From Luxembourg With Love
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