Being called an ‘artist’ is injurious.
Held over three days in April at the SMX Convention Center, the third edition of Madrid Fusión Manila Food attracted 1,400 local and international guests from China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Taiwan, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA. Among this number were six Michelin-starred chefs. High Life sat down with Pedro Subijana, Paco Pérez, Jordi Roca, Julien Royer, Magnus Ek, and Gert De Mangeleer.
WORDS JOSEPH L. GARCIA
Modern isn’t exactly the word one might use to describe a restaurant named after one’s grandmother, but the chic spare interiors of Odette, Julien Royer’s restaurant in the National Gallery Singapore, breathes a sense of newness in its spare plating and its insistence on serving Modern French cuisine. Its conceit has paid off, earning two Michelin stars in Singapore’s first Michelin Guide, while Mr. Royer himself had been short-listed as one of the “100 Best Chefs in the World” by Le Chef 2017.
Mr. Royer may be ascending the heights of chic, but his pursuit of the perfect plate is still deeply rooted in the memories of the woman who fed him. It was very easy to wheedle out of him what his favorite dish by his grandmother was: tarte aux pruneaux, a pie made of dried prunes.
“She made the dough, which was half a puff pastry, and half a brioche. It was a very unusual dough, and yummy,” he said with a touch of pride. His grandmother also put prune purée, dried prunes soaked in syrup, and a touch of port wine. “It was a very traditional dish and she did it very well,” he said added.
Asked if tarte aux pruneaux wormed its way into his creations, Mr. Royer replied: “The dish itself did not follow me. What followed me, however, was the amount of love and the amount of preparation, the amount of dedication, and the amount of patience that she put into each time she was doing the same thing. She really showed me how much pleasure, how much joy, how much you can make people happy through food and cuisine. This is what I try to do on a daily basis. We try to make people happy through our cuisine.”
Mr. Royer grew up in a farm in Cantal, France, where he learned how seasonality can be the best tool in a chef’s arsenal. “You are going to pick the product at its best,” he said, “The more the product is perfect, the less you have to touch it, almost. It makes your job easier. What my family taught me about this, is inspect every ingredient, from the roots of carrots, or swiss chard, to caviar, or foie gras. There are no luxury ingredients.”
His restaurant in Singapore may be separated by seas, space, and taste from his childhood home, but the difference in geography doesn’t affect how Mr. Royer approaches his craft. “For any kind of cuisine, I think you work the same. If you cook with the heart, if you cook with really good ingredients, and you put enough time, and enough patience, and enough passion into it, it will translate to something delicious. And if you do something delicious, people will be happy.”
He added, “You know what I try to do? Even though it’s modern cuisine, I think it influences us in a way that we like to give something that is comforting to the palate. In each dish that we do, I try to target the comfort zone. What I call the comfort zone is that spoon that you are about to put in your mouth, and to satisfy your palate. It can be a high-end dish, or a very complex dish, a very modern and avant-garde dish. I still want to be able to put this comfort zone into the dish.”
While some people might call chefs artists — in the way they manipulate food into magic with their hands — Mr. Royer shakes off the title and prefers to be called an “artisan,” or “craftsman,” even. “I always say that if you are an artist, that means you are able to do anything. You’re doing masterpieces,” he said. “It’s injurious to be called an artist because in this job, you learn new things every day. You can never pretend to know everything or to reach the stage of an artist. For me, it’s really arrogant to say that — I do not like it.”
Does he think he will ever reach a point where he will be comfortable with being called an “artist?” “Never, I think! I hope never. I’m quite sure, never. The world is evolving, the produce is evolving, there are thousands of new ingredients to taste every year.”
1 Saint Andrew’s Road, #01-04, National Gallery, Singapore 178957
Tuesday to Saturday: 12–1:30 p.m.; 7–9 p.m.
+65 6385 0498