Since last April, the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo has welcomed Lebanese flavours with the opening of Em Sherif Monte-Carlo. At the helm is chef Yasmina Hayek, who trained at the Institut Paul Bocuse and is the daughter of the founder of this culinary group, which is acclaimed throughout the Middle East.
In the land of cedar, cooking is queen and hospitality reigns. It’s a lifestyle for which chef Mireille Hayek, founder of the family group Em Sherif, has become the ambassador. In 2011 she opened her first restaurant in Beirut. Today, the group has 12 stunning restaurants across the Middle East, and a presence in Harrods, London. In May, it took up residence in the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo with the opening of Em Sherif Monte-Carlo. Yasmina Hayek shares her mother’s passion for Lebanese cuisine, a gastronomic tradition that the 25-year-old chef celebrates with her refined, modern and joyful cooking in the heart of the iconic luxury hotel. We met up with the young chef.
You grew up cooking and entertaining guests. Can you tell us more?
Yasmina Hayek: I have three brothers, so together with my parents there were six of us at the dining table, and we used to sit down together every lunchtime and evening to an absolute feast! My mother also regularly hosted themed dinner parties at home. She loved having everyone over for a big meal, and she would always prepare everything herself from scratch. It’s something
I admire to this day.
You’ve chosen to follow in her footsteps, first training at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, then with a series of top chefs. What did you learn from them?
Working with Mathieu Pacaud gave me confidence in my abilities. Jean-François Piège taught me how to keep going. Then I joined Rasmus Kofoed, the triple-Michelin-starred chef and winner of the Bocuse d’Or. He taught me his amazing philosophy, based on precision and meticulous attention to detail in presentation and flavours. That level of perfectionism is key.
And now you’re the executive chef of Em Sherif Monte-Carlo. Is this an important step for you?
Yes, of course, but most of all I’m proud to have seen Em Sherif grow and get all the way to the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. It’s a dream come true!
What kind of experience do you want your guests to have?
Em Sherif flies the flag for Lebanese culture, which you can taste, see, hear and feel in the food, décor, music and warm, friendly environment. Em Sherif is also like a big family. We want our guests to experience this unique atmosphere.
What is your take on Lebanese cuisine?
Our food is sophisticated, and we use techniques that have been forgotten. People of our generation just don’t cook like that any more. We are carrying on traditions in our own way, with our own personal touch, by creating authentic food served in generous portions that are meant to be shared.
The menu features some iconic Em Sherif dishes.
Yes, absolutely, but with ingredients produced in France. We also offer exclusive, signature dishes created especially for Monaco, such as the sea bass fillet in Beirut sauce (hot mezze) and crispy sautéed prawns with yoghurt (cold mezze).
What are your favourite ingredients?
Sumac, wild oregano and olive oil are all essentials for me. They go so well with everything, from red meat to poultry, fish, sauces and vegetables.
What are your other inspirations?
I am very curious and I love food and drink. I keep my eyes wide open wherever I travel! My passion for cooking keeps my senses alert.
What is your philosophy in the kitchen?
“Cook with love, and cook with care.” I say that to myself every day. Particularly because Lebanese food truly comes from the heart.