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ONE of the stars of the culinary world who boasts a massive and growing social media following has stepped up to the plum position at one of the kingdom’s premier beach resorts.
Chef Yann Lejard first proved his leadership with a promotion to Executive Sous Chef in 2016, and in his new role as Executive Chef of the five-star Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain he will oversee a culinary team of 130 chefs.
He will also be responsible for the menu creation and kitchen operations of the resort’s 11 restaurants, in-room dining and banquet catering divisions.
Normally, corporate press releases received at this publication are full of overblown literary boasts but the hotel’s public relations officer was spot on suggesting ‘daring, unique and playful’, just a few words that come to mind when experiencing one of Chef Yann’s signature dishes.
Like a ‘modern-day disruptor’ turning the simplicities of food into plated works of art, his talents have taken him across Europe, into major Michelin Star restaurants, before arriving to the region, first in Saudi Arabia and then to Bahrain in 2014 where he assumed the role of Chef de Cuisine for the award-winning Plums restaurant.
Shortly after he arrived, GulfWeekly met the culinary creator. As World Cup fever gripped the hotel’s big screen arena, there was just as much excitement in the kitchen as Plums’ latest recruit dazzled his teammates with a sizzling display of culinary prowess.
As soccer superstar Neymar was notching a brace for Brazil during the host country’s thrilling opening 3-1 win over Croatia, his cooking equivalent from France, Chef Yann, was performing miracles amid the pots and pans.
A fellow chef whispered in the editor’s ear ‘he’s an artist’. As for the taste of all nine courses sampled, the experience could best be described as poetry on a plate.
The new boy in town, who was snatched in an end-of-season transfer swoop from a top family across the causeway, only arrived three weeks earlier and offered to display his talents as a tease of things to come for distinguished diners in Bahrain.
He was a team player from the very start, insisting the photographer took a kitchen team shot. It’s that focus on attention and caring about his colleagues that has seen him rise up the ranks like a well-cultured cake in the oven.
It’s something he’s taking with him in his new executive position. “It’s not about an individual, it’s about the team and we’ve got incredibly talented chefs working in the kitchens at the Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain.
“I’ve seen them develop their talents, I want to give something back and believe I can encourage and inspire them. These are exciting times.”
Born in Paris in 1975 and holding a degree in cooking from the tender age of 16, Chef Yann has worked in many Michelin star restaurants and leading hotels around the globe.
He admits that in his youth, he wasn’t the best student in the world, didn’t enjoy the classroom and became a rebel from the age of 14 painting the back alleys of his home city and expressing himself through street art, taking inspiration from the likes of modern art legend Jackson Pollock, an American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He was well known for his unique style of drip painting.
His mother knew he had an ‘explosive’ talent from the very moment he was born and his father guided him towards a professional career, noting his love of cooking from a very tender age.
The rebel had a cause.
He became a chef by the age of 16, and it was then where he found food to be a catalyst for artistic expression and where his signature, abstract style of ‘splattering’ sauce on a plate was born.
Fast forward to the era of social media, his accounts @YBLinc have since amassed a foodie cultist following of more than 120,000 fans who can’t wait to see what he does next.
He worked in more than 10 countries believing that he could only become truly experienced if he challenged himself by starting all over again in different places.
Through his travels he learned all about local products and the varied techniques necessary to bring out the best flavours and taste combinations.
Before joining The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, he held culinary positions in major restaurants, including working as a Chef Saucier for notable names like Heinz Winkler in Germany and Peter Knogl in Switzerland.
After stints across Europe, his career eventually lead him to Jeddah where he served as the Executive Chef for Glow restaurant and where he became the first chef ever in Saudi Arabia to become ranked by the award-winning luxury lifestyle and food magazine, FOUR UK.
In addition to being frequently tapped as a guest chef for Master Classes and pop-up restaurants throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, he has also been a finalist at Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire in Switzerland, along with a ranking in the notable Gault & Millau restaurant guide, amongst many more.
However, it’s not all been plain sailing. As reported earlier in GulfWeekly, disaster struck when a crippling knee condition meant he had to give up life in the kitchen and go under the surgeon’s knife.
He also needed to reignite that artistic and creative flair he had in his youth that can so often be reined in amidst the strict methodology and tutoring involved in fine dining instruction.
For a time he turned his back on the hospitality industry, gained a bachelor’s degree in management and took up a career as a cost controller. But life behind a desk in a corporate office was not for him and, once fully recovered physically and back in the right frame of mind, he decided to return to the kitchen.
“It’s all about the passion,” said Chef Yann, 38. “I enjoy creating contemporary modern cuisine using all the knowledge I have picked up from my travels around the world and the people I have met and worked with.
“My philosophy is to make the best out of each and every ingredient no matter whether it is the simplest or the most expensive.
“Inspiration comes from deep inside my heart with feelings that emulate every detail of my life.”
Although undertaking a heavy load of managerial responsibilies he insists of making time for a couple of hours each day in the kitchens working alongside the chefs, helping to develop the menus as well as his art.
He is also busy working on a ‘top secret’ new small select restaurant opening at the Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain offering an exclusive contemporary dining experience to culinary connoisseurs, details of which will be announced shortly.
The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain GM Bernard de Villèle, couldn’t be happier, saying: “He is a master of art and a disruptor in the food scene with a following of admirers on social media to back it up. He, as well, has the creativity and mastery to take our large dining portfolio to pure excellence. His hands on leadership and mentorship of the entire Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain kitchen brigade has been superb, so it was a natural choice to promote him.”
In an interview with the glossy magazine he said there were three things he would take to a desert island – his wife, Caroline, their son, Adrien Leonard, nine, and their dog.
Fortunately, the desert island is Bahrain.