EM Sherif is a tale of love and family. Already a worldwide presence with 16 restaurants around the globe, now it is coming to the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. At the helm is executive chef Yasmina Hayek, the daughter of founder Mireille Hayek, whose restaurants indulge diners’ senses with top-quality, traditional Lebanese cuisine. We sat down with her to talk about her keen desire to introduce Monegasque diners and visiting guests to her family’s food at EM Sherif Monte-Carlo.
You grew up cooking and entertaining guests right through your childhood and teenage years. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I’ve got three brothers, so together with my parents we were always a family of six at the dinner table, and we used to sit down together every lunchtime and every evening to an absolute feast. My mother used to love hosting themed dinner parties at home. She loved having everyone over for a big meal, and she always prepared everything herself from scratch. That was something I really admired growing up – and still do today.
Your career has seen you go from the Institut Paul Bocuse to EM Sherif Monte-Carlo at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo: how do you feel about the unique path you've taken?
Most of all, I’m proud to have seen EM Sherif Monte-Carlo grow, and get all the way to the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. It’s a dream come true! Not to mention a huge step both for our business, and for our journey with EM Sherif.
You’ve worked alongside culinary greats such as Mathieu Pacaud, Jean-François Piège and Rasmus Kofoed – what did those experiences teach you?
Working with Mathieu Pacaud gave me confidence in my abilities – bearing in mind it was my first time in a professional kitchen, I felt an enormous amount of responsibility as well. Then Jean-François Piège taught me how to keep going, no matter what. I learned an incredible amount in France, and then left to join the triple-Michelin-starred chef and winner of the Bocuse d'Or Rasmus Kofoed in Denmark. He taught me about precision, and passed on his amazing philosophy and a sense for detail when it comes to presentation and flavours. That level of perfectionism is essential.
Do you think your youth works to your advantage?
Of course! You’re not expected to have made it this far when you’re my age, and I’m lucky enough to be here now. I’m still learning every day, I’m meeting wonderful people, and I think my career has plenty of other surprises in store for me yet. I am constantly growing as a chef.
Instagram plays an important role in your work – does food need to be visual as well?
A plate of food makes its first impression based on how it looks. It is incredibly important: it is the first contact a guest has with a dish. It’s a way of expressing and showcasing yourself, too.
Sport, reading, travel...what feeds into your food?
Every adventure has something to offer. I am a very curious person, and I absolutely love food and drink. I keep my eyes wide open wherever I go! My passion for cooking means my senses are constantly on high alert. Travel and reading have been ways for me to open my mind, engage with others, and discover new things…
What kind of experience do you want your guests to have?
EM Sherif flies the flag for Lebanese culture. No matter where you are in the world, that is what you’ll feel when you come to eat in an EM Sherif restaurant. Everything from the service to the food, decor, clientele...it all has close ties to Lebanese life, and our hearty, authentic cuisine.
What is your take on Lebanese cuisine?
Our food is sophisticated, and we use techniques that in many cases have been forgotten. People of our generation just don’t cook like this anymore. We are carrying on traditions in our own way, and staying loyal to them as we create authentic food for our guests.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with?
Sumac, wild oregano and olive oil are all essentials for me; they're so versatile, and go so well with everything from red meat to poultry, fish, sauces and vegetables.
Do you remember the first time you came to Monaco?
I was 16 or 17 years old when I came here for the first time. It was so majestic, impressive, elegant…
What kitchen utensil are you never without?
My grater. I love finishing dishes like salads and tabbouleh off by grating something over them, like citrus zest or nuts: it makes the flavours sing. My second would be my mortar and pestle: they are hugely important in my kitchen, as we use so many spices.
What is your kitchen philosophy?
“Cook with love, and cook with care.” I say that to myself every day. Lebanese food comes from the heart, so it really does need to be made with love because our guests will be able to feel it.
What is the most important of the five senses?
They are all important. But if I had to choose, probably touch and smell, as you absolutely have to be aware of the ingredients you’re working with. Particularly since smell is directly linked to taste.
What is your fondest memory of Monaco?
I think when EM Sherif found its place at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. You couldn’t have dreamed of a better day! It was an incredible moment for me personally, too.