Lionel Lachasseigne is the popular restaurant manager at Wivenhoe House hotel. As well as running front of house in the brasserie restaurant, he hosts regular Sommelier evenings where he shares his extensive knowledge of wines from around the world. Originally from Montpellier in France, he moved to the UK to improve his English and has never looked back.
What food reminds you of childhood?
There wasn’t much money at home and every now and again my mother would make a lasagne. She would have saved up leftover meat, kept it in the freezer and when she had enough, she would make a delicious lasagne. She used all the lovely seasonal vegetables we had around us, such as aubergines and courgettes, whatever was available at the time. Another fantastic food memory is pancakes with béchamel sauce, mushrooms and ham.
My parents didn’t work in the hospitality industry. When I was 15 I got a job doing the washing up in a restaurant, purely to earn money, but I never left. I spent two years at a hotel school in Nimes before starting work in a restaurant. I decided I wanted to go to the UK and got a job in London. However, the head chef asked me to stay on over Christmas and promised he would find me another job, which he did at Le Talbooth, Dedham, where I moved to when I was 27.
I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew was that they had a bed for me. I had literally no English when I arrived but I knew that as I improved my English different opportunities would arise, which is exactly what happened. I stayed at Le Talbooth for five years before moving to Simpsons-in-the Strand in London.
I was drawn back to Essex, when I heard about The Edge Hotel School at Wivenhoe House. In France hospitality is a respected profession and I was intrigued by the idea of a hotel management degree course, combining academic study with work in the hotel. I’ve been here for four years now. I am passionate about mentoring young people and it’s wonderful when they gain great jobs and you know you have played a part in that.
What is your favourite family recipe?
Without a doubt, leg of lamb! My wife is Chinese and a good cook, but our food styles are very different. She cooks a beautiful leg of lamb and I love it with gratin dauphinoise potatoes. I do like parsnips. We don’t have them in France, I don’t even know the French word for them. In the south of France we don’t eat many root vegetables. However I am not keen on Brussel sprouts! Also I don’t understand mint sauce. If the meat is good, you don’t need it.
If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?
As a sommelier I would rather choose my last drink! It would definitely be a white burgundy. It’s a complex flavour that would definitely still be with you when you reached the other side.
What celebrities would be your ideal dinner guests?
This is a difficult question as in my experience celebrities don’t tend to eat very much so it wouldn’t be much of a meal. Former French President Jacques Chirac has a reputation as a lover of good food so he would be a good companion and also the French King Henri IV (1553 – 1610) who famously declared: “I want no peasant in my kingdom to be so poor that he cannot have a poule au pot on Sundays.”[
What is your ultimate comfort food?
Croque monsieur -it’s just ideal when you are hungry and tired. It just oozes with cheese and ham and gets you going again.
What is the ingredient you use most at home?
I know I shouldn’t say this, but it is salt. I put it in everything.
What is your guilty pleasure?
All my secrets at once – it is chocolate. We now serve a chocolate cocktail in the brasserie and it is very popular. When I get home late at night after working in the restaurant, I sneak a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate from the cupboard before going to bed.
What is your signature dish and what is the secret to making it?
Again, I’ll stick with a drink. I do like a Bloody Mary, I learnt how to make it after I arrived in the UK. I’ll serve it with horseradish and pink salt in it, with a baby onion and a gherkin on the side. There is nothing nicer.