by Maralyn D. Hill
During 1996, I was fortunate to meet French Master Chef Hervé Laurent, while attending a class at Le Cordon Bleu in London with my good friend Brenda Hill. We were so impressed with his teaching skills, methods, and personality, that we developed and maintained a friendship, featured him in our first book, Our Love Affairs with Food & Travel, and then worked with him on a book of tips, Cooking Secrets, The Why and How…
As we watched Hervé advance from Le Cordon Bleu to the Paul Bocuse Institute of Culinary Arts to having his own successful school in Latin America, School For Culinary Arts (SCARTS) http://www.scarts.com. Chef Laurent was ideal to interview and share his story.
Brenda and I have attended Sirha and Bocuse d’Or with Hervé twice. He has joined us as a member of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association, cruised with us to Alaska as our celebrity chef. Norm and I have visited him and his school in Central America and Hervé and his lovely wife Nadia will be visiting us in Arizona in December.
Maralyn: How early did you start cooking and know you wanted to keep at it?
Chef Laurent: I started cooking when I was 8 years old. My mother had to work 12 hours a day, coming back home at 7:30 pm, very tired, and I made everything possible to cook for her and my little brother. Every day, I was visiting my godmother, living next to our house, and watching her cook wonderful traditional French cuisine like jams, sausages, stuffed chicken, and pastries. For Christmas, my aunt visited us, preparing marvelous desserts. I wanted to be a pastry chef!
Maralyn: I know you focus on fresh local ingredients. When did your awareness of their benefit start?
Chef Laurent: My mother and godmother always had a vegetable garden. When I studied in a cooking school, we were in the middle of Nouvelle Cuisine. Paul Bocuse taught me cooking from the market. I have been cooking local and natural products for 30 years.
Maralyn: Do you have a favorite type of food?
Chef Laurent: Farm vegetables, as I could not eat meat without fresh vegetables. I enjoy duck, pigeon, and lamb and I love cooking sauces (French cuisine is famous for that) and pastries.
Maralyn: I know you have consulted, judged, and taught worldwide. What has been one of your most challenging and rewarding memories?
Chef Laurent: The Panamerican Games, with 21,000 meals a day. A few nights, we had to cook without electricity and water on the floor. We cooked with gas and grills, in the dark. It was fun! The most rewarding part of the job is pleasing guests. What a wonderful moment when customers arrive at the restaurant, tired, angry, and leave with a smile… remembering the dish and the special atmosphere for a long time.
Maralyn: Chef, you recently shared the excitement of having the famous French designer Marc Bretillot, along with Guest Chef Georges Riveiro from the University of Art and Design in Reims, Champagne, France, came to work with you and your students to present “A City You Can Eat.”
Where did this take place and did you “Wow” everyone?
Chef Laurent: What a wonderful event in Central America. People came from all over and the students were so proud. In two days, we prepared everything at the school. Meat, vegetables and dessert were like architecture and buildings. Sauce was like a river… Flavors were outstanding, thanks to Georges Riveiro. The event took place in Crown Plaza, San Salvador, Central America. Selected guests were invited; most Ambassadors of all countries, local press and TV covered the event. This was a wonderful experience for our students.
Maralyn: When you followed your surgeon wife to her home in Latin America, you were still consulting for the Paul Bocuse Culinary Institute. What made you decide to open the School For Culinary Arts (SCARTS) http://www.scarts.com?
Chef Laurent: The need was obviously there for people to learn and improve their ability to earn a good income for a reasonable investment. I started with a small school and it has grown to have 300 students a year with a one and two year program. I teach French techniques and apply them to local ingredients. Originally, most of my students were from Latin America. Now, they come from all over, so I teach in French, Spanish, and English. Fortunately, I have been able to place my students in exceptional establishments worldwide, including Michelin or Relais Châteaux, as well as other fine establishments.
Maralyn: I know with running the school, you do a lot of hands on, as well as have other wonderful French chefs. Does this leave you time to continue your consulting and judging worldwide?
Chef Laurent: Yes, and I always view challenges as opportunities. I’m quite comfortable anywhere on the globe and enjoy sharing my perspective and views on the worldwide culinary scene.
Maralyn: Before we close, can you share a little about your children?
Chef Laurent: Nadia and I have beautiful children, daughter Anna 10 and son Andrés 6. They both love riding horses, cooking and eating good food just like their dad. In restaurants, Andrés presses the French fries with his fingers and refuses to taste greasy potatoes!
Maralyn: What closing remarks would you like to share with our readers?
Chef Laurent: Cooking is tiring and stressful. Guests never imagine how hard working and thinking in the kitchen are. But if you are passionate, you enjoy every day of life, even after 30 years experience.