When I met good-natured Chef Vincent Lessage, I immediately thought of Doogie Howser. He does look a little like the young TV doctor of yesteryear, but it’s more because, at age 30, the Bacara’s executive chef already boasts such a remarkable resume that we should all feel like underachievers.
Vincent was born and raised in Paris, one of the greatest gastronomic cities, and trained at The Ritz Paris and two Michelin three-star restaurants, L’Astrance and Bras, after graduating from the Institut Paul Bocuse in Ecully, France.
He came to the United States to serve as executive sous chef at St. Regis Monarch Beach and then became executive chef of Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, where he opened two of the city’s only waterfront restaurants, Waterline and A&O Kitchen + Bar. At Bacara, he oversees all of their dining experiences, including their new signature restaurant that will open in the spring of 2016.
His leisure time is spent enjoying Santa Barbara museums with his family. It was actually early visits to the Louvre that inspired to become a chef.
Vincent puts down his whisk to answer the Proust questionnaire.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My ambition. People are often surprised at what I have accomplished at my age.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could paint. Growing up in Paris, I spent my weekends at the Louvre. I am fascinated by how an artist can transform a blank canvas into something that can evoke emotion.
Who do you most admire?
Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon. They built an empire from the ground up. It’s a reminder to me that anything is possible with hard work and passion.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Artist Henri Matisse. I admire his reverence for classical technique while pushing new boundaries in his own way, much like my approach to cooking.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My two-year-old daughter. I just started cooking with her, which consists of me cooking while I hold her. It’s crazy to watch a little person develop right before your eyes.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being in a busy kitchen.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing someone I love.
What is your greatest extravagance?
A day off with my family (and no cell phone!).
What is your current state of mind?
Busy! Things are in full swing at Bacara. This means families, weddings, and special celebrations. They all require customized service and personal attention. And they are all extremely important to us.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
People who talk too much. I guess this ties back to the question about my current state of mind. I appreciate people who can get straight to the point.
What is the quality you most like in people?
What do you most value in friends?
My friends are always honest with me, for better or for worse. I can always count on them for the truth, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Most people perceive chefs to be entertainers. I am actually very shy, and more of an introvert. I wish I could be more outgoing.
Where would you most like to live?
I grew up in Paris and was afforded the opportunity to live in the South of France. For me, it doesn’t get any better than that. Since I’ve already lived in the best place in the world, every new adventure is a bonus and a gift.
What is your most treasured possession?
My cookbooks. There are too many to list, but The Escoffier Cook Book and Ducasse Flavors of France are two of my favorites.
Who makes you laugh the most?
The French comedian, Gad Elmaleh.
What is your motto?
It doesn’t take more time to do it right.
On what occasion do you lie?
When my wife asks me what time I am coming home from work.