Sowing the Seeds for Future Generations

Three Michelin starred French chef Yannick Alléno journeys to Madagascar to teach its poor how to cook basic recipes.

In less than five years, Yannick Alléno has become the poster boy of French haute cuisine on the international culinary scene. The chef manages 14 restaurants on three continents, including three Michelin star restaurants in Paris and two in Courchevel in the French Alps. When he is not in the kitchen, he dedicates his time to teaching children and young apprentices.

After a two-year hiatus after leaving his post at the famed Palace Brongniart – one of Paris’ most statured buildings owned by the Sultan of Brunei -Alléno’s return to haute cuisine at Ledoyen made national headlines.

Not that he was unemployed. The 45-year-old chef manages 1947 Cheval Blanc in Courchevel (an LVMH luxury hotel), STAY by Yannick Alléno in Dubai’s One & Only The Palm, Terroir Parisien bistro in Paris, Taipei in Beijing and Le Grande Table Marocaine in the Royal Mansour, Marrakech. In 2008, he created the Yannick Alléno Group together with Florence Cane to transport French gastronomy abroad.

But it wasn’t enough for the Parisian chef who was brought up in the western suburbs of Paris by his chef parents and became passionate about cooking from a young age.

“I really want to give my passion for haute cuisine to the younger generation.”

Alléno credits French chef Gabriel Biscay for “opening the doors of the world to him” as he got him his first apprenticeship at the age of 15 in Relais Louis XIII under chef Manuel Martinez.

“I feel it is my duty to take care of the newcomers and pass on the knowledge I received from others. But I want them to feel free and decide their future. I am not doing this to keep young cooks under my rule.

“They come to us because they are looking for something important from us. I try to be generous in what I offer them. Some find an opportunity to work with me but many leave and create their own restaurants, and I am equally happy,” he says.

Many of the new star cooks that have emerged in the past years in France, have been trained by Alléno, including Adeline Grattard (Yam’Tcha, Paris), Philippe Mille (Les Crayeres, Reims) and Gael Orieux (Auguste, Paris).

I feel it is my duty to take care of the newcomers and pass on the knowledge I received from others

“Many of them have their own Michelin stars,” explains Alléno. “They are brilliant, they are trained, they know how to create recipes and compose a menu. I find it very rewarding.” Alléno wishes he had more spare time to coach youngsters or give lessons at the Paul Bocuse culinary institute, as he used to do several years ago.

“I lack time to really teach in class but last winter in Courchevel we trained 15 cooks. We make sure at the end of the winter season they have a job at one of our other restaurants.

“If not, we have agreements with other chefs who take members of our staff. What we do is teach them how a three Michelin star kitchen works as a part of their training.”

Back at Le Meurice, he had launched Palace Cite, an initiative aimed at training teenagers from abandoned Parisian neighbourhoods. He spent a lot of energy on selecting 10 trainees out of 400 candidates. Of his pupils, only one is still cooking. “He is a great cook. He will undoubtedly have a great career,” says Alléno, who was somewhat discouraged by the outcome of the operation.

Nevertheless, it hasn’t deterred the Parisian chef from finding other ways to help future cooks: “We must not force people. We just need to suggest they come and keep them motivated.”

Twice a year, he appears in a French reality TV show because he believes chefs need to remain accessible and encourage talented hard workers. “If the kids ask for help, I try to open doors for them. But they have to be highly motivated, because it’s a tough job.”

Yam, the monthly magazine Alléno launched three years ago, is another good example of what he does for future chefs throughout the world, in the sense it democratises the access to recipes and knowledge for cooks who don’t have $100 to spend on a chef’s cookbook.

A few weeks ago, Alléno was in Hong Kong where he cooked a gala dinner to support 800 low wage construction workers.

This is exactly the spirit of Pachamama, a non-profit in Madagascar dedicated to helping locals grow vegetables and learn the basics of cooking through a culinary school that Alléno has helped set up on the island. Drawn to the cause by his close friend, Jean Francois Tordo, a former captain of the French national rugby team, Alléno has raised €170,000 ($231,360) for the NGO.

“In Madagascar, the soil is too burnt to grow rice. Pachamama helps people grow other things and use the earth in a more efficient way to produce other resources. They have created a farm and founded what could be one day a real cooking school.”

After his visit in July 2010, Alléno selected three young cooks to train in France at the famed Institut Paul Bocuse in Paris for one year and after their training, secured an internship for them for three months with him at Le Meurice so they could put their skills to the test in a Michelin starred restaurant before going back to Madagascar to transfer their skills and hopefully train local cooks to breathe new life into the tourism industry.

“The three are still there, showing the youngest how to cook. There is a high demand for qualified cooks in the country and the association helps to train them. It is a drop in the ocean but a drop that means a lot in a world for which profit and bottom line are the common rule,” says Alléno.