ALAIN DUCASSE AT THE ESSEX HOUSE | New York
Born in the small town of Saumur in France’s Loire
Valley, Tony Esnault sharpened his culinary palate as a boy, eating
fruits and vegetables from his grandparents’ farm. Among his
earliest memories was the excellent cooking of his grandmother,
which in turn inspired his love of cuisine and appreciation for
the finest ingredients.
As a young man, Esnault sought professional training
at the François Rabelais culinary school, then began his
restaurant career in 1990 at Paris’ one-Michelin-star Le
Montparnasse 25 in the Le Meridien Montparnasse Hotel. In 1993,
he moved to the two-Michelin-star Carré des Feuillants
in Paris, and then to the three-Michelin-star Auberge de L’Ill
in Alsace. In 1996, Esnault began working with Alain Ducasse
at the renowned Louis XV Alain Ducasse Restaurant in Monte Carlo,
where he worked for three years. In addition to his duties in this
three-Michelin-star kitchen, Esnault traveled with and assisted
Mr. Ducasse at gala dinners from Japan to Brazil.
Over the last six years, Esnault has worked as sous
chef at The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco until 2002, and then as the
executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton Boston. In Boston, he successfully
reinvented The Dining Room upon its reopening in 2002,
creating innovative seasonal and holiday menus, wine dinners, and
truffle dinners for the hotel restaurant. Among the many accolades
he earned while there, in 2004 Food & Wine magazine
awarded Esnault “Best Hotel Chef of America,” and his
cuisine won the restaurant four AAA Diamonds in 2004 and four Mobil
Stars in 2005.
Esnault was appointed executive chef at Alain
Ducasse at the Essex House in New York City in May 2005. In
addition to being named a Rising Star by StarChefs.com for his innovative
and elegant French-American cuisine there, Chef Esnault contributed
to the restaurant’s three-star rating in Michelin’s
inaugural New York City Guide in 2006.
AB: Did you attend culinary
school? Would you recommend it to young aspiring cooks?
TE: Yes, I went to school in
Lyon for four years, which taught me about the basics and gave me
a good foundation of technique. I would definitely recommend culinary
school; after you learn the technique and traditions, you can start
to experiment and become more innovative.
AB: Who are your
mentors? What are some of the most important things they taught
TE: Alain Ducasse, first and
foremost, taught me how to maintain flavors without transforming
the product too much. I don’t ever mix more than three ingredients
in one single dish.
Sylvain Portay. I worked with him at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco.
He is like a father to me and taught me about the American sensibility.
AB: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
TE: Consistency from the kitchen
to the dining room.
AB: Are there any secret ingredients
that you especially like?
TE: I have no secret ingredients.
To help my team learn a little more every day.
AB: What flavor combinations
do you favor?
TE: I like tomato, truffle,
and basil- the peppery side of basil combined with the acidity of
the tomato, and the richness of the truffle.
AB: What is your most indispensable
TE: My team, both front and
back of the house.
AB: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
TE: I like to finish red vegetables
in a little bit of vinegar, like beets, or radishes. It preserves
and intensifies the color.
AB: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
TE: “What are your goals?”
I want to see if they have a larger commitment for the future. I
look directly in their eyes to see if they have the ambition and
drive to work 12 or 13 hours a day in a very demanding environment.
AB: What tips would you offer
young cooks just getting started?
TE: I’d tell them to
observe, first and foremost. I believe that it’s very important
when you’re starting out to keep a low profile. It’s
like life. The first step is observation. And also, you must always
anticipate the effect of your actions, and always ask questions
if you do not understand why.
AB: What are your favorite
TE: I like Escoffier for all
the basics and of course Alain Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisine
series !! I also love antique cookbooks.
AB: What cities do you favor
for culinary travel?
TE: I love what the 5 boroughs
New York have to offer; you can get every type of ethnic food here,
and there is so much energy!
AB: What are your favorite
restaurants off the beaten path in New York?
TE: It would be difficult to
only name a few.
AB: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
TE: Definitely an orientation
towards ingredient sourcing as the consciousness and the interest
for the product becomes today even more important going hand in
hand with the issue of biodiversity. We need to pay greater attention
to how varieties of species are preserved and consider the entire
chain, from the producer to the client.
AB: Where do you see yourself
in five years? In ten years?
TE: Next to Alain Ducasse as
I have already learned so much from him in Monaco and now New York.
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