Ask French chef Alexandre Lozachmeur what he knew about Singapore before he moved here in 2006 and he gives you a sheepish smile. The chef-owner, 33, who is behind two-month-old French restaurant Fleur De Sel in Tras Street, says: "I knew the name of the city, and that it was somewhere in Asia. But I didn't know anything else about it."
He admits that he could barely communicate in English too. All he could say at the time, he recalls, was his name and age, and that he was French.
He had just taken up a job as a chef-instructor at culinary school At- Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.
Prior to that, chef Lozachmeur, who attended the Paul Augier tourism and hotel school in Nice, had worked under the tutelage of famed Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse for six years. Restaurants where he honed his craft include Spoon in Paris and St. Tropez, and Ducasse's eponymous three-starred restaurant at the Plaza Athenee in Paris.
With little exposure to English, it took the Esomme-born chef, who was raised in Antibes in the south of France, six months to become conversational in the language and about 11/2 years to be fluent. He attributes his fluency these days to watching movies on DVD and television programmes with subtitles.
He worked at At-Sunrice for six months before moving on to be the chef de cuisine at Dolce Vita at Mandarin Oriental Singapore. He says: "Being at the culinary school was very challenging but I missed the adrenaline rush of being in a restaurant kitchen."
After about two years at Dolce Vita, he became head chef at now-defunct fine- dining restaurant Harbour Grill at Hilton Singapore for another two years. Other positions he took on here include being the executive chef at Au Petit Salut for 11/2 years. He was most recently the chef de cuisine at Brasserie Les Saveurs at The St. Regis Singapore before opening Fleur De Sel in September.
He runs the restaurant with his Indonesian-Chinese wife Feronika Chandra, 28. They have two children, a daughter who is nine months old and a son aged two. He and his family are Singapore permanent residents and live in a condominium in the Alexandra Road area.
His parents, who are based in Antibes, own and run an Italian food shop that sells handmade pastas, cheese, antipasti and other Italian produce. His older sister, 38, is a child psychologist.
The chef grew up learning to make pasta and gnocchi from his parents, and offers these items as specials on his lunch menu. His restaurant is located next door to another French restaurant, Brasserie Gavroche.
Lozachmeur says his approach to food is classical with an emphasis on produce, seasonality and simplicity.
He says: "I try to make sure that flavours meld and blend together well, and that they do not mask the essence of the main produce. I do not want to overcharge the plate with excessive amounts of flavours."
What are some of your earliest childhood memories of food?
My maternal grandfather would make crepes, cakes and other pastries and I remember licking the mixing bowls and spatulas when I was about three or four years old.
I had a very healthy appetite as a child and I loved to eat. Watching my grandfather cook and bake, and the fact that my family was also involved in a food business, ignited my passion for food and inspired me to become a chef.
Who else in your family cooks and what dish of theirs do you miss the most?
My mother does most of the cooking. My father cooks only once a year - he makes crepes during the annual crepe festival in February.
I really miss my mother's cous cous. I know it is not very French - it is more North African - but she does a good version of it, which she learnt many years ago from a friend. She steams the cous cous over a stock of meat and vegetables. The aroma of the stock infuses the cous cous and makes it very flavoursome. We would then eat it with lamb, beef or sausages.
Which of your wife's dishes is your favourite?
I am very proud of her red velvet cake. She made it for my birthday earlier this year in March. It was very moist and had just the right texture - it was a very good cake. She has not made it since, but I hope she will make it again soon.
What is always in your fridge?
Saucisson (French cured sausage similar to salami), French butter and French cheeses such as Camembert and Brie.
Sometimes, after work, I have saucisson and gherkin on bread for supper.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I love cheese. I eat it every day, partly because, well, there is always cheese in the restaurant. We have a cheese trolley and when I prepare it, I always trim off little bits - that is my one indulgence.
My favourite cheeses are Comte, a semi-hard cheese made from unpasteurised cow's milk; Roquefort, a sheep's milk blue cheese from the south of France; and Saint-Maure, a goat's milk cheese from Touraine in France.
Aside from indulging in cheese, are there any other food or drinks that you cannot do without?
Espresso. I drink about five to 10 cups a day. I like the flavour and the warmth it gives when I drink it.
I am not addicted to it - I don't need it to function - but I find that it helps me to relax and think.
I can drink it at any time of the day, even at midnight. It never keeps me awake at night because I sleep like a baby. When I was working in France, I would drink about 20 cups of espresso a day, which I think was a bit much, so I have since cut down.
Have you any advice for aspiring chefs?
When you work in this industry, you need to have faith in what you do and constantly remind yourself why you continue to do it. Being a chef is a tough job, and if you don't love it and are not passionate about cooking and about pleasing customers, you will never be able to stick it out.
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