explain what makes it so special to you?
My inspiration is the essence of my artistic expression. I have defined the extreme situation and stressful moments that build in me the capacity for finding the imaginative location of my unsuspected, instinctive knowledge, where my passion and desire for cooking come to life.
I define a worldwide culinary art movement, where the guilty pleasure of eating meets the emotional visual sensation. I, as a precursor, undertake the responsibility to define and create a style, a unique vision, as it is my only purpose in my culinary passage. The style distinguishes itself by the intolerance of my subconscious that allows the freedom of the movement, the intensity of the colours; the visuals are meaningful and the taste is memorable. In the quest for infinite beauty and flavour ecstasy, where the signification and interpretation of cooking are subjective, my signature is always unexpected! ✤