Interview with Chef Jeremy Lieb of Le Cirque - Las Vegas, NV

September, 2005

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Jeremy Lieb: I’ve never found anything I liked better. I started as a dishwasher in high school. One day a cook didn’t show up and I got put on the line. I got such a rush, there was no turning back.

AB: Why did you choose to attend culinary school at the Milwaukee Area Technical College in Wisconsin? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
JL: My parents would pay a certain amount for me to go to school. I would not recommend culinary school today. A job first is much more important. I would almost hire somebody with no experience than hire a culinary grad. I do use externs and hire them after. I prefer to get them at the beginning of their schooling as opposed to the end because they think they know too much.

AB: Can you talk about your mentors, such as working under Daniel Boulud?
JL: I got a job at Maisonette in Ohio and was a sous chef at a Mobil 5-Star restaurant. The big takeaway was learning respect for food. Then I went to Daniel and got taken down a notch to cook. I got my tail whooped. Not many cooks last longer than 6 to 9 months. You have to prepare yourself mentally to get through the day. You work from 7am to 1am. I was scared of Alex (Lee). Then I became addicted and I couldn’t do anything else but strive for success. Daniel took me under his wing. I worked on the cookbook, opened up Café Boulud, and then the new Daniel.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
JL: My food is really simple. I like celery leaves – it’s so fresh and you can use it with lots of different dishes.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
JL: My knife is very, very important. I have handmade Nenox knives from Japan. The knife maker is now deceased. I call my knife the Red Violin. I really think knives have a personality. There’s an ancient Japanese story about a sword and a sword maker. The sword salivates for the blood of an enemy. My knife salivates to cut the vegetables. It must be very sharp. If you respect what you use it’s going to treat you well.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way? Please describe.
JL: I like to utilize everything. Like white asparagus – I’ll use the tips, the stems, the trimmings. You get a lot out of vegetables and meat. I feel bad if I waste anything.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
JL: In order to be great at what you do, you have to have it here (head), her (heart) and here (hands). I start a conversation about their life and food in order to determine where their head and heart are.

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
JL: Go find the best restaurant you can and do whatever you can to get your foot in the door.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
JL: I love LaRousse. Also On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Ducasse – La Livre. I can’t keep up with what’s going on in the industry.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
JL: Spain, not necessarily El Bulli. I want to go to the small towns and eat what the locals eat. The coast, the farms, the fish. I’d like to work in a good Spanish restaurant with some classical influence.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants in your city?
JL: Pearl and Joyful House for Chinese. The Chinese food in Las Vegas is Hong Kong style.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
JL: Construction of small plates, where you order like in a Chinese or Japanese restaurant.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
JL: Owning my own restaurant, controlling my fate. I must be able to cook good food and be able to do the food I want to do. It could be a small restaurant anywhere, hopefully one that imprints lasting memories on guests.