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Michelin stars and four-dollar sandwiches: my career as a chef so far

I was born on the west of coast of France and enjoyed summers on my grandfather’s farm and at the seashore. I was never a very academic person, I really liked food and with the aromas and tastes of fresh ingredients all around me, it was natural for me to pursue a culinary career.

Aymeric HalbmeyerI completed four years of cooking school in France, with a focus on management and pastry desserts for restaurants. Then I went on to work in some of the best kitchens in France. My apprenticeship was with Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée. I relished the Michelin Star work and the highly disciplined kitchens, creativity at its finest!

After a few years of working in France I was granted a working visa for Canada and settled in Quebec where I worked at the Académie Culinaire as a chef and a tutor. I enjoyed exploring the teaching side and explaining cooking techniques to others taught me a great deal.

After a few years at the Académie, I needed a change. We were planning to start a family and restaurant hours do not work well with a young family.

Joining the Sodexo family

As Executive Chef for Sodexo at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I could focus on my unique part in a bigger finely oiled machine. It was strange at first after handling everything myself, from finances, purchasing and deliveries, and working in much smaller kitchens.

Now I love it, I am always looking for new challenges and opportunities, ways to improve menus and the way we work. My key focus is always on WHY a customer should choose to eat in OUR restaurant instead of any other.

Expressing emotions through food

At the Museum I would create menus based on the season, visitors and exhibits. It was exciting finding a way to express emotions through my menus inspired by pieces at the museum for A-list visitors without budget limits.

When we had an exhibit related to Napoleon, I created a dessert which symbolised his death. A combination of Mille-feuille and Belle Helene (referencing the island of Saint Helene and Napoleon’s imprisonment in Russia). We said, “You will now end your meal like he ended his life.” The visitors loved it.

Even a four-dollar sandwich can be beautiful

Due to Covid-19, the museum is temporarily closed but I’ve been able to take on another role with Sodexo as General Manager for two office restaurants of a banking client in Quebec.

These restaurants have a much bigger menu which gives me a variety of dishes to work with. I enjoy the challenge of the financial restrictions when creating menus here. At the museum I would create the most beautiful ten-dollar sandwiches. At the bank I need to create beautiful sandwiches, but they can only cost three or four dollars.

I’m so pleased I’ve been able to stay with Sodexo and am enjoying learning about such a different approach to catering.

When you are happy at work, the time flies

My passion for reducing food waste is something I’ve carried with me from childhood. We didn’t have much money and I was taught not to waste food from a very young age. Scraping the mould off the top of a jar of jam, in order to eat the rest was a stark contrast to selecting the three most perfect strawberries to present on the top of a Michelin Star restaurant pastry.

I believe we should all understand what we have, buy local, buy seasonal and throw away as little as possible. Nature takes time to grow vegetables and meat, it’s just disrespectful to throw away food meant to be eaten. It’s a mindset that we should all have and one that I’m passionate about sharing.

Photography is another passion of mine. I brought along my camera to a big company event back in 2017, my colleagues loved the photos and featured some of my photos in the annual culinary report. Since then I’ve become more involved in food photography alongside my role.

When you are happy with what you do, time flies. I don’t see the hours pass whether I’m cooking or taking photographs.

Everybody can bring something to the table

For anyone hoping to become a chef, keep pushing, you are never done learning. I feel I’m pretty good in the kitchen, but I still learn new things every day. We often spend more time with our co-workers than with our family so it’s important to have a good team you can rely on. Any success I have is due to the team around me. Sodexo is like a big family; everybody can make an impact and bring something to the table.

I can see how everything in my life so far, has made me who I am today. I love learning about different elements of catering and different parts of Sodexo. There are many ways to do things, I often create strange combinations to see if they can work, I love to be amazed every day.

In kitchens we work with emotions, this is what we sell through our menus and I think it’s something beautiful… even with a four-dollar sandwich.

This article was created by Chef Aymeric Halbmeyer - Executive District Chef and General Manager for Sodexo.

January 26, 2021

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