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Christian DelouvrierINTERVIEW:
Master Chef
Christian Delouvrier

With over three decades of experience, Master Chef Christian Delouvrier's zoetic French style is very much in sync with this grand French restaurant - named for Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, who had a famous Paris salon where philosophers, nobles, and diplomats dined during the reign of Louis XV. Located in the luxurious five-star St. Regis Hotel, the opulently appointed Lespinasse Restaurant is an architectural renaissance of atmosphere and attentiveness that would spoil anyone. From its Limoges china, Tiffany silver and Waterford chandeliers suspended from the heaven-scape mural in the St. Regis Roof dining room, guests enjoy contemporary French cuisine from this chef who has already wooed the world, yet remains humble in the wake of continued accolades.   

Born in Boulogne-Sur-Gesse in Gascony, Delouvrier's culinary repertoire includes a combination of French techniques and the best ingredients, showcasing the true flavors of southwest France in dishes, prepared with extraordinary elegance. Well-known for his artful creations of foie gras, game, and all things Gascon, his philosophy of food is simple: start with the best ingredients and enhance their flavors. His sensational sauces are the result of the thorough use of braising and roasting, creating an efficient and harmonious process from preparation to plate, that has brought his authentic pleasure to diners and critics alike. 

Chef Delouvrier's first influences were his mother and grandmother, who passed on family recipes and the pride that comes from good food, prepared well and served for the pleasure of others. At age 15, he decided to pursue cooking as a profession at the Hotel School of Toulouse, while gaining practical experience with apprenticeships offered in local restaurants. With his diploma in hand, he went on to work in some of the world's finest kitchens - from St. Amable in Montreal to the King's Inn Hotel in the Bahamas, and eventually returning to Paris (in 1978) to L'Archestrate.

After arriving in New York in 1971, Chef Delouvrier worked as head chef of the Swiss Hutte, a small inn located in eastern New York State. Over the next seven years, Delouvrier honed his skills in New York's finest restaurants, including Chef at the Chateau Richelieu and Executive Sous Chef at Windows on the World. In 1981, he opened the famed Maurice restaurant in the Hotel Parker Meridian, in collaboration with his mentor, Chef Alain Senderens. The Maurice became one of New York City's best French restaurants, receiving three stars from the New York Times in 1986 and setting a new standard in hotel dining: "For the first time, a hotel restaurant makes it to the Forbes top - Maurice", declared the four star rating in Forbes Magazine (1985).

In 1991, The Essex House/Hotel Nikko turned to Chef Delouvrier to open Les Célébritiés. As part of his preparation, he traveled extensively in the Far East to capture the nuances of Asian cuisine. Les Célébritiés opened immediately to a three star review in the New York Times, in which the menu was described as, "a Zenlike harmony of East and West that is a joy to experience."

This new chapter at Lespinasse for Executive Chef Delouvrier is one of delight and continued critical acclaim from the New York Times, to The Wine Spectator to Gault Millau. The menu is presented as a selection of prix-fixe menus so that diners may fully experience a complete tasting of Chef Delouvrier's seasonal creations, which the Chef views as, "always a work in progress, constantly striving to reach the next level of perfection." The menu is complemented by an award-winning wine list.

Chef Christian Delouvrier does not view himself as a "Celebrity Chef" and is a rather private man who we will not likely see on the Food Channel or demonstrating his cooking abilities on other television magazine shows. While you might see Chef Delouvrier greeting guests in the dining room, as he does several times each night, he is a dedicated chef, who chooses to work behind the scenes, devoted to his artful culinary skills and in constant pursuit of ensuring to please his guests. He is also a very generous man; generous to charities culinary and philanthropic; never forgetting the industry and the people who have helped him; and never taking his success for granted.

RR: In your opinion, have we caught-up to the great chefs of Europe, and where does New York City stand as it relates to the top culinary destinations of the world?

CD: I would say yes, we have definitely caught up to the Europeans in terms of cooking. America has come such a long way, and today we have many truly great American chefs. This was not always the case. In terms of New York, I would suggest that we are the greatest restaurant city in the world. There is no other place that can match the diversity and ethnicity of this City. We have something for every segment of our population. And we do many things extremely well. I love New York, and while I realize that it's not always the easiest place to live, I can't imagine working and living in any place else.

RR: Is there any area on the planet more competitive or more demanding than this City?

CD: It is competitive and demanding, but that's what draws us here. I find the people to be extremely friendly, and I find the competition to be what I would term respectful. I do think we have a great deal of respect for each other and we have so many talented people working here. The pace is faster, and perhaps our customers are more demanding, but for me, it's the ideal working environment.

RR: You mention the word demanding. How would you characterize the New York restaurant customer?

CD: Of course, in this kind of restaurant and this kind of city, we are constantly serving people who visit us from other areas. But like our local clientele, all restaurant customers have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable when it comes to good food and certainly wine, which is very important to us. This is the best thing that can happen to fine dining restaurants because our customers have more appreciation for what it takes to produce truly outstanding food, and I do believe that their learning process serves to make the dining experience more enjoyable.

RR: These are the days of the so-called celebrity chefs, and New York certainly has its share, yet I can't see Christian Delouvrier in this category. Is there a part of you that would like to be, let's say more visible?

CD: No, I don't see myself as a celebrity chef. I enjoy spending my time where I believe I am most valuable and most productive, and I suppose, happiest, and that's in the kitchen. I have great respect for what other chefs do, but the celebrity thing is a part of the business that holds little interest for me.

RR: I would be curious to know your thinking regarding Alain Ducasse and his arrival in New York.

CD: I have so much respect for this man. I see him as one of the most talented and influential people in the history of the restaurant world, and in my mind, his presence makes New York even better. His presence automatically elevates fine dining in New York. But I do understand that people expect so much, and sometimes it's impossible to live up to people's expectations.

RR: Does the media expect too much?

CD: Let me put it this way... given time, Alain Ducasse will emerge as the great restaurant and restaurateur that he is, and that he has always proven to be.

RR: Here we sit in this incredible dining room, talking to a prominent four-star New York chef. Can my audience actually relate to your problems and your challenges and the reality of being in a situation such as yours?

CD: It's the amazing thing about this business that no matter what kind of restaurant you are dealing with, the one thing we all have in common is that everyone in every situation has the opportunity to do things better. And by that I mean that you should strive to serve the best products possible. I believe that it's possible to have great fast food restaurants, or whatever your concept might be. It always comes down to ingredients and preparation and what you really want to accomplish. Our industry is so diverse, but we have problems just like every restaurant has problems. We can certainly relate to each other.

RR: In terms of ingredients, I can remember a prominent chef saying that cuisine is basically seventy to seventy-five percent ingredients and the rest is technique. Would this be a fair statement?

CD: It is true. A great restaurant must be committed to using the best ingredients possible, and the search is an ongoing process and one of the most time consuming and yet exciting things that we do.

RR: What complicates the buying process?

CD: We do so much with the local farmers, and this naturally makes the buying process much more intense. One must visit these farms and we deal directly with the owners, and there are all kinds of logistics and arrangements that must be worked out, but the effort is certainly worth the time and effort.

RR: You mention working with farmers... can the average restaurant consider this?

CD: I believe they can. There are farms almost everywhere in this country, and the question would be the willingness on the part of a chef to get involved in this process. I can just tell you that when I arrived in New York City in 1973, it was very exciting, but in my opinion, the food wasn't what I would consider special. In 1978, I worked in Paris and didn't return to New York until early 1981. But in that short time, the food had improved dramatically, and that was because of the independent farmers. There was a new availability of things like veal, lamb, fruits, and organic vegetables. It was wonderful, and it was more like France than the New York I had so recently left.

RR: And today, are you still able to get the quality necessary to do what you do?

CD: It keeps getting better. You asked me earlier if we had caught up with the European chefs. We have improved our techniques, and we have produced a host of truly wonderful chefs, but one of the main reasons is that our ingredients have improved so dramatically.

RR: What's next for Christian Delouvrier?

CD: What's next? I'm heading for my kitchen and getting ready for tonight's dinner. Beyond that, I just want to continue to enjoy precisely what I'm doing.

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