From Lux­em­bourg With Love

Taste & Travel - - Contents -

SU­SAN KORAH meets celebrity chef Lea Lin­ster.

Her eyes are as warm and golden-brown as her sig­na­ture madeleines. They sparkle with warmth and pas­sion, and a smile lights up her face as she deftly scoops a batch of these pe­tite shell­shaped cakes from the oven and ar­ranges them on a plate.

Léa Lin­ster, Lux­em­bourg's celebrity chef is in her favourite place — the kitchen of her man­sion-turne­drestau­rant. She is about to con­duct her reg­u­lar evening rit­ual — or­ches­trat­ing the din­ner ser­vice and en­sur­ing that every de­tail is per­fect, from the ta­bles set with exquisite, hand-painted dishes, crys­tal glasses and sil­ver cut­lery, to the food it­self, a sym­phony of flavours, tex­tures and colours.

As Lux­em­bourg's first fe­male chef to win the Bo­cuse D'or — the most pres­ti­gious culi­nary award in the world — Léa Lin­ster put the minia­ture coun­try — sit­u­ated at the cross­roads of Ger­many and France — on the gas­tro­nomic map of the world. She still reigns supreme as the maître cuisinier of the Grand Duchy, which can hold its own in culi­nary terms with neigh­bour­ing France.

Her epony­mous flag­ship res­tau­rant is in the charm­ing vil­lage of Frisange, a ten-kilo­me­tre drive from the heart of Lux­em­bourg City, cap­i­tal of the pic­ture-post­card coun­try blessed with ideal con­di­tions for good farm prod­ucts and vine­yards. It is also 800 me­tres from the French bor­der, at­tract­ing large numbers of French tourists ac­cus­tomed to the high­est stan­dards in food and wine.

Ear­lier in the af­ter­noon, the cook­book au­thor and pop­u­lar guest on Ger­man TV shows re­sponds to my ques­tions over cups of cap­puc­cino. She talks an­i­mat­edly about Lux­em­bourg's culi­nary her­itage and her own road to star­dom.

“We use Lux­em­bourg's lo­cal in­gre­di­ents,” she says when asked about the se­cret of her fine cui­sine. “What we raise and grow. What the soil and cli­mate give us. My madeleines, for ex­am­ple, are made with the best Lux­em­bourg but­ter and lots of love.”

In her fifties now, she re­calls the days — well be­fore the euro be­came Europe's stan­dard cur­rency — when the res­tau­rant was her fam­ily home. It was also the cen­tre of a fam­ily busi­ness that in­cluded a café, res­tau­rant, gas sta­tion, bowl­ing al­ley, liquor and to­bacco shop and cur­rency ex­change bureau for tourists from France and Ger­many.

“My fa­ther was a pas­try chef and an artist — in the art of liv­ing,” she says, adding that she in­her­ited her taste for a re­fined life­style from him, while her per­se­ver­ance and de­ter­mi­na­tion come from her mother.

The third of four sib­lings, she went to France to study law, but came back to re­unite with her true love — the fam­ily's res­tau­rant busi­ness.

“My heart was in this busi­ness, my roots are here, and I can use all my tal­ents here,” she says.

After buy­ing the house from her mother in 1985, she spent a mil­lion eu­ros on re­fur­bish­ing it into the tem­ple of fine din­ing it is to­day. “I found a bank that had faith in me as a busi­ness­woman,” she says of her search for a loan in the days when women en­trepreneurs were rel­a­tively few and far be­tween.

To­day, slid­ing glass doors of­fer guests re­lax­ing views of the gar­dens and vine­yard, glow­ing in jewel tones

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