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From what his mother remembers, Eric Leterc has wanted to cook from age 8. At 16, he began his apprenticeship in the kitchen, as is the custom in France, Leterc’s home country, and four decades later, he hasn’t stopped cooking. He has developed and honed his skills in luxurious properties, in sophisticated locations from Evian to Nice, from St. Barts to Hawai‘i Island, and now, at The Pacific Club in Honolulu, where he has helmed the kitchen for 16 years. Perhaps the penchant for beauty and refinement was instilled in his consciousness growing up: Leterc is from Annecy, nicknamed such superlatives as the Pearl of the French Alps, for its location nestled between a lake and the mountains, and the Venice of France, for the canals that wind through the medieval center.

Certainly, he says, “being born and raised in France, where the palate and tongue are different, it [affects] how I play with flavors. One thing in France, the produce is more true in a way. It’s brighter—a carrot really tastes like a carrot … I love the food in France, it’s clean and it’s refined. Food is part of life, food is very important. The food is not just to eat, it’s part of a culture.”

And then he came to Hawai‘i, lured by a call from a fellow Frenchman, Philippe Padovani, whom he had met when both of them were cooking in Lyon, but at the time of the call, was the executive chef of La Mer at Halekulani. He told him about an opening at the Ko Olina Hotel and Golf Resort. “I thought why not,” Leterc says. Once in Hawai‘i, he discovered that the old guard of chefs he worked with, who proclaimed French cuisine the best in the world, were limited in view. In the Islands, he discovered a diversity in flavor through Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese food, which demonstrated culinary traditions he found on par with the French. “It’s just a very different culture. Food is about the history. History of Europe, of us,” he says.

After 28 years in Hawai‘i, he’s found a way to meld the influences of his history and the tastes of his present—not necessarily on the same plate, but on the same menu. His signature dishes include lobster prepared with cognac and cream and a ginger steamed onaga. Leterc has an eye for luxury, exemplified by his sourcing for a recent dinner partnering with Bond, known for its rarefied wines of Napa Valley. From the extravagant Sturia Oscietra Grand Cru caviar paired with a baby leek salad to true Taijima Kobe beef (procuring the beef requires an application process that includes a trial period of six months; less than 10 restaurants in the U.S. are permitted to serve it) with a furikake croquette, Leterc complements his technique with pedigreed ingredients to distill sumptuousness on a plate.

“The process of writing a menu is to balance a menu,” Leterc says. “You use creativity, and the food cannot overpower the wine and the wine cannot overpower the food. When I do my dishes, I like bold flavors. I don’t like when there’s too much stuff on the plate and you don’t know what you’re eating. I’m trying to combine the flavors, so when you eat, you think ‘wow.’ But you have to balance the menus. You cannot have anything strong first, or spicy, you’ll burn the palate, and you cannot taste anything. You have to make sure the ingredients are the right ones, and there’s balance. Like in life, everything is about balance.”

The places he has worked has attracted heads of state, wealthy entrepreneurs, and celebrities—all perhaps seeking their own balance, a respite, however brief, from their busy lives. Leterc cites cooking for Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand just outside of Paris; Madonna and Lauren Bacall in Cannes; and orchestrating the food for Bill Gates’ wedding reception in Lanai as among the greatest experiences in his career.

“I did a lot of pretty good stuff in my life,” he says. “I have not finished yet.” He recently began cooking and teaching culinary classes on cruise trips: last year, he brought a group of people to Asia, stopping in Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong. This year, he heads to Europe, stopping in Italy, Israel, Malta and Cyprus. Along the way, he hits up markets and brings back on board produce and spices and “whatever we find,” to use in the next cooking class or dinner on the cruise.

Leterc says what he loves about cooking is that “it’s spiritual. It’s like going to church,” he says. He remembers actor and singer Jim Nabors, whom Leterc once cooked for and became friend with over time, telling him, “When I’m singing in Las Vegas, I’m just singing. I’m not thinking about something else.” Leterc likens that mindset to when he enters the kitchen. “You put love in your food and just focus on it.”