My Rare Second Encounter with A Michelin-Starred Chef

It must be my lucky year. This summer, for the first time in my life, I came face to face with a Michelin-starred chef who, under the auspices of ChefXChange, descended upon Beirut to whip up a feast for a fortunate few. I was happily among those treated to Lebanese-Australian Chef Greg Malouf’s masterful cuisine.

Last week, I had a rare second encounter with similarly-decorated chef Maxime Le Van. For the occasion of the Fall/Winter Fashion Week at City Centre Beirut, which drew out UK designers Velsvoir and PA5H in addition to celebrity food stylist Tom Wolfe, ChefXChange took the reins on hosting a cocktail affair and plated dinner.

ChefXChange, an online platform that connects you with private chefs to bring into the home, invited Chef Maxime to wield his culinary prowess before an audience of nearly 30 guests. A lean and sprightly fellow who at first glance evokes the looks of Justin Timberlake, Le Van was hustling on his feet all night preparing dishes in assembly line fashion.

Michelin-starred Chef Maxime Le Van preparing plates

We were seated on the mall terrace, in the void between Ahwak by Abdel Wahab and Nasma, under the starlit sky. By sheer chance, my dinner companion was the managing director of a top media agency, and we bonded over our mutual zeal in capturing the meal on camera.

A forest theme, complete with oak table, tree accents, and cherry-like miniature apples 

First up, a clear gazpacho with Parmesan and basil touches, probably my favorite number in the savory collection. Light and understated, it revved my appetite into full gear as anticipation for the second course built up.

Basil gazpacho

The thing about Michelin-starred meals, which permit me to generalize after two such stately experiences, is that they deliver artistic revelation more than they do comfort. They’re alluring, original in appearance and flavor. They’re hardly familiar. And they’re definitely an acquired taste.

Which means, in layman terms, that they’re nowhere near as heartwarming as a cuts-like-butter filet mignon with potato mousse, or say, a juicy double cheeseburger with caramelized onions and McDonald’s secret sauce.

But they’re spellbinding in the way that an abstract piece of art jogs your imagination. They speak to your creative hemisphere and force you to rethink the status quo.

Le Van took us on a journey to Provence, the region in France from where he hails, to indulge in extraordinary Mediterranean food. After the gazpacho, a salmon tartare blanketed with beetroot-tinted puree, radishes, and cress. In close tow, a homemade foie gras topped with fresh crab and squid-ink-dyed toasted bread. The main was a cold seared seabass accentuated with Lebanese cornerstone ingredients like pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, purslane and black olives.

Salmon tartare with beetroot-tinted puree

Homemade foie gras with fresh crab slaw and jet black toasted bread

The main: seared seabass with pomegranate, pine nuts, and purslane

Dessert paid homage to Le Van’s evident fascination with colors. Three hunks of sponge cake in vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet were animated by condensed milk splashes of magenta, cyan and yellow – the printer cartridge trio. Cached delicately beneath them, velvety chocolate mousse and liquid meringue.

Sponge cake trio with creamy condensed milk, chocolate mousse, and liquid meringue

In looking over Le Van’s profile page on ChefXChange, I can discern the incorporation of his preferred ingredients in the meal he prepared. Olive oil, lemon, freshly-caught seafood, and seasonal vegetables all made a cameo in the catwalk of courses put before us. The young chef, whose age grazes early 30s territory, started and ended on solid footing, filling the in-between with Provencal flourish.

Now I can’t help wondering who will be Michelin-starred chef number three to grace my life and edify me further in food finesse. 


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