Pages Navigation Menu
Categories Navigation Menu

Q & A with Sebastien Rouxel

Thumbnail image for Sebastien-2533.jpgManaging the pastry departments for eight world-class restaurants might seem daunting to most, but not to Sebastien Rouxel.  He oversees Thomas Keller’s dessert empire – per se, French Laundry, and Bouchon Bakery to name a few.  Born in France’s Loire Valley, Rouxel got an early jump start on his career working at his aunt’s restaurant before entering culinary school at the age of 16.   Rouxel quickly earned the prestigious position of pastry chef for the president of France before moving to America to work at L’Orangerie and Lutece.   Since teaming up with Thomas Keller, his modern interpretations of classic desserts have garnered considerable attention.  At per se, Rouxel’s fall menu features a black currant cobbler with buttermilk sherbet and a  “Pomme Beurre Noisette,” with a granny smith confiture, brown butter, and tahitian vanilla. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a police officer on a motorcycle.

What was your first job in food?
I worked at my aunt’s small-town restaurant. There was only one menu per day and open for lunch only. The clientele was mostly construction guys and truck drivers. I did every station there from bartending to serving dishes, to prepping & cooking in the kitchen. The restaurant was run by my aunt and my grandmother. (…and by me during school breaks).

What are the greatest challenges to managing the pastry departments of all eight of Thomas Keller’s restaurants?
I would say everyday is challenging. Thomas has a world class reputation and he consistently looks for ways to improve the standards in the hospitality business. My fellow pastry chefs and I have big shoes to fill; we have to perform everyday at the same level Thomas does and make sure that our guests have the same amazing experience with desserts as they have on the savory side.

What is the most profound lesson you learned working under Thomas Keller?
Perseverance, don’t give up! Everyday is a new challenge–always look for ways to improve what you did the day before. I also learned that building a strong team to follow your lead is extremely important to succeeding and accomplishing your goals.

What caused you to realize that pastry arts were your true calling?
I started my career on the savory side in a 1-star Michelin restaurant. I was transferred to the pastry side during one summer because they needed some support. I really enjoyed the technical aspect, the attention to detail and precision and their importance to the craft. While there is a set of rules to follow, with an open mind there are no limitations as to what you can accomplish. I also met and worked with talented people that I still look up to as my mentors today.

Which creations were inspired by your childhood upbringing in the Loire Valley of France?
Well… there were many. I like to work with the classics that I grew up with and use the knowledge I was taught as my foundation. I translate that to the environment that I currently work in–meaning if I’m in fine dining, my focus is to give it a modern twist and presentation. If I’m in casual dining, my focus is to keep the integrity of the product.

What was it like to work as the head pastry chef for the president of France at the young age of twenty?
I still wonder how I got there even today. After finishing my “Brevet Technique Des Métiers”; I was put in charge of the pastry department “Au Mess de l’Elysee” for my military duty. While working in that capacity, I got to improve my knowledge and learned how to manage a staff, create menus and produce in mass quantities.

During that time, I was given the opportunity to stage during dinner service at the “The Grand Vefour” (a 2-star Michelin at the time—they have 3 now.) After a few months, Guy Martin asked me to become the pastry chef there so I got to finish my military duty earlier than expected.

Which kitchen tool do you regard as indispensable to your work right now?
It depends on what I’m doing.

What compelled you to make the move from Europe to America?
While working in Paris, I had some friends that left for the US to work for Relais & Chateaux” properties. In the back of my mind, there was one thing I wanted to do: travel while young and before I had too many obligations. At that time I was interested in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. One day, an old colleague who now works in the States contacted me and told me that the place where he worked as chef needed someone like me. They offered me the pastry chef job, along with a work visa and my airfare expenses taken care of.  I couldn’t say no and 2 months later I was on a plane to LA. There I met a girl from NY, fell in love, and she became my wife. Today, we have 2 beautiful girls and have made the US our home.

You have developed a reputation for your modern interpretations of classic desserts. Which classic dessert is your favorite? What’s your favorite twist on it?
I do

n’t have a favorite. It depends on the mood and the context that I’m in. My twist is to bring the presentation, flavor, texture, colors in the best way I can that will bring a smile to the table.


Which dessert do you enjoy making the most?

Which dessert do you enjoy making the most?
The dessert I enjoy making the most is the one that makes our guests happy, those that bring them back to their childhood memories and/or closer to home. The world that we live in today is stressful—eating should bring us joy.

Was there ever a dessert at Bouchon Bakery or per se that you simply weren’t satisfied with?
Hmm… I had a couple of failures. I probably don’t make those dishes today or I’m still working on them.

What culinary trends do you embrace?
Well… Trends inspire the new and next generation. As chefs, we need to remember our culinary roots and not forget where we come from and what we believe in. I embrace the ones I grew up with but also the ones from other countries–as long they have soul and are executed well and with care.

What culinary trends do you wish would just die already?
To die may be a strong word but there is some stuff out there that doesn’t make sense or simply doesn’t taste good. Food should bring people together and provide warmth and history.

Any new projects on the horizon?
Thomas is coming out with a new cookbook and asked me to participate. I was very honored and excited to be a part of that project. I had the chance to learn and work with talented people and can’t wait for others to see it. Also, we are always finding ways to grow as a restaurant group.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *