Our August Gluten Free Guest Chef, Rémy Lefebvre, is a French chef with almost two decades of experience working in internationally-renowned, Michelin-starred restaurants and 5-star hotels in Spain, Lebanon, and India. With a flair for Mexican cuisine, he specialises in using wood-fires cut from various trees – such as cherry oak and almond, as well as Japanese binchō-tan charcoal – to create unique flavours and deliver a memorable experience. Favouring seasonal ingredients, Rémy is also committed to living a greener life and providing a more sustainable menu for his guests. He is currently Chef de Cuisine at Butcher’s Block, a BBQ-forward specialty restaurant that is a part of Raffles Hotel Singapore, where you can find our Gluten Free Focaccia on the menu.
As part of this collaboration with The Whole Kitchen, Rémy has created a French inspired “Gâteau de Voyage” or travel cake, characterized by its small “perfect for journeys” size and use of glazed fruits – though this one contains fresh cherries. While we appreciate that travel is somewhat limited right now, why not take one of these Gâteaux with you to make even the shortest outing feel like an adventure. He has chosen to make his Gâteau de Voyage using zesty lemons, toasted pumpkin seeds, deliciously sweet, fresh cherries, as well as absolutely no animal products. Rémy explains that when developing a menu, he always takes great care in ensuring that it caters for those with allergies and health needs. As such, he has greatly enjoyed experimenting with gluten free cooking, endeavouring to also make his creation Vegan-friendly.
Continue reading to learn more about Rémy, and to view the Vegan Lemon Cherry "Gâteau de Voyage" click here.
Let’s delve in by discussing how you have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m facing the same challenges as every other colleague in the restaurant industry, we’re all concentrating our efforts in taking care of the community and entertaining people who are willing to dine out. As far as I can tell that goal hasn’t changed.
However, I would say that our local and regional supply chain has been affected. More and more lots of the products I’m buying come from places like Japan, or New Zealand, or Australia. In January I had a very good mindset of only trying to buy from local suppliers, but now with COVID and the business, it’s all about survival. So yes, I try to buy locally or from the region as much as I can, but right now it’s just not possible, especially when the customer expectation is so high.
What are your thoughts on the future of dining out post COVID-19?
I’m sure we will overcome these challenges and adapt restaurants to the needs of the community. We’ll also be able to engage more honestly with our guests, remember our commitment to the planet, and maybe even find a better work / life balance. You know, being a Chef is a way of life, so I am fully committed to my daily activities and weekly planning. In general, I also try to sleep a lot and eat good, natural, products.
Tell us more about what you’ve created and your inspiration.
I have a good friend who I met while working at Raffles. She is allergic to pretty much everything, she’s dairy free, lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, can’t eat eggs, doesn’t eat beef. When I first met her I didn’t want her at a table at my restaurant, I thought “What are we going to eat?”, but actually now my whole menu is designed for people with allergies or dietary needs, so when they come to my restaurant they can eat almost anything. And now when I invite people over they can have a cup of tea and a slice of gluten free cake.
I’ve been experimenting at home over the last few months with allergen-free recipes and deciding what I would make for this gluten-free proposal. I actually really enjoyed the research and have been wanting to adjust the dessert menu for people who have difficulty finding something sweet, allergen-free, and interesting to eat. I love acidity which is why I chose to use lemons, and I balanced the acidity with sweet, seasonal, fresh cherries. I prefer to use seasonal ingredients because I find it more inspiring and you end up buying what’s on sale at the market. You use what you can find and that’s beautiful.
From your experience, how have allergies changed the dining scene over time and are chefs now more open to accommodating these needs?
Allergies is something we should take seriously and it is no longer a case of a one-off or having a fancy diet. My whole menu is adapted and adjusted for all major allergies and we are very happy to say that receiving people with allergies is never an issue. All of our dishes are seasonal and are adapted with allergies in mind when we create the recipes, which ensures the experience and the taste is never affected.
People come to my restaurant now and they tell me “Oh I’m gluten free, I’m vegan” and it’s not a problem. On the menu we used to say if an item was “gluten free”, but we’ve gotten to a point where we only have a few items that contain gluten, so now we just tell people if it has gluten in it.
What about what you eat at home?
Personally, I’m not allergic to anything, so any decision I make about food is for my health and my lifestyle. I do actually prefer not to eat too much gluten, or too much beef, I like everything in moderation. You know, I still love pasta with eggs and flour, but I also really enjoy having no gluten in my food. I feel a lot lighter, it’s very easy to digest, and I’m very happy with that.
A lot of what I eat at home is very simple, for example, for breakfast I will just have some fruit, eggs, oat milk, and granola.
Also I recommend going to the market to buy fruits and vegetables, eating a well balanced diet with responsible farming and sourcing, cooking at home as much as you can, and avoiding fat and sugar as much as possible.
What would you say your biggest challenge has been baking something gluten free?
The biggest challenge was that it’s not baking at all, it’s something different. When I started looking at recipes for Gluten Free cakes or breads, I was shocked by how many different types of starch they use. When you bake normal cakes or breads, you might look at the kind of starch you’re using but you’re probably not paying too much attention because actually it’s the gluten that does all the work. Gluten free baking is something else entirely, there’s no gluten there to support the structure.
You start off thinking it will be easy, xanthan gum is going to resolve everything, but it’s actually just disgusting. I just thought any old bag of gluten free flour would be fine, but you really have to pay attention to what it’s made of, there are so many different types. And even the brand you use makes a difference, you might think that white rice flour is just white rice flour, but even just using two different brands can give you completely different textures and consistencies.
One of our last burning questions, how would your "last supper" look?
Firstly, I would invite epicurean friends, my kids, a DJ, and a tattoo artist. The menu would consist of wood-fired fish, seafood, vegetables, and a farmed chicken, accompanied by iberico ham, humus, tacos, and paella – and of course there would be plenty of cheese, sourdough bread, and salted butter. Dessert would be tarts of seasonal fruits, some champagne, no actually, a lot of champagne, and at the end I would sit for the last tattoo smoking a beautiful cigar.
Above all, I cook to make people happy, so if we ended our final meal with lots of love and kisses, that would be enough.
And as a closing statement, to bring some light to these unusual times, tell us three things you are most grateful for right now.
My family is healthy.
I take care of myself now more than ever.
And I’m not worried about anything.
Thank you so much for your time and your expertise, Rémy. If you would like to try Rémy’s creation, the link is here, we look forward to hearing your thoughts.