Position: Executive Chef/Owner
Education: École Supérieure de Cuisine
Awards: 2 Michelin stars [/vc_column_text]
Didier Elena, Culinary Director of Chefs Club International, leads the restaurant group’s unique culinary programming. Originally from Monaco, and the son of an Italian fisherman, he grew up working in the kitchen at his uncle’s restaurant on holidays. In 1988, while getting a routine haircut at a local barbershop in his home town, Didier sat next to Alain Ducasse and shortly after began working in Ducasse’s Louis XV, while also earning a culinary degree from École Supérieure de Cuisine in Paris.
Didier spent more than 25 years in the world’s most esteemed kitchens from New York to Tokyo, with a total of 15 Michelin stars awarded to the locations. In 2001, as Executive Chef of Ducasse’s first restaurant in the US, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, he received four stars from The New York Times and was voted Best New Restaurant by The James Beard Foundation. As a consultant, Didier has opened seven additional restaurants with Alain Ducasse around the world including Ostape in Biddaray, France, and Beige in Tokyo. He has co-authored three cookbooks: The Flavors of France, La Bonne Cuisine de Francoise Bernard et Alain Ducasse, and Les Ateliers d’Alain Ducasse. His mastery of classic, fine-dining cuisine complements the eclectic styles of the collective of Chefs selected to create Chefs Clubs seasonal menus. Didier and his wife Aude moved back to the US in 2010 and live in Astoria, Queens with their children, Jade and Armand.
The Chefs Connection: What was your first job in food?
Didier Elena: I was a stager and line cook at Alain Ducasse’s Louise XV. I met Ducasse at in Monaco while I was getting a haircut at my local barber shop. I started working for him shortly thereafter!
TCC: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DE: A doctor – my mother was a physician and I was studying to become a doctor before I became a chef.
TCC: What’s your favorite thing about being a chef?
DE: Creating things. I love creating something that makes people happy
TCC: Did you have an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a chef?
DE: When my grandmother gave me a pasta maker.
TCC: Best advice you ever got?
DE: When you think something is a success, it’s the end of it. Meaning, as soon as you think you’re done and you reached the level that you want, it’s actually the end of it. You should always constantly try to do and achieve better!
TCC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
TCC: Your favorite ingredient?
DE: Olive oil
TCC: The ingredient that turns you off the most?
DE: Goat cheese and Brussels sprouts
TCC: Your favorite tool?
TCC: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not cooking?
DE: Spending time with my family and reading
TCC: What would you like to do before you get too old to do it?
DE: Go to the moon!
TCC: Tell us a deep dark secret (doesn’t have to be food related)?
DE: One day, early in my career working for Paul Bocuse, I burned a pot of lobster butter. Because I was scared that someone saw, I went to the garden and buried the entire pot!
TCC: How do you deal with the stress?
DE: I don’t stress, it’s not something that I have in me! I can be serious, but stressing is something I just don’t do.
TCC: Who would you like to meet?
DE: Fernand Point
TCC: Who would you like to cook for?
DE: I’ve always wanted to cook for UN Ambassador Kofi Annan
TCC: What was the hardest thing for you to learn? Or is there something you just can’t get right?
DE: Turning a mushroom
TCC: How did becoming a chef change your life? Your direction.
DE: I’m happy, I’ve found a balance. I feel like I’ve acclompished something in life. Being a chef has made me become a better man and I’ve been able to meet great people
TCC: Do you have a technique that you use like putting a little oil with butter so the butter doesn’t burn?
DE: I put a wine cork in the water to cook octopus. It makes the octopus more tender.