Executive Chef at Le Planteur, Jean Marc Lemmery, originally worked as a physiotherapist before making a drastic career-change at the age of 39 and eventually finding himself at the helm of one of Myanmar’s most spectacular restaurants. Here he talks about changing the ambience of Le Planteur, the pain of burning expensive fish and eventually finding his zen.
What was your career before moving to Myanmar?
Before I was a cook, I was a physiotherapist. I decided to start working as a chef when I was 39 years old. I started as a dishwasher and for two months I cleaned all the plates and all the pans. It was a crazy time. If
I were a normal guy, I think after one week I would have said it’s not for me. After that, I fought to go in the kitchen to cook.
Then in 2004 I decided to open my own restaurant, Le Bistrot de l’Alycastre. After three weeks I was fully booked with 100 people every day. I ran it for nine years and it was awarded a Michelin-star.
I decided to sell in 2014 and move to Indonesia where I opened a free diving centre, free kitchen school and a small hotel. It was a beautiful project but later I decided to move to Myanmar. Boris, the owner of Le Planteur, heard that I was moving here and so he proposed this position.
What are some of the challenges that came with working at Le Planteur?
I need to find good, local produce to put on the Business Lunch menu, but farmers here use too many chemicals on their produce so it’s difficult. Sometimes there is good produce but the problem is getting it from the farm to the restaurant. There’s big potential in Myanmar but we need to teach farmers how to make good products. It’s a long process.
What have you discovered through working in Myanmar?
There are a lot of herbs here that I like, like Myanmar basil and I love the roots of the lotus – I use it a lot. I’ve also learnt to be patient. In Paris I was a crazy chef, always shouting and slamming doors. But here it’s impossible to be like that, so I’m more zen.
What have you changed about Le Planteur since arriving?
Le Planteur before served beautiful plates, but boring food. I decided to take more risks and be more dangerous because we don’t have Michelin here but we do have the customers. We use more imported produce, now I receive beautiful things like parsley, Jerusalem artichoke, white asparagus, fresh fish from France. For my cooks it’s like a new restaurant.
Which dish are you most proud of?
I like our turbot served with local apple and verbena. It’s a little bit fruity but not too sweet. I had to teach my staff how to cook the turbot properly because you have to cook it so that it’s warm near to the bone, but not overcooked. It’s difficult. After burning a lot of expensive fish, the standard of cooking in my kitchen is now like a one-star Michelin.
What was the reason for closing the bistro in September last year?
We closed the bistro because the fine dining was very successful. Also when you have a menu with À La Carte fine-dining, as well as a Sea Menu, Land Menu, Chef’s Menu, Garden Menu as well as a Bistro Menu – you don’t need a kitchen, you need an army! It was impossible to have everything perfect.
How would you describe the style of Le Planteur?
I don’t like to hear that we are a fine dining restaurant. When people hear “fine-dining” they imagine a boring restaurant. I talked with the waiters and told them they are not robots and they need to be friendly. We radically changed the ambiance. I like to say that we are a “bistronomic” – with the bistro we are friendly and with the gastronomic we have good food.
What are your ambitions for Le Planteur?
If I have one wish, it is to be the first one-star Michelin “bistronomic” restaurant in Myanmar. But it’s political for Michelin to come here, they don’t come here currently. Until then, I want when people think about good food, for them to think about Le Planteur.
Address: Le Planteur, 80 University Avenue, Bahan Township, Yangon, Myanmar
Opening Hours: Lunch from 11:30 am to 2pm
Afternoon tea from 2pm to 6pm
Dinner from 6pm to 11pm
Phone: 01 514 230