'For Me, It Has the True Lobster Flavour'
A deliciously deep dive into Yves Le Lay's poached black lobster in Tiger Lee sauce
Photography by Johan Ståhlberg. Words by Sophie Miskiw.
Yves Le Lay’s Asian-inspired lobster dish features a medley of Nordic ingredients and a sauce that has achieved near-legendary status on the Danish culinary scene.
You’re almost taken aback by the brilliant red of Yves Le Lay’s poached lobster. It’s a show-stopping slab of meat, that’s for sure - so luminous it practically blazes off the plate.
The vibrancy is a characteristic of this species of lobster, explains Le Lay, chef de cuisine at à terre, a modern French restaurant in central Copenhagen. The European black lobster is a bluish-black in the shell but becomes a vivid red when cooked. It’s Le Lay’s lobster of choice and, in his opinion, far superior to its Canadian cousin.
“The Canadian lobster has a much softer texture and falls apart, in a way I think it has a bit of a muddy flavour. It’s brown before you cook it and becomes orange. Whereas the black lobster is much firmer and becomes bright, bright red. For me, it has the true lobster flavour. Comparing the two is like comparing night and day.”
Le Lay has teamed the lobster with a sauce that has achieved near legendary-status among Danish culinary types. The Asian-inspired Tiger Lee sauce was created by Daniel Letz, a French chef and restaurateur who has been based in Denmark since 1980. Made from lobster bisque flavoured with baked garlic, pickled ginger and lime leaf, Le Lay is firm in his belief that there is no better lobster sauce.
“It’s all about craft and flavour."
“It’s all about craft and flavour. When it’s right on point in acidity and in salt and fat, it rings all the bells. I thought I’d pick up the baton and do my take on it.”
But how does he find that perfect balance? Repetition and experience, he says. There’s a musicality to it, like a musician being able to hear if a note is too sharp or flat.
“When you have tasted enough, you know when it needs a few drops of lime juice or a pinch of salt or lava butter. When it’s ready it’s just like a clear note, like in music. It just sings. If you’re musically talented you can hear if the key is off. I would say it’s the same with cooking. You can taste if it needs more fat, acidity or salt, which I would say are the primary three pillars of taste.”
Perched beside the lobster is a wonton filled with claw meat and fresh ginger, with a garnish of chanterelle mushrooms, courgettes and fava beans. Le Lay tries to stay close to home and use local, seasonal produce for the garnish where possible - although with Denmark’s harsh winters, he sometimes has no choice but to look further afield.
“In the summertime, produce in the Nordics is at its best. It would be ridiculous to use imported produce when we have such amazing produce at our back door. So when things are in season we highly emphasise using what we have around us. We have less fresh produce in the wintertime but you could add some root vegetables or maybe, as we have done before, some pak choi or another Asian ingredient to support the dish’s Asian influence.”
“I prefer to see myself as a craftsman."
It was the first century Roman gourmand Apicius who coined the adage “We eat first with our eyes”. If that’s true - which a growing body of cognitive neurosciences studies seem to confirm - then this dish would sate even the most ravenous of diners. When I suggest to Le Lay that he’s like a chef, musician and artist rolled into one, he’s quick to insist that the presentation of a dish is always an afterthought.
“I prefer to see myself as a craftsman. I think once it becomes too artsy, it takes away the focus from what is really the point which is to feed people in the best possible way. When we create new dishes, I never want to think about how they’ll look but first how they will taste. Then we can have a go at making it look as good as possible.”