HomePeopleCyril Lignac: Getting to “Oui”

Cyril Lignac: Getting to “Oui”

(This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

Few chefs have reached the rarefied levels of success across such a wide scope of specialties, spanning from pastry and chocolate to savory cuisine, as well as business and media ventures. France’s most celebrated pastry chef dishes on closing the chasm between savory and sweet, why he gave back his Michelin stars and mastering the art of Instagram.

Jacques of all trades, master of…ALL!

Master Pastry Chef/Chef de Cusine Cyril Lignac is executing a jaw-dropping, gravity-defying juggling act – of careers, business ventures, cuisines (pastry, savory), pastry shops (five), full service restaurants (four), chocolate shops (two), best-selling cookbooks (a baker’s dozen, with multiple book deals under his belt), and television series (starring now in his sixth). He even has a cooking school, Atelier Cuisine Attitude, which offers classes for consumer as well as culinary professionals. Chef Lignac is arguably the most prolific chef across the broadest scope of genres in France. He is inarguably the most recognized chef in his native country. Oh, and if that weren’t enough, he has the largest social media following, with 2.8 million Instagram followers and growing. Just listing his bona fides is exhausting, so it’s no wonder his famous boundless energy matches his talent.

I can think of no other chef who has achieved your level of expertise and renown across the culinary spectrum – patisserie, savory and chocolate.  Was that planned?  If not, how do you account for it?

I did not plan anything – cooking came to me by sheer chance. When people came for dinner at my parents’ [house], I used to hear compliments, so I thought that, since I was bad at school, if I learned cooking,  I could reach that positive energy that would bring me confidence. At first, it was really more of a way out than a vocation, because I wanted to find something to do at school that I would be passionate about outside of the traditional classes which I didn’t find interesting.

Learn from the best.

Lignac received his diploma in pastry, frozen desserts and cuisine at 18 from the vocational training high school Lycee Hotelier de Villefranche-de-Rouergre, where his outsized talents were recognized right away. His work in the kitchen of Chef Alain Passard’s l’Arpege earned him the distinction of being named as the # 1 apprentice in the Midi-Pyrenes. Lignac landed his first position after graduation at the Michelin-starred Le Vieux Pont in the kitchen of Cheffe Nicole Fagegaltier. He soon made the move to Paris, where he worked in some of the world’s most illustrious kitchens, including those of the three-Michelin-starred Chef Alain Passard, to Pierre Hermé and Alain Ducasse.

Pastry chefs and chefs de cuisine are famous for having rather different skill sets, temperament and schedules – one is grounded in the exact science of pastry, the other is less constrained. How do you reconcile the differences?

We used to think that cooking was less restrictive than pastry, but the way we approach this has evolved. Nowadays, with the recipes and the accuracy of execution required in cuisine, the latter has become as precise and demanding as pastry.

What advice would you have for pastry chefs who may want to tackle savory, and vice-versa. What does it take?

The most important thing is to enjoy what you do. It’s the foundation of our craft. To want to make the customers happy, to constantly working on perfecting your skills, because cooking and pastry require a great deal of precision.

Epicure and entertainment

The time when nightclub entrepreneurs and entertainers David and Cathy Guetta tapped Lignac to open La Suite restaurant – his first gig as Chef de Cuisine may in fact have been the moment that the worlds of entertainment and epicure converged for the chef.

The sense of humor, good-natured spirit and boundless enthusiasm that endeared him to so many kitchen crews was not lost on a TV producer patron who, in 2005, cast him in “Oui Chef,” which catapulted him to national celebrity and on a path that would make him the most recognized chef in France.

The show’s wide visibility was a perfect springboard to launch his own first restaurant, Le Quiinzieme (named after the 15th arrondissement, where it was located). In 2006, he was given another cooking show, Chef, La Recette, which was followed by Vive La Cantine (2007), Le Chef Contre l’attaque (2009).  It was around this time that he took the reigns of Restaurant Chardenaux in Paris.  From 2010 through 2020 he was a celebrity guest judge on Top Chef France.

You’ve overseen many chefs competing on television. What advice would you have for chefs who want to leverage their time on television for their craft and careers? 

Television and other media are wonderful springboards for your career, but there are no springboards without talent, so you’ve got to work hard and develop your own creative sensibility to back it up.

A number of his television series have spun-off companion cookbook franchises, which make up about half of the prolific chef’s dozen bestselling cookbooks. Saisons (Seasons) and La Patisserie remain staples on both home and professional bookshelves. The G-force of his talent has propelled Lignac to the top of social media, where he has an eye-popping 2.8 million followers. His pastries and dishes, while stunningly perfect, do not seem to be created with the primary purpose of being ‘Instagrammable’, yet Lignac is the most popular chef in France on social media, TV and just about every venue he applies himself to.

What advice do you have for chefs using social media?  What is your strategy or philosophy vis-à-vis social media and Instagram, in particular?

For me, Instagram is the daily journal of my professional life. I think the most important thing is to actually be the one who manages your own Instagram account. It is a great privilege to be able to share the things you love with your audience.

With his driving can-do philosophy, Lignac wasn’t going to let a national lock-down prevent him from cooking up entertaining and educational content for his growing legion of fans.  So, the citrus-loving chef found a way to turn lemons into lemonade. True to form, he found a way to make the new restrictions play to his strengths, launching Tous en Cuisine (Everyone in the Kitchen). With only his camera operator in tow, he turned his own kitchen into a studio, where he prepared an entire meal for the viewers, while coaching a group of home cooks who followed along via live remote on their laptops.

The TV star turns in his star (gasp!)

Lignac caused a stir when he made the defiant and un-heard of gesture of renouncing his Michelin star when he closed Le Quinzieme, making waves that echoed sentiments already rippling through the industry regarding the importance placed on the designation.

You renounced your Michelin star that was awarded to Le Quinzieme. Such a gesture is almost unheard of in this industry. Can you tell us what prompted this, and what the reaction was to this? What forms of ratings or critiques do you believe in, and why?

I simply wanted to change directions and create something different than a starred restaurant. But who knows if I might reopen a gastronomic restaurant later in the future?

Yet, while his talents and work span the worlds of both savory and pastry, Lignac is more often associated with the sweet side. His pastry shops reflect the seamless marriage of contemporary style with the classic sensibility reflected in his pastries. White tile walls, blond wood fixtures, modern hanging tube lighting that could easily be taken as museum installations illuminate crisp glass vitrines, and the picture-perfect pastries they encase.

The most important thing is to enjoy what you do. It’s the foundation of our craft. To want to make the customers happy, to constantly working on perfecting your skills, because cooking and pastry require a great deal of precision.

Signature Pastries

Two of Lignac’s most popular signature dishes are:

Equinoxe is a modernist puck-shaped pastry covered in a fine grey ash and dotted with a discreet flourish of four raspberry coulie dots, reminiscent of dollops of paint on the curve of a painter’s palette. A Bourbon vanilla cream encases a caramel center, all poised atop a thick Speculoos biscuit.

Lemon Pie. This dessert redefines a timeless classic: a square confection with a lemon and vanilla-glazed hazelnut shortbread crust, it is filled with perfectly aligned dollops of lemon cream in a compote, and literally framed with white chocolate.

Television and other media are wonderful springboards for your career, but there are no springboards without talent, so you’ve got to work hard and develop your own creative sensibility to back it up.

What is the provenance of your signature dessert Equinoxe? And how did you come by the idea of using ash?

Coal is good for your health, it’s timely, and gives the equinox a planet-like color. What I particularly like is the contrast between the equinox color and the vanilla ganache. 

What was your inspiration for your lemon pie?

What I like the most about pastry is working with your hands, that hands-on element of the patissier. For the lemon pie, we work with a pastry bag, really assembling it in a hand-crafted  artisanal tradition.

What’s next for Cyril Lignac?

I trust life, she knows how to be way more creative than us!

What is your most valued non-traditional kitchen utensil (your equivalent of tweezers)?

The microplane, without a doubt. I use it for lemon zests, cheese, spices…

Chef Cyril Lignac’s Culinary Empire:

  • Pastry Shops, Chocolate Shops, Restaurants
  • La Patisserie, Cyril Lignac (Five Paris locations)
  • La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac (two Paris locations)
  • Aux Pres Cyril Lignac, 27 Rue du Dragon, 75006 Paris
  • Le Bar des Prés, 25 Rue du Dragon
  • Le Chardenoux 1 Rue Jules Vallès, 75011 Paris
  • Bar Dragon (soon to reopen as Ischea)

TV Series

  • Oui Chef (2005)
  • Chef, La Recette (2006)
  • Vive la Cantine (2007)
  • Chef Contre Attaque (2009)
  • Miam, Mon Invitation a Mager (2010)
  • 100% Terroirs (2011-Present)
  • Le Chef en France (2012)
  • Le Meilleur Pattisier (2012 [French version of The Great British Bake-off]
  • Tout en Cuisine (2020)
  • Chef Contre Chef (2020)


About the Author

Philip Ruskin is a food and hospitality marketing consultant, Graduate School lecturer (and drummer) living in Paris, France where continues to discover the city’s pastry shops by bike (a deliciously never-ending task.)

Pastry Arts Magazine is the new resource for pastry & baking professionals designed to inspire, educate and connect the pastry community as an informational conduit spotlighting the trade.