With a beautiful farmhouse in a little village South of France, Belgian chef, Alain Coumont, his wife and daughter, and his extended brood of dogs, cats, chickens and pond fish would certainly make for a picture perfect frame. The man who has been serving the world its ‘daily bread’ for 22 odd years is as warm and welcoming as the light, wholesome fare dished out at his Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ). Just under three years in Bombay, with two outlets – Colaba and BKC (the only one in the world with a bar) – LPQ is a delight, with two more on the anvil here.
Chef Alain’s impressive career graph and talent, partly via lineage – hoteliers on the maternal side and grocers on the paternal – make him a baker-chef extraordinaire, who is on a mission to visit each LPQ country twice a year. That would amount to 320 annual trips around the world; evolving and fine-tuning the menu, quality control, infusing local ingredients to suit the respective populace, all whilst maintaining the core flavour of the global cafe.
“I grew up watching grandmum knead dough, and started cooking with her at the tender age of three,” Chef begins. “However, at the age of 15, a documentary on the life of Chef Michel Guerard (of the founders of Nouvelle Cuisine) – viewed while on a vacation with a host family in the US – resulted in my hobby becoming my bread and butter.” What followed was an instant shift from Classical Studies to the culinary academic, with a degree from the Hotel School of Namur, Belgium. Since 1981, Chef Alain has honed his skills under some of the biggest stars (read Michelin) in the industry: starting out with Master Chef, Georges Blanc; then with his mentor, Chef Michel. After a stint as a private chef in New York, Alain got a feel for the city where dreams are made of and later, decided to test the theory; a truly successful result, with 30 LPQs just in NY today!
Starting out with this first bakery-cum-shop in Brussels at the start of the 90s to today, in pretty much every nook and corner of the world, Chef Alain believes that his success comes from keeping it simple and basic with organic ingredients. That would explain his aversion to flavoured bread and his signature yeast-free sourdough. And it isn’t just bread, but it’s accompaniment, wine too. Alain launched bioghetto.com to bring about organic picnic wines; easy going and safe from chemical preservatives.
And finally, Chef Alain wishes to bring the diners of the world together at his Communal Tables, where food can be a relationship builder and a warm meal shared within a comforting atmosphere.
This interview feature was published in the Apr-Jun 2013 issue of UpperCrust India. Photographs by UpperCrust India.