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[Rendez-vous with….] Stéphanie Le Quellec

 
“Our main focus is the work of the winegrower which we aim to emphasise on our wine list. These artisans of French know-how need to be showcased”

Two-star Michelin chef Stéphanie Le Quellec from the La Scène restaurant**, 32 Avenue Matignon in Paris’ 8th arrondissement, is passionate about wine. She will be at Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris with her head sommelier Matthias Meynard for an unprecedented chef-sommelier food & wine pairing duo on 16 February 2022 from 1:30 to 2:30 pm. We caught up with her ahead of the event.
 
Gabrielle Vizzavona: Is your love of wine a family affair, or did it come later?

Stéphanie Le Quellec: It’s a bit of both. Firstly, it’s a family affair because my family is very food-oriented and passed on their culture of good food and wine to me. They tended to go for fairly conventional choices like white wines from Alsace, Bordeaux and Champagne, which in our house was enjoyed as a pudding wine. But my passion for wine developed gradually as part of my job, my encounters with head sommeliers in the various restaurants I worked in and also my friends who work in wine like Philippe Faure-Brac and Olivier Poels. You could say there was a predisposition which gradually gathered pace, particularly over the past three years since I’ve had my restaurant. What’s magical is that the more you taste, the higher your level of understanding. Matthias Meynard, the head sommelier at La Scène, and I taste a lot and visit winegrowers at their wineries.

G.V.: How often do you travel to vineyards?

S.L.Q.: We go once a month on average. Three weeks ago we were with Anselme and Guillaume Selosse in Champagne. Last winter we went to Burgundy and we will soon be heading off for Bordeaux. Our focus is on winegrowers who engage with us, whether they are famous or under-the-radar.

G.V.: How have your tastes evolved over time?

S.L.Q.: I have very eclectic tastes because there are amazing winegrowers in every region of France and also abroad. I’ve had a real soft spot for the Rhone Valley for 7-8 years. I also developed an interest in Burgundy to understand a region which, with just two grape varieties, creates wines with such different characters and feelings. There are real gems pretty much everywhere – in Corsica, Provence, Beaujolais – and I’m learning to enjoy them at different stages of my personal life and my life as a chef. 

G.V.: How important is wine to your restaurant?

S.L.Q.: As the restaurant is called La Scène, or the stage, our wine list – which features over 800 listings – revolves around major themes including all the French wine regions and some foreign regions too. The wine list combines A-listers and young leading lights, the budding stars. They are not mutually exclusive – you can enjoy Château Rayas and a real Beaujolais gem, which is not designed for the same occasion or the same dish, but is no less or more noble. I welcome my patrons like I do my friends at home. We have designed the wine list around the wines my team enjoys. We prioritise the work of the winegrower and his or her personality. It’s a personal issue, where wine is personified by the winegrower just like a chef embodies his or her cuisine. I believe in a signature – what I’m interested in is the human being behind the wine. If you were to give ten winegrowers the same terroir to work with, they would produce ten different wines! These artisans of French know-how need to be showcased.

G.V.: Is the maturation process in wines important to you?

S.L.Q.: It is very important but there’s no getting away from our actual age and as the restaurant is only three years old, it is not always easy. We are working on the age-worthiness of our cellar and 30% of the wines we buy are for laying down. Some winegrowers understand our approach to wine – they convey a message and can be receptive to mine as I am to theirs. They play along with us by giving us allocations of wines at their peak. It’s all in the chemistry. 

G.V.: How do your patrons drink wine in your restaurant?

S.L.Q.: The good news is that people are drinking quite a lot post-Covid. La Scène has a bistro part and a gourmet food part. In the bistro, for lunch, our clients tend to choose wines by the glass from a selection that changes regularly. The sommelier’s mission to come up with suggestions so that his customers think outside the box and venture into uncharted territory. In our Michelin-starred restaurant, the vast majority of patrons choose the tasting menu and often prefer to rely on the sommelier for the food and wine pairings.

G.V.: Does your approach set great store by food and wine pairings?

S.L.Q.: I very much value food and wine pairings because the dining experience involves both of these major customary components. I’m not solely focused on my cuisine, wine is an intrinsic part of it and is essential for having a good time. A dining experience without wine really is not the same! We are striving to build up a cellar where wine resonates differently with the dishes. Usually, I think about the structure of the menu and then I focus on the wine. But sometimes, when something stands out, the pairing can be inspired by the wine and I have no problem adapting certain dishes so that they work in perfect harmony. The chef’s ego needs to be put on a back burner.

G.V.: What research have you done for the food and wine pairing event you will be hosting with your head sommelier at Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris on February 16 at 1:15 pm?

S.L.Q.: It’s a surprise! One thing is for sure – we will not just be talking about a pairing but conveying the house message and sharing our approach to creating the La Scène sommelier/cuisine hallmark style. Then we are going to try and have a walk around the exhibition which will be a first for me and promises to be very interesting and rewarding! 

G.V.: Do you have a favourite wine currently that you’d like to share?

S.L.Q.: The Beaujolais Villages by Jules Desjourneys. It is vibrantly crisp and juicy, really delightful – an easy-drinking wine for casual drinking but at the same time very elegant and refined. That’s what I feel like drinking at the moment. 

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