Q&A with Laurent Kalkoutour:
Please tell me a little bit about yourself and where you are from.
I am a creative chef with a humble heart. I am from the beautiful town Aix en Provence in the South of France. I came to the United States to work with Alain Ducasse and to learn English. During this time, I met my wife. We now have two beautiful children.
How do you describe yourself as a chef and the kind of dishes you create?
My cuisine is rustic, simple and tasty. I always think of my children when creating a new dish. I want to create dishes that they will try. As a chef I always go back to my roots and my mentors Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud.
Describe your personal style.
My personal style is simple; I love simplicity all around, no clutter, no baggage. I love the outdoors and working in our backyard. At home it is all about the children. I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like to with them. We ride bikes in the park, I try to teach my son Gabriel to play soccer, and I dance salsa with my daughter Izabella.
Please tell me what your job entails as the executive chef at Atrium.
Mostly teaching my cooking techniques and encouraging the creativity of my cooks.
How did you get where you are today? What has been career path?
My great-grandfather owned a Michelin Star restaurant, and although I never met him, I’ve heard many stories. Every time I go back home, I go through these treasure boxes that hold his very old recipes, his rusted chef’s knives, culinary books even his chop board. I have been very lucky to meet, work with and learn from all the great mentors in my life. Working at db Bistro is where I met my two partners, Leslie and Alex; two equally talented individuals who share the same passion for the culinary world. This is the beginning of our journey together as partners at Atrium.
How did you figure out what you wanted to do? Was there anything or anyone that influenced your life and gave you direction?
My passion for cooking began at a very early age, cooking with my mother and grandmother. My mom told me to give it a try professionally. At fifteen years old I began with my first position in the kitchen as a apprentice in a one star Michelin restaurant. I learned all the basic techniques like how to peel a carrot and boil an egg. I learned to identify my vegetables and I began to get familiar with all the different processes of running a professional kitchen. My very first teacher, the sous chef of that restaurant, now owns a restaurant in NY with his wife. Its pure coincidence that our paths met again here, so far away from home after so many years.
Beyond basic skills, how did you learn your craft as a chef?
My creativity and inspiration began to blossom during my early years in Monaco working under the tutelage of Frank Cerutti, Head Chef at Hotel de Paris, Restaurant Louis XV, a three star Michelin restaurant. Here I obtained the understanding and respect for the ingredients that I came in contact with, to treat them with the proper culinary techniques, and to obtain the very best flavors that each has to offer. Every day I felt proud to be in this kitchen. I never woke up saying “I don’t want to go to work”. I was honored to be there and I was giving 110% every day. Now, with my restaurant, I live and cook by these techniques. I have the same spirit and I hope that I pass that onto my cooks as well.
How did you decide to open your own restaurant?
Being a restaurant owner is something I always wanted to do. I knew it was going to happen here in New York City or back in France. My dad is a painter and he remodels houses. Every time he bought a house to work on, he always envisioned that house would be turned into my little restaurant in the south of France. Although owning a restaurant in NYC is far from the “laid back and relaxed” culture in the south of France, I know eventually I will get there. I am proud to walk into my restaurant every day and know that I created this.
What is one of your earliest food memories?
My first fine dining experience was at for my eighteenth birthday. My dad took me to Le Jardin des Sens, a three star Michelin restaurant in Montpellier. All the attention to detail impressed me, and something woke up in me. I began to realize how food is a form of art.
What is the best food or dish you’ve ever tasted?
The best experience I had was in the market of Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Each little bite was so full of flavor. So fresh, simple and rustic.
What do you love about being a chef?
I love making people happy through my food. I love to see the faces on people when they put that bite in their mouths and they express how good everything is. I also love to teach my cooks to respect each element in the kitchen…respect the ingredients you are about to cook and ingest and they will be good to you.
Who inspires you?
Alain Duccasse. When I lack inspiration, I always go back to his first culinary books. Chef Ducasse lives and teaches the philosophy “la simplicite, c’est la perfection” And this is a philosophy that I aim to live by at my restaurant.
I also think of the farmers that have so much love for the product they offer. Without their daily hard work, without them taking care of “their babies” there would be no good chefs.
How do you decide the on dishes on the menu and specials you offer at Atrium?
I try to understand the neighborhood; I want to offer the neighborhood good, comfort food. I always love to hear feedback on my dishes and I adjust my menu according to what the people are looking for. Again, the seasons play an important role when creating my menus and I work with the freshest ingredients available to create specials.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself, be human, be respectful to others. A restaurant is run by a team, not just the Chef – so don’t be a “hot head”.
Any advice for someone interested in following in your chosen path?
Have a real passion for this industry, its only up to you to make it happen, otherwise you will fail. And you need to know it inside out, live it, breath it. Every day brings new challenges and you have to be smart to learn from each experience.
How do you define success and what has helped you to become successful?
Lead by example. Live each day to the fullest. Stop thinking of the things you do as a job. Leave a mark in this world, a legacy, and not have any day wasted.
To check out the Atrium DUMBO site, please go to www.atriumdumbo.com.