Her culinary career reads like a season of Chef’s Table and yet Ottawa-born Chef Emmanuelle Leftick has never lost sight of the important things: hard work, great friends and knowing when to slow down.
Recently, as part of her North American tour, she returned home to Ottawa and made a tempting feast for 24 guests at DiVino Wine Studio. On the menu for the evening were sixteen courses offered by a tutored hand and a chance to engage the chef on her favourite topic, food. A once in a lifetime night for guests and a homecoming supper the 29-year-old won’t soon forget.
“[The evening had] a family dinner feeling, which I thought was refreshing and different. I’d never been invited to interact with other guests before,” explains guest Marlene Sadler. “I’d describe Chef Emmanuelle’s cuisine as a blend of fusion, molecular and nouvelle, yet with a twist from the ‘haute’ cuisine. It was fun observing the preparation.”
Guest Francine Chabot-Plante describes the evening as “nothing like anything I’ve experienced in Ottawa so far. Every dish had something unexpected. Like a memorable concert, it was flawless.”
We caught up with the ambitious young chef this week while she travelled from San Francisco to Greece.
The next time you are considering a new position ask yourself if you feel a little “scared” of taking on that task. If you are, take it! If not, you are wasting your time.
Apt613: You hosted a pop-up dinner here in Ottawa at DiVino Wine Studio recently, how was the evening?
Chef Emmanuelle: I am very pleased with how the evening in Ottawa went! From creating the menu, elaborating the marketing for the event and then having our car break down on our way to Ottawa it was a very exciting project. I had a lot of fun putting it together!
What has been the response since your pop-up tasting menu?
The response to the evening has been very positive! I feel really grateful for all the support we were greeted with. We have had a great follow up and I may potentially do another event!
You have demonstrated your work ethic in the food world, where does your drive come from?
It is rare to find a passion that you truly feel so committed to at a young age. Having such a strong attachment to food in my early years has allowed me to have a clear vision of the path I wanted to follow. Essentially, I have to say my drive comes from loving what I do!
When working with chefs such as Susur Lee, Michel Troisgros, Adria Ferran (El Bulli) and Thomas Keller (French Laundry), what have you learned about what it takes to direct a restaurant at that level?
Working with such Chefs has been very illuminating for me. A common ground they all share and I learned is dedication. The amount of diligence, commitment and perseverance is crucial to running a restaurant of their level!
What are some of your favourite flavour combinations?
Funny question. When I was at the French Laundry apparently I always wanted to do this combination of endive, green grape, marcona almonds, verjus, cilantro and chili.
When Benu opened there was a scallop dish that was called Scallop Emmanuelle. I felt a little embarrassed and uncomfortable because I thought it was a classical dish I had never heard of!
Only a few months later I was found out it was based on my “obsession” of that combination at the French Laundry.
Everybody was shocked it had taken me so long to realize! I felt very silly!
When managing a kitchen, what is your approach?
I like to have a very hands on approach.
Cooking is such a unique job that combines so many different skills. You tend to forget that there is a lot more going on than cooking. It requires a lot of organisation, researching,….. and even cleaning and ALL are equally important assets!
If you are a great cook but not willing to clean you are not going to go very far!
When eating out, what do you look for in a place?
I look for a place where I will have great food and have fun. As much as I have worked in fine dining I very much enjoy casual restaurants.
What advice do you have for chefs just starting out who dream of the kitchens you have worked in?
Make sure you are sure and start young! It’s a beautiful fulfilling career if you truly love it. The next time you are considering a new position ask yourself if you feel a little “scared” of taking on that task. If you are take it! If not, you are wasting your time.
Many of your mentors such as Adria Ferran and Thomas Keller have books for the home cook, outlining simple dishes with proper technique. How do you make your culinary delights accessible to the foodies of the world?
I really appreciate this style of books. At the end of the day it is important to remember that food is food! Whether you are cooking at a 3 Michelin Star level or at home there are so many exciting “culinary delights” that can be tailored to any pedigree of cook.
I think the most challenging aspect for home cooks is that they seem to feel intimidated by the recipes! Maybe the first step is to put aside all the doubts about one’s own cooking skills and just do it! I truly believe people would be surprised by how well they can achieve a final product!
I like to remind people that food can be so simple and tasty!
You’ve spoken about the importance of clarity of flavour, how do we focus on this as home cooks?
I think it is best to work with a few great ingredients and concentrate on highlighting them. Less is more.
When you cook at home, what is your favourite simple recipe? Could you share it with us?
My favourite recipe is Fideua. Fideua is a dish I discovered during my time in Spain. This Valencian dish could be compared to a Paella but instead of rice it is toasted pasta! It does have several steps but many of them can be modified to your preferences.
It’s a great fun dish that I love making at home for friends!