Exclusive: Meet Chef Stéphane Jego

Exclusive: Meet Chef Stéphane Jego

Chef Stéphane Jego

Chef Stéphane Jego

In an interview with Chef Stéphane Jego from L’Ami Jean, Hodema consulting services sits down with the chef at Liza Beirut for a one on one Franco-Libanaise culinary exploration.

Stéphane Jego was born in Brittany, France. He worked for 12 years with Chef Yves Camdeborde, the French father of Bistronomy. Jego’s philosophy – offer contemporary gourmet food at affordable prices and in a casual atmosphere. He took over L’ami Jean’s kitchen in 2004, turning it into one of the hottest bistros in Paris.

What is the purpose of your trip?
I came to Lebanon thanks to friends! We met in Paris with Liza and Ziad Asseily (owners of Liza restaurant), and had a dinner during which we established a nice relationship; we started building from there. For me, complicity and synergies are the basis for everything.

How do you adapt your cooking to Lebanese tastes?
I do not “adapt” per say, because adapting is somehow forceful. Instead we create a bond, a synergy among ingredients. For instance, we prepared grilled beef, burnt with oregano that has marinated in sumac, lemon, coriander and cumin for 48 hours.

Do you travel a lot?
Yes more and more. Traveling for me is about meeting new people. For example, I recently discovered kama, the Syrian truffle, thanks to a Syrian chef who works with me at La Résidence, a restaurant at the Refugees Food Festival in Paris, and who became a friend.

You know, you can be the most open-minded person in the world but if you stay at home, it’s useless. Moments of exchange are what open your mind. A beautiful conversation is more important than visiting the local market. What matters most is people.

How did you start cooking?
I left school when I was 14. I was meant to become an iron-worker but I wasn’t very good using a hammer so I decided to move to something else. Cooking didn’t require much effort for me, I found it relaxing. So, at 14, I stepped into a professional kitchen for the first time, but it was the exact opposite of what I do now. They would make me open cans, use frozen products… At 18, I was drafted for military service and went to Paris to be a cook at the officers’ mess. That was my first real kitchen. It opened my eyes.

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Then I met Chef Yves Camdeborde and worked with him for twelve years until I had a very serious traffic accident; this is when I told myself that I needed to open my own place. In 2002, I took over l’Ami Jean.

How did you finance the acquisition?
Friends helped me. We had a very complicated financial structure spread over seven years but we ended up paying back the loan in only two years. Today we have 20 employees and operate on a €2 million yearly turnover.

How did your cooking evolve over the years?
In 2002, I constantly wanted to do more… then after a while, I realized there is no point in running around like this. I scaled down from serving 180 plates a day to 120 without increasing the prices. It was a decision to change, to take a step back and look at things with more depth.

Are you able to leave your restaurant?
Yes I do when I travel abroad, but I cannot open another restaurant. There have been serious offers but it’s not for me. It’s easy to open here and there but I do not want to copy-paste what I do. But I won’t stay at L’Ami Jean forever, in 10 years I might be elsewhere.

What surprised you in Beirut?
Nothing surprised me! The energy I found in Beirut is what I expected and what I hoped for. I immediately felt at ease, between the images from the past and the energies of the moment.

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About author

Rita Ghantous

Rita Ghantous is a hospitality aficionado and a passionate writer with over 9 years’ experience in journalism and 5 years experience in the hospitality sector. Her passion for the performance arts and writing, started early. At 10 years old she was praised for her solo performance of the Beatles song “All My Love” accompanied by a guitarist, and was approached by a French talent scout during her school play. However, her love for writing was stronger. Fresh out of school, she became a freelance journalist for Noun Magazine and was awarded the Silver Award Cup for Outstanding Poetry, by The International Library of Poetry (Washington DC). She studied Business Management and earned a Masters degree from Saint Joseph University (USJ), her thesis was published in the Proche-Orient, Études en Management book. She then pursued a career in the hospitality industry but didn’t give up writing, that is why she launched the Four Points by Sheraton Le Verdun Newsletter. Her love for the industry and journalism led her to Hospitality Services - the organizers of the HORECA trade show in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as Salon Du Chocolat, Beirut Cooking Festival, Whisky Live and other regional shows. She is currently the Publications Executive of Hospitality News Middle East, Taste & Flavors and Lebanon Traveler. It is with ultimate devotion for her magazines that she demonstrates her hospitality savoir-faire.

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