Around the world, the French cuisine is considered the backbone of the gastronomic scene. A daunting realm to enter for someone not willing to strive for perfection. But mastering the tools can be taught. Finding inspiration and your own voice takes a lifetime. Yves Le Lays is a Danish chef, who has been tried and tested by one of the toughest industries today. He has passionately sacrificed his blood and sweat in the pursuit of the art, and in the end, he found his home.
Yves Le Lay was brought up in small town, north of Copenhagen. His father was of French origin and an adept cook, who embraced his native cuisine. Through this bond, Yves was introduced to the wonders of gastronomy and the way food can influence people. This planted a seed of curiosity that would soon envelop Yves’ entire being. Through passion and dedication, Yves spent his life developing a cooking style of his own – a blend of the countless influences, impressions and stories he had shared with his father. With precision and attention to detail, Yves has effortlessly merged classic French gastronomy with the native cuisines of Northern Africa and French Indochina.
Yves has already proved that he is worthy of his place on the gastronomic scene in Copenhagen. In 2017, along with his brother and business partner, Kasper Langkilde, he introduced a new style of dining to the people of the Danish capital. The fine-dining restaurant; Nærvær, was an establishment that focused on the intimacy between the guest and the chef. By bringing the guest into the kitchen, Yves was able to offer them a lasting memory, and open their eyes to the intricacies of advanced gastronomy.
This dogma of intimacy has been central for Yves’ entire career. In 2019, the brothers reentered the industry with their new restaurant; Á Terre. This time, Yves’ personal gastronomy was the driving force of the venture. The restaurant celebrated to their French roots and was a direct reference to the art of ballet – an artform of extreme commitment and physical prowess.
Beyond cooking, Yves father has been a significant factor in defining his character and outlook. They way Yves’ father carried himself was an inspiration to the brothers, as well as his surroundings. He understood how to appreciate life. “The ones who knew him, would describe him as a bon vivant. Not afraid to speak for himself, but a generous and giving character”. This aura cultivated a delightfully optimistic ambience around the brothers and has contributed to a strong drive to live life to its full potential.
The gastronomic tradition of his father’s home region; Bretagne, has without doubt played an essential role in the upbringing of Yves. The region is famous for its shellfish, cidre and galettes – a special type of buckwheat pancake. Around the age of ten, his father often brought him to La Galette; a French-inspired diner, honoring the Breton legacy. “I remember, that no other place in Copenhagen had this classic French soda called Orangina. This was my favorite soda when travelling with my father in France. Eating these galettes together was priceless”. Ever since, this traditional dish has been of nostalgic importance to Yves, as well as the inspiration for a myriad of gastronomic experiments.
Yves’ career within gastronomy began in a newly opened restaurant in his hometown. At the age of nineteen, Yves was hired to lead the establishment in a managing position. Back then, his experience in the industry remained within the boundaries of hosting, and it was partly due to a failed attempt at a classic Danish Christmas meal, that Yves found his calling. Sitting in the backyard of the restaurant, in a rush of adrenaline, he stated that he would pursue the art of gastronomy. He moved to the capital to chase his dream. He enrolled himself to culinary school, and worked his way from apprentice to head chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants around the world. Coming from a childhood of scarcity, Yves strove tirelessly to achieve his ambition.
Throughout his career, the guest has always been the heart of his work. Yves seeks to grab us by the hand, and take us on a journey that comprises more than food. He wants to be present with his guests, telling stories of the artistry in front of them. Balanced intimaty is what characterizes his style of hosting. Yves and his brother are striving for À Terre to become the greatest restaurant in Copenhagen. But for the guests to believe in this vision, it requires the staff to represent this balance and harmony. “I have a significant responsibility, when it comes to my staff. Because they’re not employees, nor my friends, they’re like a family. I feel so privileged.” Yves states, that his greatest achievement is when guests feel at home and return for another evening. This means that you have given them something unique. You have done something right.
Immersed in the humble pleasures of existence, inspiration can come from anywhere. However, it typically occurs in the later hours of the day. “Sometimes it just happens that I’m getting a gastronomic epiphany. I draw references from meals, experiences, memories and the people surrounding me. It just overflows me with a feeling of euphoria. Going in all directions”. Even though Yves finds great inspiration in encountering novelty, there is still one place that means something special to him – the radiant city of Paris. “The city got it all, and you can go there for any occasion. Whether it’s with friends, your partner, for inspiration or perhaps with family.” However, for Yves, France is not home. Home is everything that embodies the memories of his father. The language and culture of his childhood. For him, opening Á Terre was going home. Taking everything he had learned, back to his center. In this environment, he can open up and enjoy every second. Surround himself with people who inspire him. That is home.