Chef Laurent Peugeot has spent years traveling the world, including journeying through Japan and southeast Asia. Immersing himself in the culinary culture of the region, he concocted a hybrid of French and Asian cooking that has earned him a stellar, international reputation - and some Michelin stars. Owner and chef of Le Charlemagne located in Burgundy, France, Chef Peugeot also has several other restaurants throughout France and southeast Asia. Now, he's come to the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah to create a brand new experience with Le Deck; the famed floating spot is set to be transformed into a self-contained restaurant, kitchen, and bar, with a gorgeous view of the Nile. The herbs and spices for the new eatery will be grown in the Sofitel itself, right on the banks of the Nile, where they will be utilised in Chef Laurent's innovative dishes that will blend Egyptian cuisines with other tastes from around the world. We sit down with the world renowned chef at the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah to get the inside scoop on the upcoming Le Deck by Laurent Peugeot.
When did you start to cook?
I started cooking school when I was 15 years old. I would spend one week at school, another in the kitchen at a restaurant. It was a passion first and foremost; if you don’t have passion for your work, you don’t want to do it.
Tell us a little about what you're doing here at Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah?
Eight years ago I worked with Mr. Betourne [General Manager of Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah] at the Sofitel in Poland. This venture won't be the exact same concept or the same style of food but I will definitely be bringing my skill and identity to Cairo. It’ll will be a nice concept and will also up the skill level of Egyptian chefs who will be involved.
What lured you to Egypt and what can we expect from the revamped version of Le Deck?
Of course a part of the reason I came on board is because I know Mr. Betourne and have worked with him in the past. Other hotels will ask me to sign the menu but if I don’t like the style, I won’t do it. My style is not traditional French. It’s a new style. It's also however, largely due to the fact that I like the project; it’s a new concept. It’s not just about the food; it’s the whole experience. I’m also designing the plates, the staff’s uniforms, everything. There’s music, we don’t have napkins. I want a show; the visual aspect. The guests aren’t here only for the taste, it’s the entire experience; the ambience of the bar, the chef in an open kitchen. It will be out of the ordinary.
Japan is known to be quite strict. Were you ready for the cultural differences when you went there?
I worked with Le Cordon Bleu while I was in Japan - they have many schools in Brazil, Japan, Australia, and Bangkok. I like Japan because they have respect. Respect for the people, the food, the produce. After five years I came back to France and I went crazy because inside, I’m Japanese. I worked for six months in France as a chef at a hotel, and and then I thought "Ok no," and I stopped and went back to Japan. Europe is not the same culture. They don’t have respect.
What differences have you noticed in guests' tastes and palettes between Europe, Japan, and now Egypt? Are there similar dishes between cultures that require regional tweaks?
I never make the same food in different countries. In Poland, they serve a lot more food with a lot of butter and cream; very fattening, heavy food. In Egypt it’s more oil based. It’s different everywhere. I want to use produce from Egypt. It’s very important for me to use local vegetables, spices, fish, meat, and balady bread. The first two or three weeks, I want to see what the customers like, because I have so many techniques and I still don't know what they want yet.
For a dinner the other night I used balady bread from Kababgy, which is really famous in Egypt, and everybody really liked it. So I’m mixing Egyptian tastes with my own fusion style, combining Egyptian, Thai, Japanese, and French cuisine; for instance, making Thai Tom Yum with spices from Egypt.
What is your favourite food?
Japanese food is number one for me. I like it because it’s strict food, the same as the people; the taste is strict and the look of the food is very strict in its design. After that is Thai food. Thai people make food just with a barbecue. You buy calamari, put spices on it, and then you have a small barbecue on a bicycle, which is where you cook it - they ride the bicycle and the wind runs the grill.
What is your favourite cuisine to cook?
My favourite to cook is my French-Japanese fusion. But I like cooking the cuisine of whatever country I’m in. For example, staying in Egypt, I would go with you to the market, and then what I would cook would depend on what's available. I like new styles, I like to taste the food. I open your fridge and whatever I see, I cook.
You’ve trained with some of the best chefs in the world. Have you have you trained anyone you think people should be on the look out for?
I opened Le Charlemagne 15 years ago and many of the chefs who worked with me there now have restaurants of their own. For example, my sous chef from three years ago opened a restaurant and two years later he had one Michelin star. I’m really glad because I trained them. Now [in the interview] I’m happy and relaxed but you come in my kitchen and I’m not the same. I’m strong, nervous, and very strict. Guys that work with me two, three, four years get ‘LP’ tattooed. One staff chef asked me for my blood!
You can find out more about Le Deck by Laurent Peugeot on Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah's Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram @sofitelcairoeg.
Shoot by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions. Photography by Ahmed Najeeb.