Sylvestre Wahid moved from Kohat to France with his family when he was nine. Inspired by his father, he decided to pursue a career in food and is now one of the most well-known and celebrated chefs in France. He was just awarded two Michelin stars at his Parisian restaurant, Sylvestre, and says he is running for a third as well. He had already earned two stars at the l’Oustau de Baumanière.
He was recently visiting Islamabad with his brother Jonathan Wahid, who is a award-winning pastry chef. This was the first time the brothers visited Pakistan. Dawn caught up with Sylvester at an event hosted by the French embassy to talk about his work.
Q: How did you first become interested in cooking?
A: I first started cooking with my parents, mostly with my father because he loved French fine dining. We used to have excellent French produce and I would often cook with him. I later decided to go to culinary school where I met a chef, Thierry Marx, who is one of the most famous chefs in the world and I asked him to take me on as an apprentice for two years to which he agreed.
When I told my mother I wanted to be a chef, she did not cry but she came very close to crying. She said I did not bring my children to France for them to cook. I promised her I will be one of the best cooks in France and now she is very proud. I do not know if I am one of the best, but I know I am on my way.
This is not work. The secret is working in something you love and would love to share. To be a good cook, you have to have love for people, because you end up giving so much of your time to people. This is not work for me, it is a passion.
Q: What is the most adventurous culinary experience you have had yet?
A: I once built a restaurant on an iceberg in Greenland, in the north of Europe. Mike Horn, a professional explorer and adventurer – one day his company called me and said lets show how beautiful this world is and how we have to take care of it.
He wanted to throw dinners at seven different places around the world with seven chefs and I did the first dinner.
We found a nice iceberg and set up a restaurant for 15 people for three hours in a tent.
Q: What is your creative process? How do you invent new dishes?
A: My creative process is very seasonal and varies with what kind of produce the seasons have to offer. The second thing is what women like. For me the woman is very important because women have the quality of sensibility and taste, delicacy and they don’t like heavy food. They are more responsive and sensitive to taste. I try my new dishes on female customers, my sister and my girlfriend. Sometimes I will ask clients to try a new dish I am working on and tell me how I can make it better.
When I have time to prepare for a meal, that’s different. But when I don’t, I just look at the produce in front of me and improvise, but that does mean I have to know my ingredients well.
There is such a variety of produce and ingredients that you find across France and there are so many nice restaurants in France, which means there is a lot of friendly, beautiful competition in the culinary industry of France.
You have to constantly put yourself out there, and that is your inspiration for creativity as well.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2017