He's worked in famous kitchens on both coasts, including Daniel Boulud's namesake in Manhattan and Michel Richard's Citrus in West Hollywood. He was the sous chef when the French brasserie Balthazar opened in SoHo in the Spring of 1997. But Sascha Lyon, the new executive chef/co-proprietor of 5 Fusion & Sushi Bar in downtown Bend attributes those opportunities to luck.
"That was all good fortune, nothing else. I'm a good cook. I can hold my own in a kitchen. That's why I ended up not getting thrown out of those kitchens. But I got into them out of luck, being at the right place at the right time," he says.
Here are more excerpts from the Source Weekly's recent conversation with Chef Sascha.
Source Weekly: Did you ever consider doing anything else?
Sascha Lyon: Pro baseball. But since the Dodgers or Yankees weren't looking to draft me straight out of high school I decided to cook instead. My family traveled a lot because of my dad's job so I spent three to six months a year in Europe from age three to 15.
I always loved food and eating and I was a very adventurous eater. I still remember one time on a train ride from Florence to Venice we had a 15-course meal. I was around 9 years old and I still remember that experience.
SW: At 15 you were helping in the French kitchen of L.A.'s posh L'Ermitage (now closed). Wow.
SL: Yes, it was like walking into the "Ratatouille" kitchen! Everything was gleaming copper and in the dining room it was all sterling silver, crystal and Villeroy & Boch china. And that was it. From that point forward I worked full time all the way through high school and my mom started sending me to cooking classes.
SW: What is the best restaurant work experience you've ever had?
SL: In retrospect, I can say working at Daniel was the best experience but while I was there it was so hard. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. We were a tiny team; the pressure was immense. When you're cooking at that level there is no room for error because people are expecting perfection.
SW: You've come into an iconic Bend restaurant with a great reputation and a lot of fans. What are your hopes and aspirations for 5 Fusion?
SL: I want to find us rooted in much deeper traditional Japanese with modern influence and classical French. French and Japanese cuisines have coexisted for 150 years, informing each other, elevating each other, but never competing. They just continue to grow each other, so that's where I want to go with the restaurant. I want to see this restaurant really celebrating the traditions of Japanese and French but in a very modern way. The goal is to really drive this into a Japanese brasserie. It's fun, it's lively, it's energetic, it's approachable, it's easy to understand.
You go back to a restaurant because of the experience; it created a memory. So the last thing I want to do is disrupt that at 5 Fusion because I know people want to be able to come and get the dishes they want and recreate those memories. At the same time you want a restaurant to grow. So I'm really looking at this and asking myself what do I have to do to usher 5 Fusion into the next decade? To do that I have to build a team of inspired, talented individuals that have a level of excitement and enthusiasm, not only for their craft, but also for the team itself.
SW: What is your philosophy as a leader?
SL: My goal has always been to surround myself with as much talent as possible. I don't want to be the one who knows everything, telling everyone what to do. I want to inspire those that are here but I also want to be inspired myself. Together we can, in a very collaborative effort, build a program. I want to give space to those that have decided to join me on my endeavor and help fulfill my ideas of what this restaurant can be. I don't want to get in their way.
We also need to be competitive in the marketplace by paying well and providing benefits and creating an incredible work environment that people want to be in.
SW: What's a nugget of advice for someone interested in becoming a chef?
SL: Figure out what is your niche passion in food. What do you really love? Inform yourself and read as much as possible. Work as long as you can for as little as possible in the best restaurant you can possibly get in to.
SW: What's the best thing you ever ate?
SL: Oh god, I don't think anyone's ever asked me that before! There's really nothing better than a perfectly made soft omelet that's smooth on the outside with the herbs nice and green and creamy inside, when you put the fresh chevre in there it just melts from the warmth. And then having some bitter greens with that with just some olive oil and salt. It's probably the best thing I've ever eaten and probably my favorite thing to make.