Gilad Peled knew his true calling early in life. At an age when other kids were asking Santa for soccer balls, he wanted a pasta maker. But for Peled, patience was the name of the game: the young Israeli had to finish his military service before he could start following his dreams at age 26. “I didn’t have any prior experience,” Peled recalls, “so I figured culinary school would be a good idea.” He still considers formal education a good way for chefs to learn fundamentals, but as he emphasizes again and again, the most important thing is “getting practice and experience—we have to get better at what we do. We can never stop learning.”
Having always been a firm believer in that maxim, Peled left Israel to start apprenticing in some of Great Britain’s best kitchens. The capital on the Thames was where his fate was officially sealed: “When I started working under Gordon Ramsay, that was the first time in my career that I felt like I really belonged,” the now-36-year-old reports. “The people there had so much energy, they radiated passion as well as responsibility. It blew my mind, and it made me decide to stay.” One of the people who helped give him that feeling of belonging was none other than top chef Claire Smyth. Peled is practically giddy with enthusiasm when he talks about Smyth, whom he still counts as a good friend. “She’s like my second mom,” he says. “She’s my idol. I’m really lucky to know her and to have her as my mentor.”
A dream comes true
Unfortunately, Gilad Peled’s visa expired, bringing his time in London to an end; he returned to Israel before traveling to the Czech Republic and Switzerland to gather additional experience. And then, one fine day, his dream of working in France finally came true: Gordon Ramsay brought him on board at what was then his newest restaurant, Le Pressoir d’Argent in Bordeaux, which now boasts two Michelin stars. “I’m really happy to be working in Bordeaux,” Peled says. “We’re truly blessed here, because we have just about everything right here in the region. We don’t have to go looking for stuff.” Local and regional products are the most important ingredients in Peled’s fare, which actually seems pretty logical when you look at it from his point of view: “When you travel to Bordeaux, obviously they’re going to serve you Bordeaux wine. That’s what customers expect. With food, it shouldn’t be any different.” To make that happen, Peled maintains close relationships with all of his suppliers, many of whom have approached him on their own initiative to present their finest local products. “It helps us discover the region more and more.”
The best of the best
When Peled talks about food, it’s almost like he’s arranging a plate. He does it with great care, because of how much it means to him, and the product is always front and center. “As a chef,” he says, “you should try to get the very best at all times. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a luxury food like caviar or just an ordinary egg—always try to get the very best, and then let it shine on the plate.” Sounds simple, but it definitely isn’t, as the chef himself will be the first to admit. “Creating a new dish is a little like having a baby. Some women go to the hospital, and half an hour later, there’s the kid. With others, it’s ‘push, push, push’ for forty-eight hours.” To put it in more kitchen-friendly terms, “Some of my dishes take a very long time to develop, maybe even up to two years. I play around with the ingredients until I’m satisfied, until I’m happy to serve the dish.” He occasionally enjoys slipping into the role of customer and considering his food from that perspective. The third hat he wears is extremely important as well: “I’m always the jury, too. If I’m not happy, we don’t serve the food.” For Peled, copying other chefs is completely out of the question. “Creating new things is one of the most exciting parts of our job. You can put your own personality on the plate, your signature style.”
Harmony through and through
Peled’s found the perfect “partner in crime” for his work at Le Pressoir d’Argent in 28-year-old chef de patisserie Arthur Fèvre. “Working with Gilad meant I was able to grow alongside him,” Fèvre says, “because he gave me a lot of freedom, and he was always willing to help me.” The appreciation is mutual—Peled has only good things to say about his young co-worker. As the chef recalls, “The first thing I ever tasted of his, it wasn’t too sweet, it was fresh, it was just… wow.” Everyone at the Bordeaux restaurant gives their best, every single day.
“When you walk into our restaurant, you can sense the harmony,” Peled remarks. “Not only in the dining room, with the service team, but in the kitchen with us. And that harmony is reflected in the food itself.” You don’t have to take his word for it, though—you can go into the kitchen and see for yourself. “After the main course, someone on the service team will usually go out to the customers and ask if they’re interested in touring the kitchen.” That way, the chef and his team can personally welcome diners and ask them if everything was to their liking.
“That’s really important to me and my team. We work such long hours because we want to serve our guests something genuinely special. When they come into the kitchen with smiles on their faces and ask if they can take a picture with us, it just gives us so much positive energy back.”
You never stop learning
Peled spends what little free time he has playing piano, trying his hand at painting, or jogging to relax. “Sometimes, when I get home really late, maybe even two in the morning, I like to run along the river in Bordeaux to clear my head. It’s wonderful. It’s the middle of the night, so nobody else is out, and you have total peace and quiet.” Most of the time, though, you’ll find the chef in the place he obviously feels most at home: in the kitchen with the rest of his team. “We share so much, in terms of both information and experiences. When you work in the kitchen, you never stop learning, no matter how old you are.” So can Peled picture himself opening his own restaurant back home in Israel? “Not in the near future,” he replies. “Maybe someday. I mean, everyone wants to get back home at some point, and Israel is my home. I’m really proud of where I come from… but now isn’t the right time for that.”