In the latest instalment of this series, Élodie Noël talks to French chef Julien Royer about the most important dishes in his life.
Head chef of Odette in Singapore, Julien Royer grew up in France and honed his skills in some of the most prestigious kitchens in the country. After moving to Singapore, he decided to open Odette, named after his grandmother, which recently became the first Singapore restaurant (alongside Les Amis) to earn 3 Michelin stars since the guide was established there in 2016.
What is your first memory of taste?
The first memories that come to my mind are the smells of jams that we used to make with my grandmother and my mother in the family home in the Auvergne, in the Cantal region. These smells of red fruits, reminding me of spring, then currants, raspberries, and later in the summer of blackberries, I still remember fondly today.
What is the dish that made you want to be a chef?
There was this dish that my maternal grandmother would make for us, it was very simple, a chicken with cream. A free-range chicken from the farm, cooked in cream, served with a creamy mushroom sauce. It was a traditional recipe to share that we would make at home. What really made me want to be a chef was to see how much joy and happiness it could bring to people, the emotion you could convey through food. I named the restaurant in Singapore Odette after her.
READ MORE: My life in plates: Rosio Sanchez
What is the dish that could make you cry?
She made a prune pie, the base was this special dough that she called brioche puff pastry, it was not brioche, not a puff pastry, something in between. If I could find this pie again, with this dough and these candied prunes that she cooked slowly, I think it could make me cry.
What is the dish that you do not understand?
I'm not really into fermenting and I think it’s being a little overdone today. It has become a trend that is too worn by some chefs and restaurants. I find that when it is repeated several times in a menu, it can be disturbing for the palate and for digestion.
What is the dish you wish you had created?
There are two. The “rotten egg” with truffles from Gilles Goujon. Instead of the yolk inside the egg, there is a black truffle coulis. There is also the gargouillou from Michel Bras. I had the chance to do an internship at his restaurant in Laguiole, France and it was exceptional. It’s a dish that is both extremely complex and exceptionally simple, a combination of vegetables, herbs and various ingredients depending on the season.
Michel Bras inspired me a lot but far beyond cooking, in a more global approach. It includes caring about the quality of products, the local markets, seasonality, and also the human side. This house understood how important the human factor is in our profession. You have to respect your employees, create an environment and an atmosphere that is healthy and pleasant so that people want to come to work with smiles on their faces. This job is already so difficult that if we add unnecessary stress, it becomes complicated.
What is the dish you can’t admit you love?
For me, it's my Auvergnat side, it's saucisson, and charcuterie in general, I love it!
What is the dish that you could eat every day?
Definitely cheese. There is such a variety that it's hard to get tired of it. Otherwise pasta, with all the sauces. It’s infinite, it’s a very versatile food.
What is the dish you're most proud of?
We have a dish called the symphony of beets. We worked on it for several years and I think we have reached maturity. It's a balanced dish - we play around with textures, and we've managed to respect the taste of the original beetroot. The organic beets are cooked in a salt crust, and then we work on the different textures. There is a mashed beetroot with an old sherry, which gives a nice acidity. There is a beetroot lightly smoked with hay, a beetroot in sorbet, and a beetroot in meringue. We bring the comfort element with whipped stracciatella, a hint of complexity with fresh horseradish, and a touch of organic honey.
There is also a pigeon with pepper, cooked on the chest in a traditional way. We use all the parts of the pigeon to waste nothing, the leg is confit, we make a parfait with the livers, we make a tempura with the heart and the breast is served in pepper crust, with green pepper and Kampot pepper, which comes from Cambodia. The very tender and juicy meat of the pigeon is well balanced with the contrast of pepper.
What is the dish that reminds you of your mum?
There is a traditional dish that is made in Cantal called the pounti. It is a kind of savoury cake, served warm with chard, bread dipped in milk, prunes and bacon. There is also the potato pie. It’s a shortcrust pastry filled with potatoes that cook in the pie with cream, tarragon and smoked pork breast. With a green salad from the garden, it's exceptional. These are the dishes I grew up with and that I enjoy when I return home, which make my heart warm.
You live in Singapore, what are you eager to eat when you return to France?
In Singapore, we are spoiled, we can almost have everything. But there are some very specific things, which are always better depending on the environment in which you eat them. For example, I like going to a Parisian bistro for a good Andouillette. Or when it's in season, a lièvre à la royale in a good restaurant.
What is the last dish that you ate?
We're doing a test on a caramel pear tart so I just tasted it. We use Williams pear, salted caramel ice cream and we are trying to incorporate flavours of Tahitian vanilla and tonka bean.
What is the dish you would make for the person you love?
My wife is crazy about chocolate so I would make her a chocolate dessert. Maybe a simple chocolate cake, with a chocolate ice cream.
What is your death row dish?
I would eat an aligot, it comes from my home, it's substantial and, as I don’t know what is waiting for me on the other side, I may as well have something in my belly!
What is the next dish that you have in mind?
We are working on a classic association of Saint-Jacques and truffle. I want to make a raw scallop with a millefeuille of black truffles. There will be a dashi as a base, which will be infused with a Spanish sherry to bring complexity, and we will try to incorporate chestnuts. The first test was not very conclusive, there is still work to do!
How are you feeling about this third star?
There is no word, it is exceptional. It's the result of four years of work since we opened this restaurant, and it's the result of more than fifteen years of work. It's a supreme distinction for a cook, it's a bit of a holy grail, like an Olympic medal. Above all, it's a celebration of teamwork because, without them, nothing would have happened.
Is there extra pressure associated with this recognition?
We put ourselves under pressure every day for our customers. The guides, the rankings, the awards are good, but at the end of the day we work for our clients. They are the ones who fill the restaurant, and we have been lucky since we opened not to have an empty table. The pressure exists, but I think that the younger generation of chefs knows that all of this can be fleeting, and the stars are fine, but there are more important things in life.
Author: Élodie Nöel
Élodie is a French journalist who relocated to Dublin about three years ago. She immediately fell in love with the island and its amazing food and has been writing about it on her blog Lemon Lipstick. You can follow Élodie's food adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr.