Gilles won a Michelin star in 1988 at the tender age of 22, the youngest to have ever done so. His storied history includes working with Alain Senderens and Alain Ducasse at Lucas Carton, chef at several top restaurants including Miravile (which he owned and operated at the young age of 24) and La Petite Cour in Paris. He worked as the head chef of the famed L’Orangerie, Los Angeles where he introduced a Provençal-inspired style of cooking. Within a year he was voted the Best Chef in America by Food & Wine magazine. Later, he bought and operated the Beverly Hills restaurant Chez Gilles along with a partner, Jean Denoyer.
Cooking for Royalty
With the culinary fusion of French/Californian dishes, he cooked for movie stars, supermodels and politicians across the world — George Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford. He also cooked for kings, sheiks, movie stars and people like Princess Diana. Following this extraordinary success, he owned and ran Citrus Etoile in Paris, along with his wife, former model/actress, Elizabeth Epié.
But Gilles is far from done. He is back in California, with gorgeous new Gilles @ Montage Beverly Hills restaurant. We sat down with Gilles over the best Scottish salmon I have ever had. (The juniper berries in combination with the other flavors is absolutely sublime.)
Besides the most amazing commercial kitchen I have ever seen, there is a special feeling about being here. It is immediately obvious that his team is devoted to him. Some chefs give direction and say run with it, and then walk away. But in speaking with people here, the word is that Gilles is in the thick of it, every single day making sure it gets done. His leadership style is not belittling as has been done by many a chef at his level, but rather calmly attracting through his warm hospitality. This sets the tone for the entire restaurant. He establishes the culture of a warm, engaging guest experience by letting everyone know they are part of the team no matter what their job is. He embodies the sense of warm, welcoming French hospitality that one wants in a restaurant, or in a friend.
“I love being here”
What do your days look like?
I get to work around 10 am, but if there is something that needs taken care of, I’ll be here earlier. We serve dinner until 10 pm, and I am here for all of that.
The thing is, The Montage is a super cool hotel; that is why I love being here. If I wanted to I could only be here 6 hours, but I don’t want that. I want to be here for everything because it is a wonderful place, and I want what everyone else here wants, which is making the best of the best for our customers.
When did you start Gilles @ Montage Beverly Hills?
October this year and we will go through December 31st.
Passing Knowledge to the Younger Generation
I understand you started young. Why are you still cooking?
I started working at 14 — I’ve been at it for 40 years. I love to cook, and I love to cook for people I love. Cooking is fun, and I make it fun, and it is my passion. I always make my days fun, even when I was working for other chefs. I knew my ambition early on; at 14, I knew I wanted to be a recognized chef, and I have been doing that ever since.
Now so much of my life here is about transmission. I want to transmit my knowledge to the younger generation. Without this transmission, everyone is going to be lost one day. There is so much confusion with what you can see on the internet, with the basics. People go online to pick up the recipe, but this is not where the recipe is. They are in the old books, in people working as chefs themselves. It is not online.
Bringing French Cuisine to LA
What have you created here at The Montage?
I got lucky to meet the people at the Montage and they gave me the chance to create something unique to Los Angeles, which is the real French cuisine. Here there are many excellent restaurants with other cuisines, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, but there is no French cuisine in Los Angeles. It is time to bring it back.
“We keep it simple”
What would you say are the defining characteristics of French cuisine?
First, it is based on the best products, then done with simplicity, not heavy like it used to be with a lot of butter and cream. We use the very best ingredients, the best seasoning, and then the correct cooking technique. We keep it simple. It could be string beans on a plate, but they will be the very best string beans one can have.
“There is no good chef without a team”
Tell me about the idea of teams in a restaurant.
There is no good chef without a team; it is all about them. My job here is to be the leader of the people around me. They need to understand what we are doing as a group, and where we want to go as a team. I work with the classic techniques, and I want all of them to be able to understand it regardless of what their role is. I need to transmit the knowledge of what I do so that the job can be done when I am doing other things.
Humility and Team Building
How did you learn team building?
It’s all about management. When I was 24-25 years old, I used to be a bit…a little harsh, or I would get upset about people. At such a young age I was given tremendous responsibility. But as you get older you learn how to be humble, because especially in the food business, you never know what is going to happen that day. I have the experience and the knowledge to answer the team’s questions as they come up. This helps make me the leader. The day they stop learning here is the day they start looking to go somewhere else. Every day I talk to each person, I ask them how is it going, if they will be ready for tonight with whatever their specialty is. If they aren’t, I want to help them out, to understand how together we will get it done.
“This is the perfect place for me”
This is the perfect place for me, The Montage. I am so happy to be here, it’s like a family. Everyone throughout the hotel, no matter what their role, knows everyone else. This is great in this hotel — the location is perfect, the system is perfect, which is what I was looking for. I want to make the best possible food with the best possible ingredients we can find at the local markets.
Chef Gilles is wearing jewelry by J&F, sold exclusively at Maxfield. (Johnny Depp, Slash are fans also.) The fingers-crossed piece on a chain he came to the table with today is incredible. We will be doing a story on these folks in a few weeks.