Michelin-starred chef, Olivier Jean has been at the helm of the kitchens at The Woodward, Geneva, in Switzerland. Having spent six years at the head of the Taipei-based L’Atelier Robuchon and leading openings in Miami and New York, French chef Olivier Jean aged 36 years old, originally from Valence (France), L’Atelier Robuchon Genève, the restaurant’s first Swiss location is the hotel's crown jewel and was awarded its first Michelin star in 2022.
Olivier has come to India for the first time to curate a French Asian menu for Vetro, at The Oberoi in Mumbai. With this menu, he strives to astonish guests with unusual flavour combinations to satisfy the senses through remarkable dishes and pioneering techniques.
Olivier Jean brings Joël Robuchon’s French-Asian fusion signature dishes including Imperial caviar served with crab and blue lobster jelly, Turbot, «Loumi» lemon and java pepper condiment, and chicory with Japanese pearl. Delectable desserts include ‘the Black Forest’, similar to a mushroom in texture, and flavoured with sour Morello cherries, a light kirsch mousse, and creamy chocolate.
"Switzerland is a popular destination for Indian people. We were delighted to have this opportunity to highlight chef Olivier Jean’s cuisine and The Woodward thanks to our partnership with the Oberoi, Mumbai," saidt he communications manager at The Woodward Geneva.
“I am very honoured to have the opportunity to share my vision of gastronomy with the people of Mumbai and to be an ambassador of both French cuisine and the way of life at The Woodward, Geneva.”, says Chef Olivier Jean. Ahead we spoke to the chef to know all about his food journey and love for food.
You are known for your work at The Goodward, what brought you to India?
The idea was to showcase Oetker Collection to India. Our team at Oetker Collection asked me if I would like to travel to India and present The Woodward’s gastronomy here and I didn't hesitate. The more we travel to different places, the more our mind is opened up and the better we become from a professional point of view. I've been motivated by the opportunity to come here and learn about Indian culture and its cuisines. Also, the idea of understanding how to work with local ingredients and make a French kitchen in India fascinated me.
How difficult/easy it is for you to cater to Indian taste buds?
It was definitely a challenge because this was my first time cooking for a palate in India. It started off by understanding the Indian palate, Indian culture and Indian customers.
When you're a chef, before the cuisine, you have to be understood by the customer – if the customer doesn't understand what you want to deliver, then you lose no matter what, how good a chef you are. So when I started my research for this event to come, I realised the importance of creating a vegetarian menu. Before sourcing the ingredients, I studied about vegetarian options and instead of making one menu, I work on two menus.
One vegetarian/vegan for certain dishes and one non-vegetarian menu. It was a change because if you have two set of customers, one veg and one non-veg, they have to be at the same level of expectation and they have to be get the same level of happiness out of the experience. One is going to eat caviar, the other one is going to eat beetroot. But, if the chef is good, the level of experience would be the same. Right? So that was the first challenge I had. I worked on Petro tata for the first course and caviar for the first course as well.
And the idea was to bring, of course, the taste that Indian people enjoy – spicy or salted spiciness. It's not highly fatty, but it's spicy and intense, which is very nice. I worked on this vegan vision entree appetizer, a green mustard sorbet on the ice because it's very hot outside as well. The idea was to have this very refreshing sorbet mixed with apples, beetroot, and local beetroot. And to bring some sweetness, I used different sauces, boca mari, beetroot cudi, vinegar and a turmeric lemongrass dressing to bring back the spiciness touch, but again sweet spices, not hot spices. The other one is more like a very dish I do in Geneva as well, which is this very precise caviar and crab meat, lobster jelly entree. I try to design menu keeping in mind both the culture and speciality of the place.
In the menu, you have created unique dishes that bring Joël Robuchon’s French-Asian fusion concept to life. Tell us a little about this
I have adapted the menu to the taste buds of Indians by using French techniques and fusing it with Indian products like spices. For example, when I make this broth stock, I use a very French technique to make a clear broth. The taste is full of lobster, but it's clear like water. I also used the technique of steam burn to make a souffle, steam souffle, but it couldn't be vegan, but it can be vegetarian. For this, I used a veg protein available in India which kind of starchy, it's like tofu and I made this souffle with tofu, grilled cheese and cream and white egg white. I used simple ingredients, but this technique of French souffle as a steam, but in France, we don't do steam souffle. So it's a mix of influence techniques, products and palate. As soon as I was informed about the visit to India in December, I started to work on the menu.
Did you try the local food before designing the menu and trying new flavour pairings?
Definitely, to be honest with you, I tried a little bit of street food, but my stomach is not strong enough for street food. After three days or four days of spicy food in a row my stomach suffers and I moved back to steamed rice and vegetables. For chefs, our palate is the muscle of the brain. When you start to work as a chef, you start as a young, let's say as an old teenager and a young adult, and you start to work and build your mind with your skill, with your palate. The palate has to be very sharp [...] and focused, and the more you taste, the more you learn. So when you taste the sauce, you can know what's missing and can add balance to hide it, or change the texture, flavours and taste. So I tasted about 40 dishes already. What I understood was spicy flavours, textures, spiciness, and bitterness as well at some point, cold and hot. it's very interesting. I went back to work with so many ideas of seasoning.
Tell us about your journey as a chef, from an amateur to today, a Michelin star chef who celebrated world over?
I would say in a very straight and honest way, you sweat a lot. You sweat so much, you forget about your life in a way. I started when I was 16 years old, I went to hospitality school and stayed there for six years then I went to university to be a good professional. It's been hard because I was very young and when you're younger, your shoulders are not as strong. You face many changes and you don't get a difference between your professional and personal life. Everyday is a long day and you forget it’s time for Christmas already.
But one-day things change, I was very young, I was 23, I stayed in Monte Carlo for three years after that in Paris for another two years, and then was in Taipei for six years and a half. And then when I was in Taipei, after three and a half years in Taipei, I won a Michelin Star as well. But it's all about patience, ingredients, techniques, consistency, and stability. Never give up on things.
Our work is instant. We produce, we sell and have the customer feedback, bad or good, but we have it. So you always have this way of progression in your work. Improve, improve and improve. If you improve, you look better and better. You find that’s how you catch a Michelin Star. I mean, it is a long journey, but I think once you reach the end, it's all worth it. And nothing comes easy without hard work.
It is imperative to tie together visual appeal and flavour when it comes to a dining experience. And for you, a lot of emphasis is on the plating. How do you do this and why is plating so important for you?
First, of course, because we see it. The show, meaning like the plate, has to be outstanding, beautiful and precise. It can be just a piece of meat and garnish, but mainly perfectly well.
And sometimes even the song let's say that you have a beef stake arriving at your plate, your table and we hear this burning it's yummy. So ears are important as well. And the end of the day the first bite has to be good. The overall effect is very important for the eyes, ears and smell and of course the palate. After that, I want to say that you have to be consistent because if a customer comes once you've won, but if the customer comes twice or third, you really won.
There was this whole wave of modern Indian food where theatrics was more appealing to the customers. Is that wave still continuing in the world of food? Or do you feel that now people are moving back to traditional ways where flavour is of prime importance?
It's a mix of both, of course. Because at some point we like to go a place for experience and sometimes you want to get back to nature. Last night I dined at Masque Mumbai and I really enjoyed the experience. But this is an experience, and you won't have this menu twice a week. It's not possible, but you'll probably come every four months when they change. So at some point, as a customer, you will want an experience like this. But at the end of the day, you crave comfort food (usually means your traditional food I think) . So, yeah, it has to be both. But more and more people like theatrics for sure, for the experience.
What are your plans for the future?
We have projects in the pipeline for Europe, the United States, as well as other parts of the world. Having a constant flow of ideas, analysing, reading, and creating is the hallmark of our industry and of good chefs. We plan to introduce new dishes in the coming days. Seven new dishes will be launched in Geneva next Wednesday, 22 March. So it's a very exciting for me. Honestly, I hope to return to India soon. We stayed here for about 10 days but the country is so rich that I would love to explore more. In these last few days, I learned so much about how people here are all devoted and very kind.
Dates: 16 to 18 March
Venue: Vetro, at The Oberoi in Mumbai