Q & A with Christophe Bellanca
Five years ago, French-born Christophe Bellanca never imagined he would be running the kitchen for one of New York’s top restaurant institutions: Le Cirque 2000. Bellanca first began his career at La Mere Vittet in Lyon, followed by stints in such classic French restaurants as La Pyramide and Pic in France, as well as Domaine de Chateauviex in Geneva. Only a few years ago, he accepted the executive chef position at Los Angeles’ L’Orangerie. At the time, he spoke exactly three words of English, Speaking no more than three words of English.
Now in command of Le Cirque‘s kitchen, Bellanca has conceived a modern French menu, which often takes international liberties, such as tuna tataki with sesame, daikon, yuzu and seaweed or foie gras ravioli with black truffles.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I had no idea really. When I was twelve, then yeah, that’s when I started to think about food.
What was your first job in food?
I made the appetizers in a small restaurant in Velence. I was also a dishwasher.
What did you learn from your first job at La Mere Vitte in Lyon?
I learned the reality of a kitchen. I was 16 ½ and working 12-15 hour days. I had been going to culinary school until then but working in a kitchen really taught me about real life.
How do you distinguish yourself from Le Cirque’s previous executive chefs?
Well, I’m younger, but those men are my reference, and I can only hope to be like them one day. Also, they were all in New York for awhile…I only just came to New York two years ago. They’re rich, I’m not.
How did you get over the hurdle of running L’Orangerie in Los Angeles without speaking English?
My entire team was French…all 75 people. It was actually here at Le Cirque where it was more difficult and I was forced to speak English because everyone was English!
What are the keys to running a successful kitchen?
We need to do what the people want. If the customer wants this, we have to do it. As Wolfgang Puck said, you need to be flexible in America especially.
How is cooking different in America than it is in France?
In France, we do what we want. Whatever we make, the customer eats it. Here in America, like I said, you need to do what the customer wants in order to succeed.
Many of the menu items have an Asian flavor to them, particularly your Tuna Tataki. What experiences or travels have influenced these creations?
For me, Asian food is light. I love Thai food – I was in Bangkok a couple of years ago. We cook Asian food in the French technique though – everything is in the French technique.
With both Italian and French in your blood, your ethnicity stems from two countries known for their culinary prominence. What made you decide to take up French cooking as opposed to Italian, and how do you incorporate your upbringing into what you make today?…
With both Italian and French in your blood, your ethnicity stems from two countries known for their culinary prominence. What made you decide to take up French cooking as opposed to Italian, and how do you incorporate your upbringing into what you make today?
Well, I was in France! But still, French food is a good base for all cooking, where Italian food is just good tasting. I’d say I’m more French than Italian. A lot of chefs say they learned from their grandmother or their mother, but me? No. My grandfather on my mother’s side, who was Spanish, would cook all the time. My father? He would cook pasta every day.
What knowledge have you taken from your work as a pastry chef at Domaine de Chateauriex in Geneva?
Precision, definitely precision. I think every chef needs to be trained in pastry in order to be well-rounded.
The restaurant Pic is known for its creative, playful menu and freedom of imagination in the kitchen. How did working there shape the dishes you make today?
Anne-Sophie Pic had a sensibility. In the five years I worked with her I learned what would have taken ten years with these top chefs. It was the best experience for me, definitely.
What is your favorite dish on the menu at Le Cirque?
Foie gras ravioli with black truffles. I’ve worked with it for a long time. It’s very tasty and a good combination. I also love the John Dory dish – very light with vegetables.
What is your least favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
Green asparagus. I love it but we have it on the menu because a lot of people nowadays like to have a diet dish, so that’s why it’s there.
Which culinary trends do you embrace?
Local produce, organic products. I don’t buy any products from France…I purchase everything from New York or California, including Asian ingredients. You can get anything in New York.
Which culinary trends do you wish would just die already?
I don’t like using produce from France – it’s not as fresh as it is here.
Do you have a favorite junk food?
Oh of course! Cheeseburgers and frites! Le Parker Meridien down the street makes the best burgers; I go there once a month.
Any future projects on the horizon? Spill the beans…
I hope I can open my own restaurant – 4 stars from the New York Times! It would be medium-sized, and the food would get better and better, and evolve week after week. I mean, five, even three years ago, I never thought I’d be in New York as the executive chef for a restaurant like this. Life is already scheduled for me-I’ll just go with it.
Address: 1 Beacon Court, 151 East 58th Street
Phone: (212) 644-0202
Until we eat again,
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