French born Philippe Corbet grew up in a family of chefs and developed an expert knowledge of food at an early age. He formally studied the art of cooking in France, earning a four-year chef’s degree and graduating first in his class.
From there, Corbet worked in a variety of Michelin-starred restaurants – including the famed Georges Blanc in Vonnas Ain – where he honed his skills and developed an interest in world cuisines. He headed to the United States at the age of 24 and landed in several top restaurant kitchens through the New York area including Bouley. In 2016, Philippe Corbet joined the team of Montauk Asset Holdings and launched Lulu Kitchen & Bar where he has created a menu built around a custom wood-fired grill.
Total Food Service had the opportunity to talk to Philippe Corbet about his inspirations, trainings, and ambitions for Lulu Kitchen & Bar.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Becoming a chef was my second choice. I always wanted to be a photographer, but at 17 there were not too many opportunities in this trade. So I decided to become a chef. I grew up in a chef family – my grandfather was a chef, who earned two Michelin stars in the 70s. My uncle was a pastry chef as well as my brother. However the most significant influence I had was from my father. He inspired me to develop a passion for cooking. Although he was not a chef, the memory of cooking with him and enjoying family dinner ignited that passion.
Where did you receive your formal training?
I enrolled myself in a cooking school program Le Fontanil in France. The program included both in class work and an apprenticeship in a restaurant. I was lucky enough to work in a Michelin star restaurant in my hometown L’auberge Lamartine. Following this I spent three years as an apprentice at Georges Blanc, a three star Michelin restaurant.
During your time in France which restaurants did you train in? Which was the most memorable and why?
My first restaurant kitchen was L’auberge Lamartine. I had no idea what I was doing, but the culinary team took the time to teach me and ultimately became my second family. They are the reason why I became so passionate about cooking and the restaurant life to this day. I was there for two years as an apprentice and came back as a line chef three years later for two more years. They gave me the tools and the passion, but most importantly they gave me the understanding that all chefs are all brothers and we are a family. I lost my father at 16 and they gave me the structure that I needed to choose the right path in my life. The most important thing than I learned is that my team is the most important part and helps me grow as a chef.
Why did you decide to come to the United States?
I was getting bored in France. At 24 I was very passionate but never thought for a minute I would end up in the United States. My friend Christophe, who I worked with at Georges Blanc, called me and offered me to head to New York with him. I hesitated at first speaking no English and having a life in France, but about a month after his offer, I lost everything I owned in a fire. It was the right time to make the move and try something new. I was only planning to be in the US for a year, but loved it so much I never left.
How does cooking in the US differ from cooking in France?
Cooking is very different in France as compared to the US. In France it is one seating and done, here in the US you do two or three seatings, it’s very demanding. A chef in America has a lot more respect than in France. In France it is considered blue collar work. When I arrived in the US I felt I had a good base of knowledge but I realized I still had so much more to learn. I learned a lot more techniques in the states and was able to work with so many chefs from different countries while in New York.
How would you describe your menus at Lulu Kitchen?
Lulu’s menu is the result of all of my years cooking in Michelin Star restaurants. I always wanted to learn the best techniques and apply them to simple dishes. In all of my years of cooking I tried so many techniques such as molecular and sous vide, at one point I had a tapas restaurant and a bistronomic restaurant. When I had the opportunity to develop a menu at Lulu, I decided that I wanted to work with the purest method of cooking, wood fire. It changed everything as 80% of the menu is created from a woodfire oven and grill. It really showcases the simplicity of Mediterranean cooking – great ingredients treated with respect.
What is your favorite tool to use in the kitchen?
Of course, my woodfire grill!
What do you predict is in store for the future of restaurant kitchens?
It’s hard to tell as the life still of a chef is very hard. The work is very demanding and the rewards can be minimal. As a result it has become very hard to find passionate and accomplished chefs. However, I think we will bounce back from this period. Being in a restaurant kitchen is truly a brotherhood that drives so much passion. I have been in the kitchen now for 24 years and I am still challenged and learn everyday. I have met and worked with incredible people and feel it is all worth it. I am excited for the future of cooking; it has become a melting pot of ingredients, techniques and culture.
To learn more about Philippe Corbet and Lulu Kitchen, visit their website.