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From the time he was just a boy, Christophe Émé found satisfaction in the kitchen, helping to cook for his family while growing up in France’s picturesque Loire Valley. Since then, Émé’s passion for food has taken him around the world, in a career path illuminated by Michelin stars. After two decades of cooking at some of the world’s finest restaurants, Émé had struck out on his own, showcasing his impeccable and artful cooking at Ortolan in West Hollywood, a restaurant that sets the tone for the next generation of French restaurants. Shortly after Ortolan opened in 2005, Émé was honored by Food & Wine magazine as one of the 10 Best New Chefs. John Mariani of Esquire has also designated Ortolan as one of the Best New Restaurants of 2005.
At 15, Émé began an apprenticeship at the Hôtel de France in Contres, embarking on a journey that would take him into the world’s most rarefied kitchens. During his career, he honed his skills at the Michelin two-starred Auberge des Templiers in the Loire Valley and cooked alongside such luminaries as Gérard Rabaey in Switzerland and maverick chef Marc Veyrat at his three-star Auberge de l’Eridan, in the French Alps. In Paris, Émé worked with chef Michel Rostang at his eponymous restaurant in the 17th Arrondissement, and with Philippe Legendre at Paris’ opulent three-star Tailleventand later assisted Taillevent owner Jean-Claude Vrinat in opening the exclusive Normandie Grill at the Hotel Oriental in Bangkok.
Émé arrived in the United States in 2001, briefly working in New York, before moving on to Los Angeles to cook at the venerable L’Orangerie. There he introduced his signature brand of modern French cuisine, which eschews heavy, cream-based sauces in favor of intensely flavored emulsions and natural jus. For Émé, L’Orangerie’s traditional formality was no longer relevant to the culture of contemporary Los Angeles; he yearned for a more informal, welcoming forum in which to showcase his haute cuisine. With the encouragement of finacé and business partner Jeri Ryan, the concept for Ortolan was conceived: a restaurant where Émé’s impeccable standards need not be compromised, but where Angelenos would feel more at home and better able to fully appreciate his refined cuisine. As the chef explains, “ Ortolan is designed to be sophisticated and unpretentious... I prepare the same haute cuisine as before, but in a setting that is more modern and casual.... it’s a place where you can wear a suit or come in jeans.”
And despite the sophistication of the cuisine—and the frequent appearances of caviar, foie gras and truffles on the menu—Émé concentrates on simplicity of flavors derived from the world’s greatest ingredients all presented with a classic, unfussy execution. In regard to his aesthetically stylish presentation, utilizing unconventional serving plates and surfaces, he explains, “I wanted to do something different, to develop my own style in my own restaurant.” The 37-year-old Émé adds, “but I’m no artist...I’m just a chef.” To anybody who has dined at Ortolan, that self-assessment ranks as one of the world’s great understatements.