New Delhi: India’s range of meat and fish dishes is diverse, even bewildering with its overtones of hot, sour, sweet and tangy. But what really got two-Michelin-star chef Julien Royer’s tastebuds kicking during his visit to India is the vegetarian food.
The Singapore-based French chef was an absolute stranger to the flavours of India when he came to the country for the first time last year.
Royer, who visited Mumbai then, was in Delhi Thursday to expand his flavour horizons.
“The spice, flavours and tastes were very impressive, specially the vegetarian dishes. I love the cuisine’s diversity,” Royer, who co-owns Odette, a modern French restaurant in Singapore, told PTI.
Recalling his visit to Mumbai last year, he said he discovered the joys of multi-layered, multi-cultural desi cuisine and was left “impressed”.
He remembered being “blown away” by the exploding flavours of pani puri, pakoras and khandvi.
He also expressed a newly discovered fondness for the tandoor.
“Anything that’s cooked in a tandoor is great for me,” he said.
Royer was here as part of Masters of Marriott, an initiative by JW Marriott in Aerocity, that celebrates the culinary mavens of renowned international chefs.
Thursday, he whipped up a five-course modern French meal comprising some of his signature dishes — Rosemary Smoked Organic Egg, Heirloom Beetroot Variation and the Kegani crab — from his menu at Odette.
Also on offer were recipes cooked with a “little Indian twist”.
In the main course, Royer served lamb rack seasoned with Indian spices like cumin, coriander seeds, black pepper and star anise.
For dessert, he added a dash of home-grown ingredients — saffron sourced from Kashmir, roses from Jaipur and locally grown strawberries.
“I think food is a universal language, but we all do have different habits. So I feel it was important for me as a chef to adapt myself to the country where I was, and the place and people I was cooking for,” he said.
Royer’s adaptability as a chef also came through when he was faced with an unexpected table of vegetarian guests.
He disposed of his pre-decided non vegetarian menu, and spontaneously rustled up an array of vegetarian delicacies like cauliflower and curry tartlets, quinoa crackers topped with salsa, cucumbers and coriander and celeriac with mushroom ketchup and truffle.
The 33-year-old said he was driven towards becoming a chef during his growing up years when he watched his grandmother create magic in the kitchen. He was inspired by how she conjured “the most remarkable dishes from the purest ingredients”.
“She taught me the importance of adding that little something to create dishes that excite the palate and fill the heart,” he said.
Professional encouragement in the kitchen came from mentors — Michel Bras and Chef Bernard Andrieux — at the various restaurants he went on to work for in France.
He then travelled from the French West Indies to London, where he was sous chef to Antonin Bonnet at Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, The Greenhouse, before moving to Singapore in 2008 to take on the role of Chef de Cuisine at JAAN at Swissotel the Stamford.
In 2015, he founded Odette, a 48-seater fine dining restaurant located in the National Gallery in Singapore, which featured in the 9th place on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 list.
Royer’s technique at hand to make any dish shine is to “showcase the produce”.
He believes in treating every ingredient with the utmost care to highlight its purest flavours.
“I take pride in offering guests a unique opportunity to taste these exceptional ingredients at their peak. We celebrate and respect seasonality and terroir,” he said.
With a large number of Indians visiting Odette, Royer expressed an interest in incorporating Indian flavours in some of his dishes at the restaurant.
“Indian cuisine is a perfect mix between spicy, sourness, and sweet… it is very difficult and complex to achieve but I would love to incorporate it.
“We always try to give a little twist of Asia at Odette, so why not India?”