As a fifth-generation chef, Sebastian Maillard says cooking might as well be in his genes. He grew up watching his parents, grandmother and great-grandfather work their magic in the kitchen, which is reflected in his culinary creations as chef and owner of Le Lafayette in Naples.
Having lived in Cannes, France, and Martinique before arriving in Naples in 2001, Maillard says his dishes encompass flavors from all of France. “I am classic traditional, not a regional person,” he says, likening his cuisine to that of Lyon, “the capital of the world for food.”
In this interview, Maillard shares his influences, plus where his sweeter side comes from.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I am a fifth generation chef. I was born in November 1971, and not my first but second New Year’s Eve, I spent all night in a big [play] pen with a friend. That was also the day I learned to walk and went into the glass room [at my father’s restaurant] and started to drink some Champagne leftover from the customers. From then, I stayed on this side of the kitchen [laughs].
Where did you learn to cook?
I learned from my mom, my grandma and my great grandpa. When you have this past, you have no choice; it’s in your blood.
I remember a long time ago I was with my mom and my grandma, and they would always tell me, “when you do something, first you need to do it for your customer. When you have a recipe on your menu, be very open and do not get stuck in one region.”
When I cook with my mom, we always fight because she says “Sebastian, you need to be more concerned then that,” and I always say “ok, I try, I try.” She is always checking what I do. It has helped me be more constant.
So your mom is still helping shape you as a chef?
My mom is in France all summer, cooking every day, creating new recipes for her friends. She will make this [recipe] three or four times, different every time, and they will critique them. From that she makes a recipe. When I go to France during the summer, we will try the recipe. I might change it a little bit my way or keep it her way, and that is the way we work.
We are always creating, doing research. And after that, we bring the recipe here. This is the way we work. We are always creating new stuff but still traditional.
What is one ingredient you must have?
Aged goat cheese; I love to work with this. It can be with fish, it can be with meat. Fresh goat cheese is nice but too plain for me. I like when it has a lot of flavor and aroma.
Do you have a favorite childhood dish?
Oh yes, my favorite thing from my childhood is riz au lait, rice with milk—it’s a dessert. I remember my dad would make it when we were kids every Sunday afternoon. We had a farm next to the restaurant so the milk was straight from the farm. It was amazing.
What is one rule you live by in the kitchen?
When I create a recipe, the simpler, the better. When you eat fish, the first thing you should taste is the fish. When you eat meat, you should taste the meat. The rest is important, but the most important is the quality of the fish and the meat.
How did Martinique influence your food?
I modified my cuisine and introduced a sweeter side when I was on the island. For example, I now put passion fruit on ribeye—the acidity and sweetness of the fruit is very nice.