The French chef de cuisine at Pierre, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, talks about working with the best in the business, his favourite ingredients and creating a culinary experience

Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras

Chef Jean-Denis Le Bras

Jean-Denis Le Bras is the chef de cuisine at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong’s two-Michelin-starred signature restaurant, Pierre. At the age of 37, he already has 18 years of experience in leading restaurants around the world, honing his culinary skills alongside the celebrated Pierre Gagnaire. Le Bras worked with Gagnaire at Sketch in London (where he was head chef and helped take the restaurant from one to two Michelin stars), as well as at the François Plantation in St Barts, the Caribbean, and at the three-Michelin-starred Le Balzac in Paris. Here, we ask Le Bras about his inspirations and culinary philosophy.

What is your guilty food pleasure?
I can’t resist dark chocolate.

What are your top three ingredients?
I like cooking with buckwheat seeds as they give a good, crunchy and original taste to raw fish. I also like using seaweed with fish and vegetables. My third favourite ingredient would be Amontillado wine – just a drop to finish a sauce.

What inspires you?
I find my inspiration when travelling: discovering new ingredients and flavours, and meeting new people.

Which chef has inspired you the most and why?
Chef Pierre Gagnaire, for his creativity and strong personality. I have worked with him for several years – he has definitely inspired me and taught me a lot.

Can you sum up your philosophy on eating?
A moment of conviviality and sharing.

How has your cooking style evolved over the years?
My cooking has become purer and healthier. I like to look for authentic products.

What is your most memorable meal?
I’m not sure I would call it the best meal I have ever had, but a really memorable moment was when I was travelling with my family in Vietnam. We had this amazing fish dish called cha ca la vong. The fish was cooked with lots of local herbs and nuts, and served with rice vermicelli. It was one of the best dishes I have had in Asia. I also remember an amazing tofu I had in Kyoto, Japan.

Who is your toughest critic?
Honestly, I am my toughest critic! I always try to do the very best with my cooking.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and what would you serve them?
I am a fan of music so I would invite three musicians: Dominique A, a French singer; the composer Phillip Glass, and Serge Gainsbourg. I would serve them a platter of seafood from Brittany where I come from, so I could spend less time in the kitchen and more time with them!

Serge Gainsbourg, one of Le Bras’ favourite musicians

Serge Gainsbourg, one of Le Bras’ favourite musicians

What advice would you offer to a young chef who has just started in the industry?
Try to work with the best chefs and in the best hotels. Travel to learn new techniques from all over the world.

With your cooking, do you find yourself following trends or adapting to the demands of customers?
I try my best to make the customer happy and I want them to have an unforgettable experience when they dine at Pierre, but I won’t compromise my style, integrity or personality.

Regarding sustainability and the environment, is there any produce that you do not serve?
Of course I am very concerned about sustainable produce, especially when it comes to fish. We use sustainable and line-caught fish at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

How do you manage your work/life balance?
Obviously I would love to spend more time with my wife and 20-month-old daughter. But my wife knows that with my work you don’t count the hours and stay from 9 to 5; it’s a job of passion.

The Perfume of Earth dish

The Perfume of Earth dish

How do you create an ‘experience’ for the guest?
One of our dishes is called ‘Perfume of Earth’. All of the products for this come from the earth and we smoke them with hay in front of the guest in the dining room. In this way, diners have a wonderful and complete culinary experience, which allows them to smell, see and get a foretaste of what they will eat later.

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