Meet Your Mixologist: Christophe Léger of Le Bar at Shangri-La Paris
Christophe Léger dreamed of becoming a chef, but after meeting his bartending professor, Gerard Veron, in culinary school, he answered his calling to cocktails.
After graduating from the Lycée Jean Drouant in Paris, he trained under the liquid wing of Barman Gilles Guillomard, which later led to his creating quite the cocktail storm while working at the famed Bar Hemingway in Paris.
Passionate about French heritage and history, Léger was naturally led to Roland Bonaparte’s former residence, the now home to the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris. Nestled in the 16th arrondissement across the Seine, from the Eiffel Tower, it is Shangri-La’s first hotel in Europe.
We caught up with the French Léger, the head bartender of the Napoleonic post-Egyptian themed Le Bar at Shangri-La. Léger and Le Bar are well-known for Asian-influenced cocktails made with exotic ingredients such as wasabi, coriander, horseradish, soy sauce, ginger, kaffir line and Szechuan peppers. Here is the lowdown on Léger…
What made you realize cocktails were your calling?
Christophe Léger: I can’t explain it. I just knew that I wanted to create cocktails!
You found the perfect marriage in the culinary and cocktails. Why do you think they are such a perfect pair?
Whether it is in the kitchens, in the pastry or in cocktails, there has to be alchemy between each ingredient used in the recipe. Finding flavors that complement each other is absolutely vital.
How did your previous culinary training and training under the wing of Barman Gilles Guyomarch prepare you for this?
Through my studies in Hotel School, I trained my palette to the subtleties of different flavors, which is obviously the basis of our work; it is of the utmost importance to know which flavors blend well together so as to highlight and enhance each and every one of them.
L’Hôtel Lutétia enabled me to get a hands-on experience of what was expected in such renowned establishments, which is something that I use every day at the Shangri-La Hotel, Paris. Gilles also taught me the importance of understanding human nature, which is vital when working behind the bar, as we are constantly in contact with individuals.
Who are your mentors today?
I don’t really have a mentor, because that implies that one is better than the other and they are all unique. I enjoy all different styles!
How have cocktails been able to see the light in a city and country well known for the grape? Has that been a challenge in a wine driven culture?
20 years ago cocktails were primarily ordered in hotels. Now globalization has had such an impact on our society that cocktail bars have become increasingly popular in Paris.
What was the inspiration behind your famous cocktail, Cognac aux Truffles?
Unfortunately, I will be keeping that recipe to myself [smiles]. What I can tell you is the inspiration struck when I was working at the Ritz; one winter, the best time for black truffles from Périgord. We were racking our brains trying to find the perfect digestive to accompany the fine-dining restaurant’s tasting menu and, rather than use an existing cocktail, I decided to create a new one...
What drew you to Bonaparte’s former residence, the now home to Shangri-La Paris?
France and Paris are steeped in history, which sometimes slips our minds. It is essential that we preserve our history and culture. When the Shangri-La Hotel, Paris opened, I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I needed a place full of history and with a soul.
Tell me about that fusion of the French cuisine and the Asian culture, that is inherent in Shangri-La’s brand and how that has influenced your bar and cocktails?
I wanted to bring a touch of Asia with the use of herbs, spices and fruits all the while maintaining that classic taste. I wanted it to be subtle, like the décor.
One of my favorite cocktails here is the Pekin Express, made of fresh pineapple, coriander, black pepper, light rum and filled up with bitter lemon.
What is your personal drink of choice now?
A mix of cognac and porto on the rocks, with a twist of lemon.
If not behind the bar, where are you most likely to be?
In the front of the bar! I also enjoy home cooked meals with my friends. So, maybe in the kitchen!
Le Bar, 10 Avenue d’lena, Paris, 75116, France
Le Bar suggests four variations of the classic Pink Lady, their signature cocktail and a symbol of glamour and femininity from the '30s. Try their Original Pink Lady made with Plymouth gin, grenadine, egg white and cream.