We sat down with Chef Akrame Benallal, a Michelin-starred international culinary icon and visiting master chef at our downtown favorite, Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE.
LA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
AB: I’ve worked side by side with Ferran Adrià, Pierre Gagnaire, and Alain Solivérès as my career developed. My approach to cuisine is very similar to that of haute couture. Because I don’t prepare a generic menu beforehand. For me, I always imagine the menu around what I’m doing...I start with nothing. Then I design the menu for each experience. It’s a challenge, but it’s great. You can’t really compare it to any cuisine.
LA: How did you adapt your style and approach for your studio session at Chefs Club?
AB: In New York, it’s so fast-paced, so you have to keep up and I adapt to this. But I don’t follow trends, so it still maintains a very natural feel.
LA: Do you have a go-to ingredient?
AB: I love to use charcoal to cook.
LA: Your guilty pleasure?
AB: I love M&Ms (laughs). With almonds.
LA: Favorite pairing right now?
AB: Ahh...Bourgogne. It’s very good with seafood, fish, and I like it with dessert too.
LA: Tell us about your studio tasting.
AB: It’s a real experience...I want to keep it exciting, let things escalate and build and build to the very end.The oysters are great -- I came here and saw the pizza oven, and I thought ok, pizza crust. So then I started to think about oysters, and seaweed and lemon and basil, and then on top I’d put a bit of crust and cook this in the oven. All those flavors on the inside.
LA: Any favorite restaurants in NYC?
AB: Jean-Georges. And Roberta’s.
LA: Tell us about your own restaurants.
AB: I have five restaurants in Paris, and two in Hong Kong. Soon I will open in Zurich, Berlin, Brussels, Luxembourg, and London. Maybe one day New York.
LA: What’s the most important part of your style?
AB: Passion. For me, life is all about passion. I’ve been cooking for twenty years, and I always work because I just want to cook. It’s my life. I am sentimental, the way an artist is with his work. No matter what cuisine in the world, if you don’t put soul into the plate, it’s just not possible.
LA: And lastly, your words to live by.
AB: I always say, “Nourrir les plus grandes ambitions, mais jamais oublier d’où on vien.” Feed your greatest ambitions, but never forget where you come from. My philosophy.