French chef Arnaud Lallement was destined for a career in the culinary arts. Born and raised in the picturesque Champagne wine region, his mother and father were both restauranteurs, and watching his dad at work in the kitchen at their family restaurant, Châlons-sur-Vesle, ignited Arnaud’s passion for cooking from a young age. Inspired by his parents’ skill and love for their craft, Arnaud found himself wanting to follow in their footsteps.
“I was born in Champagne, in the city of Reims, and my [culinary] education came from my dad and mom, who were both restaurateurs. I think [why I wanted to become a chef ] is the fact that I lived all my life above a kitchen, hearing my father cooking, hearing my mother take care of the guests, feeling all this good courage and empathy within a restaurant.”
After graduating with a diploma from the Strasbourg Hotel and Catering College, Arnaud cut his teeth alongside some of the greatest names in French cuisine, including Roger Vergé, who helmed the legendary Moulin de Mougins restaurant; Michel Guérard, one of France’s longest standing three-Michelin-starred chefs; and Alain Chapel, one of the founders of Nouvelle Cuisine and the mastermind behind his acclaimed eponymous dining venue in Mionnay. Still, even with all this experience, the cook who had the most significant influence on Arnaud was his father.
“The chef who has had the greatest impact on my experience is my dad; he was already a Michelin-starred chef, and he had Gault&Millau toques, so he was really the one who inspired me the most. After him, my real source of inspiration remains Champagne; I live in the middle of the vineyards, and that for me is very, very important.”
In 1997, Arnaud joined his father behind the stoves at L’Assiette Champenoise, his beloved restaurant nestled in the heart of Champagne. At that time, his patriarch had already been leading the highly lauded kitchen for 22 years. Together, they continued building on the venue’s success until Arnaud took over the reins in 1988. From here, Arnaud hit full throttle, making it his mission to turn this dining establishment into one of the best in the world, all while remaining true to his philosophy of celebrating Champagne’s beauty through his cuisine.
“I always start from the principle that we must never forget where we come from, where we are and for whom we are cooking. I come from Champagne, I was born in Champagne, and I cook for the residents and tourists who want to discover Champagne. After this, my cooking must be a cuisine full of emotions, passion and taste. We must find texture, salinity and a hint of bitterness and acidity. All these elements are essential to make pairings with Champagne, which represents my cuisine the most.”
At the core of each of Arnaud’s culinary creations lies a fervour for flavour in its purest form — and this is put forward through the utilisation of premium products sourced from specialist purveyors and skilled artisans across France. His quest for showcasing the ever essential taste is underpinned by the expert inclusion of acidity, which does wonders offsetting the sweetness of any product, giving every dish the perfect balance that he constantly seeks. This underlying attention to detail and careful thought process is what makes his cuisine a cut above the rest.
“What I like the most is finding the most beautiful products from our artisans, whether it’s a potato or a turbot, a carrot or a langoustine, a celery or a sweetbread. I want to respect these raw products to the maximum, honouring both the product and the craftsman behind it, and to make a dish full of emotions.
“We get our supplies from the best craftsmen in the area, so that means that if the best carrot is 500 metres from my house, I will take it at 500 metres, but if it is at five kilometres, I will take it at five kilometres. I always try to find the best craftsmen around us and use only French products. In France, we are lucky to have a very large pantry where all the products are present in each region. We must not deprive ourselves of it; we must know how to choose them and put them in our dishes.”
Moreover, Arnaud is particularly committed to using only products that are in season — as any great chef knows, this is when each ingredient’s taste and quality is at its peak. Ever inspired by nature, he makes a point of surrounding himself with the natural world, even in his kitchen, and then translates its beauty to the plate. Guided by French tradition, he reinvents the classics using simplicity as a means to highlight the product while paying tribute to Champagne through and through.
“What inspires me the most is the seasonal product. The season is very important in my kitchen, hence the interest in having large bay windows [in the restaurant] that overlook the park outside. Seasonal products are super important, as is my region. Once again, Champagne is what inspires me; the pairings that I will be able to make with a vintage, cuvée or blend. Champagne is truly the hub of my cooking.
“In terms of leading the kitchen, what I like most is when we arrive in the morning, we discover the products of the day as we go, and we exchange within the teams. At noon, the adrenaline rises; the guests go into the restaurant and choose what they want to eat, and we have to surpass ourselves to be as close as possible to the excellence they expect.”
There’s no doubt that Arnaud and his team certainly live up to — and exceed — their diners’ expectations. Lauded far and wide for the high calibre of cuisine delivered, L’Assiette Champenoise is no stranger to awards. From three stars in the Michelin Guide — awarded since 2014 — to a 19.5 rating from Gault&Millau as of 2016, this is a restaurant that has all tongues wagging, all of the time. However, with such revere comes immense pressure and responsibility, and fighting to keep this stature is something Arnaud and his team have to work hard for, day in, day out. It’s about keeping your eyes on the prize and not resting on your laurels for today’s achievements but instead looking at how you can maintain this triumph tomorrow and every day after that, says Arnaud.
“Work, passion, this perpetual search and more work and passion — these are really the key elements of the restaurant’s success. But the most important element is to say that it is not yet today that we have succeeded, but it is tomorrow that we will keep trying to succeed.”
Everything at L’Assiette Champenoise is a team effort, and by working hand in hand with his brigade, Arnaud is able to bring his award winning dishes to life. Always an involved process, each plate is painstakingly devised so that it meets the chef ’s exacting standards — and the time this takes can vary from days to years.
“All the dishes have a different route. I have dishes that can be created in a few days, others in a few weeks and others that take a few years. This is because we have seasonal products coming in, and we start to develop a dish on them, which takes time. We realise that the season is almost over, and we still haven’t put that product on the menu because we haven’t succeeded in finishing the dish, so we’ll keep this idea for the following year.”
In terms of Arnaud’s favourite ingredients, these include fish, crustaceans and shellfish — he’s particularly fond of the salinity of seafood and its tendency to marry perfectly with his secret weapon: acidity. Last but not least, these ocean treasures are the ideal accompaniments to Champagne, so, naturally, they would take preference as maximising the synchronicity between this cherished bubble suffused wine and his flavour-filled food always takes precedence in his kitchen. There’s also one seafood dish in particular that holds a special place in the chef ’s heart, as it’s a sentimental creation inspired by his father.
“I have an à la carte dish that I call Blue Lobster — a tribute to my dad because when I lost him twenty years ago, I wanted to put a dish back on the menu in his honour. I remembered this dish he served us at Christmas in a casserole with potatoes and paprika sauce. We reworked it to bring a lot of finesse and this excellence that I seek every time in each of my dishes. It’s a dish full of emotions that continues to evolve each time — it’s been in its fourth version for a dozen years, and it’s a dish from which I have a great story and an emotional bond with my father.”
Of course, still manning the stoves of the kitchen where Aranud and his father worked together is, in its own right, touching, and to keep his father’s memory alive, Arnaud ensures that a sense of family is omnipresent at L’Assiette Champenoise. This notion is extended to every aspect of the restaurant, including the ambience, which embraces guests with a friendly, warm welcome, just as parents would lovingly greet their children. It’s a place that exudes endless emotion, benevolence and empathy, all in tune with Arnaud’s greatest wish: that guests leave his restaurant satisfied and happy and with the desire to return again.
To find out more about Arnaud Lallement and L’Assiette Champenoise, contact the restaurant using the links below: