Since May 2022, a new chef has been infusing his talent and curiosity into the food at Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris. With passion, curiosity and respect for good ingredients, Emmanuel Pilon is exploring the innumerable facets of the Mediterranean. Aged just 35, he represents the essence of the motto of François Blanc, founder of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer: “Everything must change for everything to remain the same.” He joins us for an interview.
You were originally from Lyon where your father was a restaurateur. So was becoming a chef an obvious choice?
Emmanuel Pilon: It was more an easy choice as the profession was very accessible to me. I worked a lot with my father in particular, but that wasn’t the work I wanted to do. The passion came with time, as I met different people.
How did you go from regional cuisine to natural cuisine?
E.P: It happened in several stages. I began in Lyon working with Christian Têtedoie and traditional French cuisine. Then I worked at the Villa Florentine, with a more technical approach. The chef, Tissot, recommended I go to Le Louis XV to learn how to work with ingredients. Then I had to go up to Paris because that’s where everything happens. The focus on natural cuisine then came at the Plaza Athénée in 2015. It was an incredible experience: beginning with a blank page and creating from scratch.
Natural cuisine, in a few words?
E.P: It is a philosophy, a way of thinking that everyone can adopt. For me, it’s respect for ingredients, seasonality and producers. Enhancing the product by working on the seasonings, using less salt, fat, more plant-based ingredients... It's a question of creating balance.
Can you still find elements of traditional French gastronomy in your cooking?
E.P: All our experiences nourish us. This is how you create your personality in the kitchen. All my experiences with different chefs have enriched me and are now in my DNA. So yes, there are still elements of this type of cuisine in the most gourmet aspects of my dishes. It is what makes the customer want to have their second, third, fourth mouthful…
You grew up in a professional sense in the restaurants of chef Alain Ducasse: what did you learn from him?
E.P: When I arrived at Le Louis XV in 2009, I discovered some incredible ingredients that I had never seen before. I was taught to respect the ingredients, the cooking, the seasoning and the temperatures: the DNA of Alain Ducasse. He was constantly making us grow and pushing us to discover new things. That is his strength.
You returned to Monaco in May 2022 to take on the reins of the kitchen at Le Louis XV. How are you making your own mark there?
E.P: We have taken inspiration from natural cuisine for a more plant-based side. The tastes are livelier, the jus are plant-based and the lay-outs of the plates are perhaps plainer. We are moving towards more creative and plant-based cuisine.
Is this a risk?
E.P: We offer tastes that customers may not be familiar with. My idea is that every spoonful should be fun, that every bite should be different. There has to be an element of surprise and lots of things happening in your mouth! A dish in which everything is revealed at once is not at all my way of seeing things. The plate should be a playground, for the customer as well as for me.
You mentioned surprises…
E.P: Dried ceps, sea urchin with toast, shrimp and green crab… The natural philosophy also means being close to our producers. When they have a new product, they offer it to us. Even if it’s not on the menu, I take it and have some fun!
Is it important to keep having fun in the kitchen?
E.P: It’s the most important thing! This is what helps us move forward, what enriches our palette of tastes. The role of the chef is to keep an open mind and look at what is going on around him. A curious cook will grow faster and go further.
Are the flagship dishes of Le Louis XV still on the menu?
E.P: Our approach is to evolve our dishes, in the spirit of seasonality and naturalness. So the signatures are there, such as the Provence early garden vegetables with black truffle, but in a new form.
Among the new flavours at Le Louis XV…
Jerusalem artichoke pulp simmered with mushrooms, chanterelle tapenade, pine needles: “The product is worked in the spirit of a gnocchi, with a mushroom stew, roasted Jerusalem artichoke and a pine needle pesto that brings a minty touch. A fat-free, 100% plant-based dish.”
Your favourite ingredient?
E.P: Curiosity! Even if I do like to cook with chilli, citrus fruits, I don’t have a favourite ingredient, I’m interested in everything. Therefore, the menu changes every week, depending on what is available at the markets in Nice, Ventimiglia or Monaco.
How have you built your relationships with suppliers?
E.P: The relationships already existed with the restaurant’s established suppliers. One thing leads to another, and while talking, I explain that I am looking for wild products, such and such a herb, chillies of such and such a variety... We also push the boundaries of our suppliers, by looking for different products, that are little or not consumed.
E.P: Seaweeds, seagrasses, wild herbs... Oxalis for example, or wild rocket, sea cucumber or anemones. I encourage suppliers to introduce me to new products. This creates a certain dynamic: we are interested in their work and that stimulates us in the kitchen. Then my team and I reflect together on what to do.
You are very young and in a prestigious role. How did you feel when you were offered the job?
E.P: A lot of things were going on in my head at that moment. But above all, pride, for the trust placed in me by Ducasse. He’s a real coach, he knows us all. He knows how everyone works, and knows how to put the right person in the right place at the right time.
Do you feel you are in the right place today?
E.P: I’m going to do everything to make that the case, yes. I believe that nothing happens by chance. If he offered me the job at that time, it was the right time. You have to make things happen.
When you get to such a prestigious position at such a young age, what is left for you afterwards in terms of your career path?
E.P: You have never reached the end: there is always something else to be done. Saying that enables you to keep your feet on the ground. The ultimate goal is to always enjoy what you are doing. As long as you are enjoying yourself, you will continue.