Celebrate artisanal produce. It may be an old phrase uttered by just about every media-savvy chef on the back-to-roots bandwagon. But to this native of
Julien Royer knew first hand as a child that the bounty of each season is both a gift from nature and a labour of love. And throughout his career, including early days while under the wings of Michel Bras, Bernard Andrieux and Jean Georges Vongerichten, he worked with growers, producers, fishermen: real people who devote their life to nurturing artisanal ingredients. So the 30 year-old does not mutilate the ingredients with molecular wizardry but coaxes its natural essence out tenderly through clever use of traditional techniques.
It might be hard to think that, slightly more than a year ago, he was dishing out pretty conventional fare at a brasserie. At the helm of fine dining institution Jaan, he no longer hides behind the restaurant, but stands proud on this stage, sharing with one and all his unfussy manifesto of simplicity and respect.
But what has caught the attention of industry observers is the originality of his food. It has the depth of cuisine from the hands of an old soul, and playful touches that betray his curious nature and child-like personality. Perhaps a bundle of rosemary tucked under your bowl, to greet you with its fragrance when you aren’t expecting it; or Poilane bread, not sliced and served on the side but burnt into a completely charred block, to be grated over dishes to add a hint of smokiness.
For his work, Royer has been named Rising Chef Of The Year at World Gourmet Summit's Awards of Excellence 2012 – but his patrons need not a title to recognise his brilliance. The proof is in the eating.
Who is your original source of inspiration?
When you are a young chef you tend to try a bit too hard and too much – especially when you are handed a carte blanche as I am here at Jaan. But I always keep in mind the food my mother cooks at home – simple dishes that are pure, fresh and clean. This is a constant reminder for me to be more straight-forward in my approach.
Three words that capture the essence of your cuisine
Pure. Terroir (focused). Artisanal.
Walk us through your creative process.
The produce is the most important starting point. Such as the dish that I just made (see page one and below): there are not a lot of cooking techniques applied but it is still a colorful, playful and flavorful plate. By working with seasonality and choosing the right products, you are already half way to success. Thus a lot of effort is put into sourcing ingredients from small producers who share our philosophy and vision. From there we then research different ways to showcase the produce; make the ingredient the star on the plate.
What to you is a produce that is underappreciated?
Vegetables in general. Proteins are the focus for a lot of people – chefs and diners alike, but for me, vegetables are interesting and should really be given more attention.
What frame of mind are you in when you’re cooking?
It is a state of intense concentration, yet your mind needs to stay open at the same time. You need to train your focus on what you are doing, yet be receptive and reactive to the sight, sounds, smells, everything around you. Also, cooking is not just about following a recipe, but how you can make a dish better. It is a constant evolution so your mind needs to be working all the time. It will be impossibly painful to make the same dish day in day out – for me at least.
When do you know a dish is perfect?
It is never perfect. I never say (even) once “this is fantastic, we won’t change it anymore”. By saying that you close all opportunities for improvement. That’s not the kind of thinking of subscribe to. For me, the best is always yet to come.
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