“So that night, covered in cocoa powder, I learned how to make classics like Sole Meunière, and Pike Quenelles in Lobster Sauce.” —Chef de Cuisine Yvan Lemoine
Chef de Cuisine, Tao Group (Dream Hotel Downtown, Bodega Negra, PHD, Electric Room, Dream Beach), New York, NY
Yvan Lemoine thought he found his true calling in the pastry kitchen. Then, an epiphany: he realized what he really loved was to compose recipes and transform simple, delicious ingredients into accomplished dishes. While on his way to becoming an insider in the food and beverage world, he has earned quite a few other titles besides ‘chef’, including mixologist, cookbook author, Food Network star, and scholarship winner of the 2015 C-CAP/Daniel Boulud Scholarship to Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, for its five-week Authentic French Cuisine course funded by Ment’or.
Yvan came to New York from Caracas, Venezuela when he was 13. He attended Long Island City H.S. in Queens, NY. With help from C-CAP and the culinary arts teacher Aristotle Matsis, Yvan began his career at the age of 15 at the famed restaurant La Caravelle with Pastry Chef Cyril Renaud and owners Rita and Andre Jammet. Yvan then refined his craft with Jacques Torres at Le Cirque 2000, Rocco DiSpirito, Sam Mason, Paul Liebrandt, and Jehangir Mehta. He’s even cooked for dignitaries and royalty at the French consulate.
Stepping out from the kitchen, Yvan is an active member of the United States Bartenders’ Guild and has designed bar programs at some of the world’s hottest nightclubs and restaurants. He is the host of a segment on Univision called El Toque de Lemoine, has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped and FN Challenge, and was the runner up on The Next Food Network Star. He is the author of Food Fest 365!: The Officially Fun Food Holiday Cookbook and a second book in Spanish, Comidas USA. He has also crafted chocolate dresses for Kelly Ripa on Live! with Regis and Kelly and designed cocktails for Angelina Jolie at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Yvan is a member of Slow Food USA, participates in First Lady Michelle Obama’s the “Chefs Move to School” campaign, and volunteers at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, New York City’s largest emergency food program, serving nutritious meals to 1000 homeless and hungry New Yorkers every day. Fresh, fun, and irreverent, Yvan believes you should cook for the people you love, and love the people who cook for you. In a Q&A, we asked Yvan about everything from his love of pastry to his study abroad at Institut Paul Bocuse.
Dessert Professional: What helped you make the transition from pastry to savory food and mixology?
Yvan: Officially, I started in savory at a small Italian restaurant called Buzzeo’s in Astoria. Then when I landed an internship at La Caravelle – they needed help in pastry, so that’s where I went. I fell in love with it and continued to do it, learning so much. One day as I was walking from the chocolate room to the kitchen, covered in cocoa powder, and the chef at the time, Cyril Renaud, yelled at me and asked me what I was doing. I answered “making truffles, Chef!” and he said, “No, tonight you’re working the line.” Turns out a cook had called in sick. So that night, covered in cocoa powder, I learned how to make classics like Sole Meunière, and Pike Quenelles in Lobster Sauce. Years later, while working pastry at Fleur de Sel, we were making incredible food and desserts, but still serving rum and cokes, and margaritas with sour mix. I found myself making purees, infusions and syrups for the bar. So I thought, why not give this bartending thing a try, and see if I can make some cool cocktails? Fast forward to 2010, when I was working as a Tournant at the French Consulate, and a new restaurant, Lavo, was opening. I had always liked the Tao group [owners of Lavo] and wanted to work with them, so this presented me with a great opportunity. I came on board and was fortunate enough to open Lavo, Arlington Club, Surf Lodge, and then finally Bodega Negra. See, the thing is, I love food, and I love the restaurant industry, so whether I’m cooking or slinging drinks, managing, or serving, it’s all very similar to me. I am a part of a bigger machine, but ultimately you are there to make other people happy.
DP: Tell us a little bit about your time at the Institut Paul Bocuse.
Yvan: Going to the Institut Bocuse in Lyon, France was a dream long lost, come true. I would ride my bike to and from school every day like a kid. Summertime is a lovely time to be bike riding through the forests and cobblestone streets of Lyon. The school itself is part romantic chateau and part modern school. I arrived at school every day at 7:30 am. Once you arrive, there is an espresso bar where everyone meets and chats about life, the seasons, and, of course, food. Days at the Institut are filled with stories of chefs and restaurants and recipes once made for kings and queens. We planted and tended to the gardens surrounding the school and, as the summer rolled on, we saw the fruits of our labor and were able to incorporate them into our dishes. After school, we spent our time going to beautiful restaurants, patisseries, and boulangeries that reflected the history of Lyon as the culinary capital of France.
DP: What was the most surprising thing you learned during your time in France?
Yvan: It’s never too late to start all over again. School is way more fun when you’re an adult and actually love what you do.
DP: What new skill or recipe are you most eager to try out in your cooking either at Bodega Negra or at home?
Yvan: Motion is the new still. Video is the new picture. Dishes that move captivate, and engage much better than still dishes.
DP: How has the experience of studying in France changed you?
Yvan: After studying and working in France, I realize how big the world really is. We get too carried away with the meaningless minutia of our lives. There are incredible adventures and places to be discovered, tasted, and savored.
DP: You mentor many C-CAP students and alums. How will what you learned help you teach and guide them?
Yvan: In the States, we tend to value longevity of work as one of the most important characteristics of any cook that walks through our door. But the truth is, you are only the sum of your experiences. You must listen and mentor cooks so that they can become better cooks and grow, whether that benefits you in the end or not. So as someone once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
DP: What is the most delicious meal you ate while in France?
Yvan: Maison Bras in Laguiole. It was magical.
DP: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?
Yvan: “Nobody cares, work harder” –Every Chef I’ve ever worked for.
DP: What’s next for Yvan?
Yvan: Tao group and Dream hotels are very exciting groups to be working for, and they are opening places left and right all over the U.S. Who knows where I’ll end up?! I really don’t know what life has in store for me, all I can try to do is continue to learn and grow as a cook, and as a chef.
You can follow Yvan on Twitter @YvanBoom.