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Interview: Chef Julien Royer on his inspiration and a possible Middle East move

The French chef has twice topped the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list

In Abu Dhabi to participate in the events programme surrounding the inaugural MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants, we caught up with renowned chef Julien Royer. Having hosted an experiential dinner at LPM Abu Dhabi, he discussed his sources of inspiration, his new restaurant, Claudine, and the most important aspect of being included in a 50 Best list. 

Connecting Travel:Something Singapore has in common with Dubai is that you import a lot of ingredients. Is that a challenge?
Julien Royer: Singapore is such a well-oiled and organised country. We have fish and seafood from Japan coming in on a daily basis, and we have access to anything and everything else. And then, locally, you know, Southeast Asia is very rich when it comes to vegetables, citrus and spices, so that inspires my cooking.

See the inaugural MENAs 50 Best Restaurants list here

CT: Has your culinary style changed since moving to Singapore?
JR: When I first arrived as a young French chef I used to import everything from France because I thought that it was the best in the world, but then I started to travel more and speak to people and learn more. Now I think the sense of place is at the core of what we do at the restaurant. The backbone of the cooking is very French, because that’s what I learned in terms of techniques, sauces, execution and discipline, but the dishes are open to Asian techniques, ingredients and flavours that help to bring finesse and balance to French cuisine that can be quite heavy. 

CT:What’s the F&B scene like in Singapore?
JR: The good thing about Singapore is that it’s a melting pot of people from different countries, religions and nationalities, and when it comes to food, the diversity we have is insane. You can eat something that’s excellent, substantial and delicious in a wide variety of restaurants.

InSingapore, you can spend $5 and eat something good, or, if you can spend $5,000, you come to my restaurant!

CT:How is it going at Claudine, your new restaurant in Singapore?
JR: We opened three months ago and we’re super busy. As a chef, I’ve been doing fine dining pretty much all my life. I like to do something more friendly, a sharing style, the side of French cooking that is not often seen. I really wanted to come back to classic recipes, but make it with quality ingredients and it’s been very well received.

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CT: Is the cuisine slightly more approachable, would you say?
JR: Yes, with a concept of joie de vivre, happiness, bringing people together, and sharing food with no pretension. We do dishes such as a steak tartare, chou farci (stuffed cabbage), and a bouillabaisse. These are dishes I love.

CT:Do you think it’s a concept that people are wanting more of now?
JR: Totally. It’s food that is comforting. Especially after what happened the last two years, you just want something that makes you smile, that’s homey, generous and delicious. Forget about the fuss.

I think the timing was right for this kind of sharing concept, and it’s something that I could potentially develop elsewhere

CT: Maybe here in the UAE?
JR: Why not? It’s understood by everybody. It’s not pretentious.

CT:The inaugural MENAs 50 Best Restaurants list has just been announced. As someone who’s topped Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants twice, how does it change your life as a chef?
JR: I think what’s important is whether you’re number one or 50, it’s about the community and the people that you connect with. I was named One To Watch for Asia’s 50 Best in 2013 and that opened many doors for me. I met a lot of great people because of that. And then, after that, we climbed the list, and we finally got the top spot in Asia for two years in a row. But the number is pointless. What is great for me is meeting people and expanding my horizons. I became friends with Virgilio Martinez from Peru; I became friends with Mauro Colagreco from Argentina, and Jorge Vallejo from Mexico. The community is priceless.

For more information, visit www.theworlds50best.com/mena/en/ 

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