Chef Julien Royer, the man with two Michelin stars to his credit and the face behind Odette, is in India for Masters of Marriott that is being held at JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity. We spoke to him about his journey, experiences, his take on Indian food and his restaurant, Odette. By Kumar Shree
1. Tell us about your journey so far in life. From France to India, what has been your major milestones in the food industry?
My first venture into the kitchen was under the legendary Michel Bras in Laguiole who instilled in me a respect for the integrity and purity of each ingredient in every dish. I then moved to Durtol, where I worked for Chef Bernard Andrieux who helped reinforce my reverence. I traveled from the French West Indies to London, where I was sous chef to Antonin Bonnet at Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, The Greenhouse. I moved to Singapore in 2008 to take on the role of Chef de Cuisine at JAAN at Swissotel the Stamford.
Soon after in 2017, Odette made its historic debut on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 list. The restaurant was also inducted into the prestigious Les Grandes Tables Du Monde in the same year. Odette then climbed to 5% place in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018 and became Singapore’s best restaurant. It also cracked the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018, climbing to number 28.
2. You’ve accomplished so much as a chef (Michelin stars, top 50 of the Best restaurants 2018, and etc.) do you ever feel pressurised? How do you not crack under pressure?
We stay true to our philosophy of serving honest food with the best ingredients in a warm hospitable manner. This keeps us on the right track.
3. Coming to India as a part of Masters of Marriott, how do you feel about it and what is your contribution to this project?
I am happy to be a part of Masters of Marriott and associate with leaders in the culinary industry who have chosen to blur boundaries and celebrate global talent. What I truly love about it is that it is an initiative that celebrates the pursuit of consistent innovation and excellence. The central belief at Marriott is that chefs are artists who are skilled at creating awe-inspiring gastronomic experiences. I chose to associate with Masters of Marriott because I do resonate with Marriott’s food philosophy. As a part of the dinner that I’m hosting at JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity, I will be preparing a five course modern French meal for their discerning guests. I will be recreating some of my signature dishes such as Rosemary Smoked Organic Egg, Heirloom Beetroot Variation and the Kegani crab. These dishes are a result of continuous innovation and evolution, key tenets of F&B at Marriott International Inc.
4. What do you think about Indian food? Any favorites?
I am unfamiliar with Indian food besides knowing that it is full of tradition with a great heritage. I hope to discover it more when I come to Delhi. I love biryani and the last time I was in Mumbai I was blown away with the vegetarian cuisine at Swati Snacks.
5. When it comes to authenticity, how Indian spices stand out and tickle one’s taste buds?
Indian cuisine is diverse. There are so may flavours, spices and tastes that it is truly fascinating. I am not too familiar with Indian food but with what I have tried specially the vegetarian food, food made in the tandoor, and the heritage of Indian cuisine is inspiring.
6. Do you have any favourite place to eat in the world, and in India?
In India I loved Swati Snacks in Mumbai for its fantastic vegetarian cuisine and Ultra Violet by Paul Pairet for the remarkable complete dining experience.
7. Who is your favourite Indian chef?
I’m not too familiar with Indian cuisine and Indian Chefs but I particularly love the biryani from Bismillah Biryani in Singapore. It’s the only dish they serve and only in very limited quantities every day.
8. Did you have a role model during the initial stages of your career?
As one of my early mentors, Chef Michel Bras has had a great influence on my journey as a chef. He instilled in me a deep respect for the integrity and purity of each ingredient in every dish. I also deeply admire the legendary Alain Passard whom I had the pleasure of collaborating with at Odette last year.
9. What has been most instrumental in your journey as a chef?
Watching my grandmother cook I realised the kind of joy and love you can demonstrate through food.The kind of emotions that can be passed through food was the impetus for me to start cooking.
10. We have learnt that you shared a very close bond with your grandmother. Was she a great cook too? What was your favourite recipe from her kitchen diaries?
Yes, I do share a very close bond with my grandmother, and she has been my greatest influence in the kitchen. Odette is named as a tribute to her and and reflects her belief in always ensuring that the fundamental pleasures of enjoying a meal are delivered in the most thoughtful, welcoming and hospitable manner.
11. Talking about Odette, your 2 Michelin star restaurant in Singapore. What went behind conceptualising the place? What is the USP of your restaurant?
We wanted to create a place that has a constantly evolving menu and that showcases globally-sourced produce underpinned by classic French culinary techniques. Odette is ultimately a celebration of people, the people who grow and nurture our produce; the people who cook; the people who serve; and the people who entrust us with the honour of serving them.
12. As a restaurateur, did you face any challenges during the setting-up phase?
The most challenging part is the opening itself. You are expected to be good straight away, so, there is a lot of pressure. I’m never satisfied with what we do and I think about doing it better every day.
13. What is your comfort food?
I love to eat charcuterie, cheese and bread.
14. How do you blend aesthetics of traditional and modern culinary drifts in your cooking?
We always stay true to the produce; the produce is the technique.
15. How do you continue to innovate in your cooking style? Define your cooking style to our readers.
I believe the most important undertaking of a chef is to constantly seek out artisanal produce and find something unique. Not only do I want to know where it is coming from, I also want to know who grew it. The work of the soil, the knowledge of growing a product, the knowledge of mastering or passing something from the soil to the sea to the people in the kitchen, and to the chefs, defines my style.
16. When not in the kitchen, where do you usually like to spend your time?
With my family and friends discussing world events, politics and of course, football.
17. When did you know that being a chef is your true calling?
I wanted to tell stories through my food. People want comfort. Good food is always the best way to put a smile back on people’s faces.